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We want only the best for our dogs. Whether that’s giving them probiotics, cutting down on their stress by scheduling a telemedicine appointment or just treating them to a gift, we spend a lot of time making sure they’re healthy and happy. But the foundation of their health is in serving them the best dog foods to ensure they have a long and happy life. The best dog food can also help keep health problems at bay and avoid extra, expensive veterinary visits.
“When looking for a dog food, it is best to make sure that you are feeding a high-quality protein source,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa (DVM), a veterinarian at SeniorTailWaggers.com and Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital in Whitehouse, Texas. “It is best that the first ingredient is whole protein and not by-products or meal. Most dog foods that are completely balanced are Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approved.”
If a food sounds good to you, check out the company’s other dog foods. Most offer at least one flavor in each category (i.e. wet, dry, weight control, etc.).
Below are some of the best dog food brands available today. Each is nutritionally complete and balanced so it can be fed as a stand-alone food or in combination with other foods, broth, mixers and treats.
1. The Farmer’s Dog Food Subscription Service
This is an excellent dog food option for those seeking an easier choice in shopping for their pets. A nutritious meal delivered directly to your door? Better yet, this wet dog food can be tailored to your dog’s dietary needs. Who will be happier with this fresh, tasty meal — you or your dog? The recipes utilize human-grade meat and veggies and are made fresh with nutritional integrity. The company’s slogan “Pet food should be food” shows the brand’s belief that good dogs deserve good food. While you may never know what’s actually in your pet’s food, even when it’s labeled organic or natural, you know exactly what you’re getting with Farmer’s Dog Food.
What’s the catch? The Farmer’s Dog is expensive. So even though we love this subscription dog food, we know that it’s not for everyone. If you want to make the most of your subscription, you can always mix fresh food from The Farmer’s Dog with kibble, which lets you get the most value for your money.
2. Victor Classic Hi-Pro Plus Formula
BEST DRY FOOD
A wide variety of dry dog food is available in pet stores in a range of types, quality and price. When selecting a dry food, choose one that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates, which are more difficult for your dog to digest.
Victor Classic Hi-Pro Plus is a complete and balanced diet certified by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages for small- and medium-breed dogs. Made of 88% meat protein with beef, pork, chicken and blood meal, the primary ingredients are sorghum, chicken fat and Menhaden fish meal. Victor’s other performance formulas are about 81% meat protein. All are nutrient-dense and made in the USA with gluten-free grains. This food is free of corn, wheat, soy and peas, which can be allergens for many dogs. Pre- and probiotics promote healthy digestive and immune systems. Essential vitamins and minerals round out this high-protein formula.
One unique ingredient in this food is selenium yeast. Your dog makes special proteins with selenium, which make DNA and thyroid hormones that protect cells from damage and infection and promote healthy growth and aging.
The high protein is healthy for all life stages but especially for high-energy breeds, growing puppies and pregnant and lactating females. This moderately priced food is available in 5-, 15-, 40- and 50-pound bags.
3. Stella and Chewy’s Grain-Free Stella’s Stew
BEST WET FOOD
Veterinarians don’t always agree on whether wet dog food is better than dry. But as long as the food is described as “complete and balanced,” it will have all the nutrition your dog needs. Some pet parents like to mix or alternate both wet and dry foods in their dog’s diet.
Dogs love Stella & Chewy’s Grain-free Stella’s Stews, available in six meaty flavors bathed in a mineral-rich bone broth. Each includes human-grade meat and bone broth as the top two ingredients in this complete and balanced food. Made in the USA in small batches that are packaged in a BPA-free carton, these formulas are also grain-, gluten-, pea- and lentil-free.
If your dog has digestive issues or your vet recommends a limited ingredient diet, each of these grain-free dog food formulas should satisfy without triggering food sensitivities.
Stella & Chewy’s is a woman-owned business that has been offering quality foods since 2003. Pet parents like that the food — which is prepared in Oak Creek, Wisconsin — is minimally processed and contains no added hormones or antibiotics. Not every store carries this brand so use the store locator to find its products near you.
4. Taste of the Wild Grain-Free Dry Puppy Formulas
BEST PUPPY FOOD
“Puppies are very active and need high-calorie diets,” explains Dr. Ochoa. They also need protein and fat to grow strong, healthy bodies. Taste of the Wild’s Puppy Formulas are available in two quality flavors, High Prairie and Pacific Stream. Each formula is grain- and gluten-free and excludes corn, soy, artificial flavors and colors, as well as prebiotics, species-specific probiotics and chicory root for healthy digestion and immune function. Salmon oil provides omega-3 and -6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.
The High Prairie formula is made with real roasted meat and a diverse blend of protein sources your puppy will beg for: buffalo, lamb meal, beef, roasted bison and venison and ocean fish meal. They’ll also love the antioxidant-rich superfood fruits and vegetables, including sweet potatoes, blueberries and flaxseed. The Pacific Stream formula is made of wild salmon, ocean fish meal and sweet potatoes.
Taste of the Wild is family-owned and makes its food in the USA with AAFCO-approved, sustainable ingredients sourced from around the world. You can purchase it in 5-, 15- and 30-pound bags.
5. Champion Petfoods’ Orijen Grain-Free Senior Dry Dog Food
BEST SENIOR DOG FOOD
“Senior dogs are less active and therefore need fewer nutrients for growing and more for joint and brain health,” says Dr. Ochoa. Some senior dogs gain weight easily and develop food and/or skin sensitivities as they age.
This “boutique” food is more expensive in part because it’s made with care in an award-winning factory in Kentucky with 85% protein. That includes regionally sourced free-range chicken and turkey, whole eggs and fish farmed or caught wild within the region and delivered fresh to remain preservative-free. The first five ingredients are fresh or raw for peak nutrition.
Even the fruits and vegetables — including kale, spinach and a variety of healthy greens — are sourced regionally. The formula is purposely carbohydrate-limited and grain-free for weight control and easier digestion. It is unique in that it also contains botanical ingredients, including sea vegetables, juniper berries and turmeric, which are superfoods naturally rich in plant-based nutrients, B vitamins and essential trace minerals. Probiotics round out this formula that meets AAFCO Nutrient profiles for all life stages.
A bonus is that Champion Petfoods has been family-owned and operated for more than 25 years. You’ll find it in 4.5-, 15- and 25-pound bags.
6. Nutro Natural Choice Large Breed and Small Breed Dry Kibble
BEST FOR LARGE AND SMALL BREEDS
“When you are feeding a large-breed puppy, they need to eat a large-breed dog food to help them grow healthy and strong,” notes Dr. Ochoa. “Small breed dogs need to eat a small breed dog diet. These diets are formulated in small pieces and contain added nutrients to help with the many health issues that are seen in smaller dogs, such as dental disease.”
Nutro Natural Choice offers separate large and small breed formulas for adults, puppies and seniors, for healthy weight control and even limited ingredient diets. They’re made with human-grade, non-Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) ingredients and exclude chicken by-product meal, as well as corn, wheat and soy. What you will find are a lot of recognizable superfood ingredients like flaxseed, chia seeds, coconut, egg and pumpkin that are good for digestion, immune support and a shiny coat. This formula also contains natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin, which are especially important for large breeds, which can struggle with joint problems.
The crunchy texture helps control plaque buildup. Adult large breed foods are meant for dogs 18 months and older while adult food for smaller breeds is for ages one year and older. Available in 5-, 8-, 13-, 28- and 30-pound bags.
7. Darwin’s Natural Selections Raw Dog Food Service
BEST RAW FOOD
There are pros and cons to feeding your dog a raw food diet. A major benefit is that many mild, yet persistent health problems can be solved simply by changing to a partially or fully raw food diet. But raw foods aren’t without risks. “Raw dog food can be dangerous to feed your dog,” says Dr. Ochoa. “This diet can easily carry salmonella or E.coli if not handled properly. I recommend that dogs eat fully cooked dog foods. If you do feed raw dog food, freeze-dried is better than fully raw. The freeze-dried food allows a pet owner to still feed a raw diet without having to worry as much about the bacteria.”
One of the best natural raw dog foods, Darwin’s Natural Selections Raw Dog Food Service is well-rated and committed to using only ethically raised and grain-free ingredients. Depending on the size and age of your dog, you can expect to spend around $20–$25 per week for a small dog breed. Their food is made from minimally processed chicken, duck, turkey, beef and lamb and organic vegetables. You can feel good knowing there are no antibiotics, steroids, preservatives or artificial hormones.
Their website offers a pet food volume calculator and if you sign up, they offer a quiz you can take to develop a custom feeding plan specific to you and your dog. You choose the frequency and size of shipments and you can cancel or make changes at any time. Darwin’s also offers Intelligent Design Veterinary Formulas that require a prescription from a veterinarian. These are for dogs with specific health issues such as kidney disease or food allergies.
8. Evanger’s Organics
BEST ORGANIC FOOD
“There is no definite research that demonstrates significant nutritional benefits for organic food, so it may not be worth the extra cost,” advises Dr. Ochoa. “Organic dog food is supposed to be made with a higher quality protein and more natural ingredients and processing. However, most dog foods that I have seen that are labeled as organic are not the best quality dog food that you can buy.”
Among the available organic foods, Evanger’s Organics is an excellent brand. Founded in 1935, Fred Evanger built a cannery at his Great Dane kennel so that he could make his own healthy pet foods. Today, Evanger’s remains a family-owned and operated company. Its simple organic foods are still hand-packed in Markham, Illinois.
Formulated by nutritionists and experts, its ingredients are simple, recognizable and formulated in compliance with AAFCO standards for all life stages and certified organic by Oregon Tilth.
Evanger’s Organics is one of the best holistic dog foods available. Each of the four healthy flavors contains just a few main organic ingredients plus essential vitamins and minerals. All are grain- and gluten-free and have added omega-3 and 6 fatty acids to nourish skin and fur. A bonus is that their 12.8-ounce steel cans are confirmed bisphenol-A (BPA)-free with labels printed on recycled paper. You can buy them individually or in cases of 12.
9. American Journey Dry Dog Food Formulas
BEST BUDGET FOOD
American Journey offers a variety of recipes including Active Life, Grain-Free, small and large breed formulas, weight control and limited ingredient diets. Your dog will love that these come in chicken, lamb, beef or salmon recipes mixed with brown rice and vegetables or sweet potatoes.
Every recipe offers a balanced diet starting with real protein as the first ingredient blended with natural fiber to support a healthy immune and digestive system. A balanced blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids supports healthy skin and a luxurious coat.
All recipes contain no wheat, corn, soy or artificial ingredients, and no poultry by-product meals, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
Depending on the recipe, you’ll find American Journey in 4-, 12-, 14-, 24- and 28-pound bags.
10. Firstmate Grain-Free Limited Ingredient Dry Dog Food
BEST FOR ALLERGIES OR SENSITIVITIES
“If your dog has a food allergy, looking for a limited-ingredient diet will help,” explains Dr. Ochoa. “These diets will only have a few ingredients and often contain a novel protein such as lamb, salmon, or rabbit. For dogs with environmental allergies, finding a diet that is high in omega fatty acids will help keep their skin healthy and coat nice and shiny.”
When I rescued my dog Ghillie from Texas in 2019, he was a very picky eater. He had a sensitive stomach and was not food motivated. Firstmate Grain-Free Limited Ingredient Chicken with Blueberries was the only food he would eat. His stomach troubles have since resolved and he’s still eating this food today.
Each flavor averages 80% of its protein derived from meat, is grain-free, gluten-free and pea-free and made with high-quality ingredients, including high fiber and antioxidants.
Firstmate, a family-owned and operated company in Canada, uses a unique vacuum infusion method to infuse fats and essential oils into each piece of kibble instead of the traditional method of spraying them on. All three flavors come in 5-, 14.5- and 28.6-pound bags.
11. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Healthy Weight Recipes Dry Dog Food
BEST FOR WEIGHT LOSS
According to VCA hospitals, obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs. Approximately 25-30% of the general canine population is obese, with 40-45% of dogs aged 5-11 years old weighing in higher than normal.
“If your dog does not have a waistline, they are overweight and can benefit from a weight loss diet,” explains Dr. Ochoa. “When looking for a weight loss diet, choose one that is low in fat and high in fiber. The fiber will help your dog feel full without all the extra calories. Another great way to help your dog lose weight is to decrease the amount of food that you are feeding, increase exercise and discontinue all treats.”
Blue Buffalo is an all-around top dog food brand. Its Wilderness Healthy Weight recipes are high-protein weight management formulas that help your best friend achieve an ideal body weight for their breed, age and size. You’ll find Adult, Large Breed and Small Breed varieties in Chicken and Rocky Mountain Red Meat flavors.
Each features protein-rich meat as the first ingredient — with more than 30% protein on average — and a controlled amount of calories from fat. All of their foods are made without poultry by-product meals, corn, wheat, soy and artificial flavors or preservatives.
Included are special LifeSource Bits, a blend of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to support a healthy immune system. Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids from fish meal and flaxseed, respectively, help promote a healthy coat and skin.
Dog owners will also appreciate the Yucca schidigera plant extract ingredient that, according to research, has been shown to reduce waste-odor by as much as 26%.
Blue Buffalo Blue Wilderness Adult Healthy Weight Chicken Recipe Dry Dog Food
$59.98 for 24 lbs.
12. Sundays for Dogs
New meal delivery option Sundays for Dogs is committed to providing healthy food for your dogs without the mess and fuss of making it yourself. Co-founded by Tory Waxman, a small-animal veterinarian, and Michael Waxman, an engineer, after their dog got sick, the company uses an air-dry process for its food that combines the best of cooked and raw approaches, which better preserves nutrients and taste while eliminating pathogens. The result is food that lasts for weeks after opening but is still moist enough to not require any prep.
What to Look for in the Best Dog Food Brands
Always check the package to ensure the food you’re buying is appropriate for your dog’s size, life stage and health condition. Most are appropriate for all life stages, but some are formulated specifically for puppies or seniors, and a few are specifically for dogs with digestive problems or skin conditions.
It’s also important to feed your dog the correct volume of food each day to achieve those optimal nutritional levels. Always check the packaging or consult the manufacturer to choose a food volume that fits your dog’s size, age and activity level.
Be thoughtful when transitioning your dog to a new food. Don’t buy a lot until you’re sure your dog will eat it. Take your time deciding if it’s the right fit. Because all foods differ in caloric content, follow the manufacturer’s directions on what quantity to feed your dog. Your furry friend may have issues with a new food’s palatability, mouthfeel or protein source. Some early upsets go away a day or two into the transition. If your first choice doesn’t fit, transition slowly to another. When you’ve found the right food, you’ll likely see a new playfulness in your dog’s behavior and a more vibrant skin and coat.
Organic & Natural
The term “organic” can be used in different ways so you need to read the fine print. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the use of the term “organic” in human and dog food. By law, the USDA must apply the same standard to dog food that it applies to human food. “Organic” refers to the way a crop or animal is grown or raised and handled. Organic crops must be grown on land free from pesticides for at least three years. The food itself must not contain toxic and persistent pesticides, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), or have undergone irradiation.
Organic livestock whose meat is used in pet foods must be fed organic feed, not be given antibiotics or hormones and have access to the outdoors. To become USDA Certified, all of these requirements must be documented and confirmed via USDA inspection. Unless you see “USDA Certified Organic” on the label, it’s difficult to be sure the food is truly organic.
When only a portion of the ingredients is from certified organic sources, you’ll also see a percentage on the label, such as “95% USDA Certified Organic.”
Similarly, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines and regulates the term “natural” for pet food and animal feed. “Natural” means that a feed or ingredient is derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources that have not been produced by a chemically synthetic process. However, some ingredients can be labeled “natural” without actually being good or healthy for your pet. Look out for ingredients known as “fillers” that are low-cost and have little nutritional value. They’re added to make your pet feel full with fewer high-quality ingredients by weight. Common ones are corn and wheat gluten and grain products, soy, animal by-products and fruit and vegetable pulps.
Grain-Free & Probiotics
“Grain-free diets have been linked to heart disease,” notes Dr. Ochoa. “I do not recommend feeding a grain-free diet unless you know for sure that your dog has grain allergies. Grain allergies are extremely rare in dogs.”
So grain-free foods are only required for those that suffer from skin allergies, or fur or digestive problems.
Many brands are also adding pre-, post- and probiotics that promote a healthy gut and intestinal flora that in turn reduces inflammation, strengthens immune systems and helps keep the urinary tract healthy.
Raw Food Form & Safety
When choosing a raw dog food, consider the safety and form of the food (fresh, frozen, freeze-dried, etc.) and whether it was developed for the size of your dog.
Because the food is raw, it has not been cooked to kill germs that can cause intestinal upset and other diseases and infections. When stored in a cool, dry place, freeze-dried food can last well because the moisture has been removed before packaging. Similarly, frozen food can last up to a year when freezing temperatures are properly maintained. But once the freeze-dried food is hydrated or the frozen food has thawed, like human food, it can sit out for only a short period before disease-causing bacteria and viruses start to grow and thrive. Raw foods should not sit out for more than an hour at room temperature (or whatever period is recommended by the manufacturer on the packaging).
All manufacturers of these raw foods indicate on their websites and packaging their safe handling recommendations. Those usually include washing your hands thoroughly in hot, soapy water before and after handling raw pet food to prevent contamination and exposure to harmful microorganisms. They recommend you use stainless steel or glass containers and wash all utensils, counters and feeding dishes with hot, soapy water after each use or contact with raw meat and poultry products.
Consider avoiding any raw food brand that doesn’t mention their factory safety standards and note safe handling instructions on their packaging.
Also, keep in mind that you’ll feed different volumes of food depending on whether it’s freeze-dried or frozen, which will affect cost calculations.
Freezing and freeze-drying don’t alter and break down the proteins the way cooking does, so the nutrients our pets receive from these foods are closer to what they’d get in a fresh raw diet.
However, raw foods also have drawbacks. They tend to be more expensive than dry kibble and some of the wet canned foods often have added grains as filler, as well as preservatives for long-term storage. Pet stores carry far more processed food than raw and many do not have the freezer space to carry frozen food that costs more to ship, handle and store.
As consumers and pet parents we must find a balance between the risks and natural benefits of raw food in your dog’s diet.
Why Trust SPY?
Lorraine Wilde has had at least two cat and two dog companions in her home for the past 35 years. When researching these brands, Lorraine evaluated customer and professional reviews, the safety and health of the ingredients, and each company’s product research and development.
Because she has only the highest standards for her pets and her family, Lorraine included products she’d be willing to feed her dogs.
Lorraine holds a Master’s degree in environmental science with an emphasis in toxicology. She does this work to help consumers make healthy, informed and environmentally conscious choices to protect their pets, their families and our planet.
Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM, is a veterinary consultant with SeniorTailWaggers.com and has more than nine years of veterinary experience treating small animals. She currently works as a lead veterinarian at Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital in Whitehouse, Texas.