To ensure our canine companions have a long, healthy and happy life, we want to feed them only the most nutritious dog foods. Top-quality food can also help fend off health problems as they age and help avoid expensive veterinary bills.
“When looking for a healthy dog food brand, 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 a whole protein, not by-products or meal. Most dog foods that are completely balanced are approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).”
When you find a healthy dog food brand you like, check out the company’s other healthy dog foods. Most brands offer at least one flavor in each category (dry, wet, hip and joint, limited ingredient, etc.).
Below are some of the best dog food brands available today. Each is nutritionally complete and balanced, so they can be fed as a standalone food while being safe and nutritious in combination with mixers, broth, other foods and treats.
Read More: The 12 Best Dog Food Puzzles
1. The Farmer’s Dog Custom Fresh Food
To earn the Best Overall spot, a healthy dog food must be nutritionally balanced, made with exceptional quality ingredients and a proven track record with dogs and their owners. This AAFCO-compliant, lightly cooked, custom diet is designed specifically for your dog’s age, current and desired weight, breed and health. You fill out a very short questionnaire online, and then they package and ship two weeks’ worth of USDA-certified human-grade meats, healthy vegetables and fats that are frozen and pre-portioned for easy feeding. The food is prepared fresh, and the light cooking makes it safer than fully raw foods. The proteins are also slightly more digestible, leaving the vitamins and nutrients intact.
The custom diet for my 48-pound, 4-year-old pit bull mix, Kuma, includes three food types — USDA-certified turkey, beef and beef liver, and chicken and chicken liver blends. Each mix also includes healthy, recognizable plant-based foods like chickpeas, lentils, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, sunflower seeds and fish oils. The cost was just over $6 per day without the 50% discount on the first order. You do have to give out your email and phone number to obtain a price quote specific to your dog. It’s relatively easy to make changes as your dog’s age, weight and health evolve.
Packed with antioxidants and healthy fats that proactively prevent cognitive decline as dogs age, this premium-quality diet contains omega-3 fatty acids that improve brain function.
Although this healthy dog food brand is more expensive than average, you’ll feel good about how the Farmer’s Dog cares about your dog and the environment down to the last detail. This healthy dog food is free of meals and preservatives and comes in recyclable cardboard boxes. Each food pack is made from non-toxic BPA-free plastics. Additionally, the food storage containers and insulation are biodegradable and compostable at home.
Full Review: The Farmer’s Dog Subscription Dog Food
2. Stella and Chewy’s Grain-Free Wild Red Raw Blend
BEST HIGH-PROTEIN RAW BLEND
“High protein diets are great for dogs that are very active and need a higher protein level to help keep up with their energy demands,” explains Dr. Ochoa. “If your dog is more sedentary, then a high protein diet can cause them to become overweight. High protein diets do cause kidneys to work harder as they have to break down and filter more proteins. So, if your dog has kidney disease, it is best to avoid a high protein diet.”
High-energy dogs seem to love all the varieties of Stella & Chewy’s healthy dog foods, but dog owners appreciate Grain-Free Wild Red Raw Blend because 90 to 93% of its protein comes from animal sources. The Red Meat Recipe includes six human-grade, poultry-free animal protein sources: grass-fed beef, New Zealand lamb, pork, bison, venison and goat. Similar to what their ancestors enjoyed, 80% of the recipe’s protein comes from animal muscle meat, organ meat and cartilage — which naturally provide glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy hip and joint health.
Crafted in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, since 2003, dog owners like that their ingredients are responsibly sourced and minimally processed, including organic broccoli, beets, carrots, squash, cranberries, spinach and blueberries. Each dry kibble is coated with freeze-dried raw and mixed with freeze-dried raw chunks. Raw foods add extra vitamins, minerals and proteins that aren’t damaged by heat.
Made using a small-batch production process this food includes antioxidants from fruits and veggies that help support a healthy immune system. Omega fatty acids from chia seeds and salmon oil provide skin and coat support. Vegetable fiber added probiotics and pumpkin promote healthy digestion. It’s free of common allergens. You’ll find no potatoes, legumes, peas, lentils, or by-product meals often found in other foods. It’s also free of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, hormones and antibiotics.
Available in 3.5- and 21-pound BPA-free bags, this excellent all-around raw blend is also available in nutrient-dense Small Breed, Prairie, Cage-Free Poultry, Free-Range and Wild Caught, as well as Whole Grain recipes. Stella & Chewy’s also offers a range of other healthy dog foods, including bone broth, dry kibble, freeze-dried and frozen raw, frozen cooked food and treats. Not every store carries this brand, so use the store locator to find their products near you.
3. Taste of the Wild
BEST ANCIENT & WILD INGREDIENTS
“Wild ingredient diets are often more expensive than other brands but are great to give to dogs with food allergies,” explains Dr. Ochoa. “Most dogs allergic to dog food are allergic to chicken or beef. I recommend using a wild protein or a fish protein for dogs with food allergies. Supply chain issues in the dog food industry in recent years can make finding these wild-protein-based foods difficult.”
Taste of the Wild is available in 21 tasty recipes, including Prey Limited Ingredient, Ancient Grains and grain-free recipes in canned wet and dry kibble varieties.
The High Prairie formula is made with real roasted meat and a blend of protein sources your dog will drool over — beef, buffalo, lamb meal, roasted bison and venison and ocean fish meal. The Pacific Stream formula is made with wild salmon, ocean fish meal and sweet potatoes.
Most formulas also include antioxidant-rich superfood fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, sweet potatoes and flax seed, as well as prebiotics, species-specific probiotics and chicory root for healthy digestion and top immune system performance. Salmon oil provides omega-3 and -6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.
Available in 5-, 15- and 30-pound bags, Taste of the Wild is family-owned and makes its food in the USA with AAFCO-approved, sustainable ingredients.
4. Darwin’s Natural Selections Raw Dog Food Service
BEST RAW FOOD SUBSCRIPTION
There are both pros and cons to feeding your dog a raw food diet. Switching to a partially or fully raw food diet can eliminate many mild yet persistent health problems. 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 that cause digestive distress 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.”
Although the supply of raw foods at your local pet store varies widely from location to location, you don’t have to worry about any of that if you use Darwin’s Natural Selections Raw Dog Food Service.
One of the best natural raw dog foods, Darwin’s 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, human-quality chicken, duck, turkey, beef, lamb, and organic vegetables. You won’t find any antibiotics, steroids, preservatives or artificial hormones in this wholesome, healthy dog food.
Darwin’s offers poultry flavors your dog will love but also carries lamb for those with sensitivities to poultry. Their website provides a pet food volume calculator. When you sign up, you can take a quiz to develop a custom feeding plan specific to you and your dog’s needs.
Those new to raw food diets can also call in for a free consultation about their menu and how to transition your pet safely to a raw diet.
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 food allergies and kidney disease.
Read More: Is Raw Dog Food Healthy for Your Pup?
5. Castor and Pollux Organix Organic Dog Food
“There is no definite research demonstrating 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 labeled as organic are not always the best quality dog food you can buy.”
With that said, our favorite organic dog food is Castor and Pollux Organix dog food. Made with free-range organic chicken or turkey and “superfoods” like organic flaxseed, organic coconut flour, organic dried egg and organic cranberries, Castor & Pollux have been making organic pet food since 2003. Since 2017, the entire Organix line of dog and cat foods, both dry and wet, has been USDA Certified Organic.
Their top ingredient is organic free-range chicken or turkey, and their other organic ingredients are produced without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, artificial preservatives, added growth hormones or antibiotics. Ten of their recipes are Non-GMO Project Verified.
Your dog can choose from dry or wet food in chicken and sweet potato, chicken and brown rice, chicken and vegetable recipes, and recipes designed specifically for puppies, seniors or small breeds.
They are cooked in the USA in an organically-certified kitchen. Their line is also certified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for All Life Stages.
6. Evanger’s Super Premium Limited Ingredient Diets
BEST LIMITED INGREDIENT DIETS
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 offering a range of recipes that are still slow cooked in small batches and hand packed in Markham, Illinois.
Their Super Premium Limited Ingredient Diet recipes include Beef Dinner, Venison & Beef Dinner, Chicken Dinner, Lamb & Rice and Duck & Sweet Potato. Formulated by nutritionists and experts, their ingredients are simple, recognizable and formulated in compliance with AAFCO standards for all life stages, and many are Certified organic by Oregon Tilth.
Each can of soft, wet loaf-style food contains just a few main ingredients, essential vitamins, and minerals. All have added omega-3 and -6 fatty acids to nourish skin and fur. These limited ingredient recipes are a great choice for dogs with allergies to certain types of protein.
Dogs with digestive problems, sensitive skin and intolerances will benefit most from a grain-free diet. 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.
Read More: The Best Canned Dog Food
7. Nutro Natural Choice Healthy Weight 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 you are feeding, increase exercise and discontinue feeding all treats.”
Available in Chicken & Brown Rice or Lamb & Brown Rice recipes, this Healthy Weight dog food is designed for dogs ages one year and older. Each is made with non-GMO ingredients and no by-product meals, artificial flavors or preservatives, corn, wheat or soy ingredients. Both also offer high-quality protein sources and low-fat content of about 7% to 10%. Healthy high fiber of about 11% from rice bran and whole grain brown rice and barley will help your dog feel nourished despite consuming fewer calories than typical dog food.
A bonus is that each recipe is formulated to support healthy immunity with essential antioxidants and healthy digestion with natural fiber. Cooked in their Tennessee and California facilities, customers note that this food has excellent flavor, top-quality ingredients, and value.
Solid Gold Fit & Fabulous Weight Control dog food in chicken or Alaskan pollack flavors were close runners-up in this category.
8. Wellness Core Wholesome Grains Original Recipe High Protein Dry Dog Food
BEST FOR JOINT HEALTH
The best foods and treats are formulated to promote or improve joint health and contain added glucosamine and chondroitin. Other important ingredients help manage inflammation, like omega-3 fatty acids and taurine. Veterinarians also recommend a ratio of calcium to phosphorus of 1:1 to 1.3:1 that are in adequate amounts. Maintaining a healthy weight is also essential so as not to put extra wear on inflamed joints.
Wellness CORE Wholesome Grains has all of the above, including one of the higher levels of glucosamine and chondroitin available at more than 1,200 mg/kg. This food is also high in protein, with turkey and chicken as the first ingredients and includes probiotics for healthy digestion. Designed to promote overall health, this food is also packed with nutrient-dense superfoods like spinach, broccoli, carrots, apples, blueberries and kale.
Lastly, if your veterinarian thinks that a grain allergy may be causing inflammation or other issues for your dog, you can try the Wellness CORE Grain-Free Original Recipe High Protein dry dog food, which has the same high levels of glucosamine and chondroitin. However, as Dr. Ochoa notes, “Grain-free diets have been linked to heart disease. So I do not recommend feeding a grain-free diet unless you know your dog has grain allergies. Grain allergies are extremely rare in dogs.”
9. Champion Petfoods’ Orijen Grain-Free Senior Dry Dog Food
BEST SENIOR 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 tend to gain weight easily and develop food and/or skin sensitivities as they age.
Made with care in an award-winning factory in Kentucky with 85% protein, this “boutique” food is more expensive than average. That’s because it includes regionally sourced free-range chicken and turkey, whole eggs and wild-caught fish, farmed or fished 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 sensitivity-free digestion. It is unique in that it contains botanical ingredients you’ll find nowhere else, like sea vegetables, juniper berries and turmeric, which are superfoods naturally rich in B vitamins, plant-based nutrients and essential trace minerals. Probiotics round out this premium formula. This food is available in 4.5-, 15- and 25-pound bags and meets AAFCO nutrient profiles for all life stages.
A bonus is that Champion Petfoods has been family-owned and operated for over 25 years.
10. Blue Buffalo Blue True Solutions
BEST FOR SPECIFIC HEALTH ISSUES
Blue Buffalo is an all-around top brand to consider. The True Solutions line of foods are veterinarian-approved, science-based formulations enhanced with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Each recipe features ingredients proven to support a dog’s needs, including those specific to breed size, activity level, digestive care, mobility health, weight management and more. This tasty wet food is available in 12.5-ounce cans.
The Best Life recipe is formulated for most dogs with the top ingredients that include real chicken, whitefish and chicken broth and liver, plus L-Carnitine to support ideal weight and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids for skin and coat health. Their proprietary TruMune is a nutrient blend that promotes immune function.
Each of the True Solutions recipes features protein-rich meat as the first ingredient — with more than 30% protein on average — and a controlled amount of calories from fat. All their foods are made without poultry by-product meals, corn, wheat, soy and artificial flavors or preservatives.
Each True Solutions recipe is also available as dry food in multiple-sized bags.
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 also 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. Currently, she is a lead veterinarian at Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital in Whitehouse, Texas.