As pet parents, we want to give our dogs the best. When it comes to feeding, the best dog food for your dog is a food that tastes good and will support their growth to keep them healthy for years to come. But which one dog food is that? If you ask your dog, the chances are that your dog is telling you that they love whatever you put in front of them. After all, the best dog food in their eyes is whatever their favorite human offers them!
You probably have lots of other questions, though. What's the difference between regular dog food and grain free? What's the difference between chicken and chicken meal? To find the best dog food, we first need to look at the types of dog food that are available and the ingredients that go into them. From there, we can better understand what makes a dog food the best dog food.
What’s in the best dog food?
Before we go into our top picks, we will examine the various dog foods that are available on the market. There are two main types of dog food available: dry and wet. As far as nutrition goes, they are comparable, depending on ingredients, so which one you pick for your dog comes down to a matter of preference.
Dry dog food
Dry dog food, also commonly known as kibble, is a form of dog food that contains between 6 to 10 percent moisture. Dog food manufacturers usually sell dry food in bags. A process called extrusion makes kibble. A mixture of ingredients that commonly includes meat meal and starch is steam cooked in a large cooker.
The cooked mixture is then forced through a small die and cut to size with a rotating knife. The dog food maker then cuts the baked pieces to reduce the moisture in the product. Pet owners find dry dog food is convenient because it is easy to store and does not stale quickly once opened. However, dry dog food can be hard to eat for dogs with tooth issues.
Wet dog food
Wet dog food contains 60 to 90 percent moisture and is most often packaged in cans or plastic packaging to retain freshness. For the discriminating dog palate, wet dog food comes in a variety of different textures. Smooth pates and stew-like preparations are the most common though some wet food may resemble cooked ground or shredded meat.
Many dogs love wet food as most wet foods have a richer aroma. Of course, their owners may dislike it for the same reason! Unused portions of wet food must be refrigerated after opening and even then, must be used within a few days or it will spoil.
Other types of dog food
As dog feeding trends have evolved, so have the types of dog food that are available. For people who prefer to feed their dogs a raw diet, uncooked meat products are available in fresh, frozen, and freeze-dried formulas. These typically natural dog foods use human grade ingredients but are good for dogs.
Premium cooked dog foods made from human grade ingredients also available in fresh, frozen, and freeze-dried formulas. As with other wet dog foods, rehydrated freeze-dried food, thawed frozen, and fresh foods, unused portions should be refrigerated and used as soon as possible to avoid spoilage.
The type and quality of ingredients that go into dog food vary widely between brands. Dog food generally contains protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Any dog owner can attest that their best friends love meat. However, the meat quality that goes into dog food varies wildly, and you should always pay attention to what meats are in your dog food. The best dog food will contain quality meat from named meat sources like chicken, beef, or pork, as the first ingredient.
Ingredients labeled “meal” are a combination of all tissue, meat, and organs, that are rendered, or cooked together, and then dried. The resulting dried product is denser in protein than its fresh meat counterpart and is used to boost the protein level in dog food. Ingredients labeled “by-products” are the organs and other non-meat tissues of a slaughtered animal.
Generic meat ingredients like “meat meal” or “meat and bone meal” that do not name the animal can be made of just about any animal protein. This can include rotten meat, diseased cattle, and even euthanized pets.
Most dogs will eat just about anything you put in front of them, carbohydrates included. Whether they need it for their nutrition is up for debate. Most commercial dog foods usually involve some kind of plant matter for nutritional value and as a filler ingredient.
Common grain filler ingredients include corn and rice. Non-grain formulas may use starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or tapioca starch. Vegetables and fruits like peas and blueberries may also find their way into dog food for nutrient benefits. The best dog foods do not necessarily have to be grain free, but they will have fewer filler ingredients that do not give the dog any nutritional benefit.
Dog food products sometimes have different varieties for puppies and adult dogs. The best dog food for your dog will take into consideration the different levels of nutrition at each stage of life. Specifically, puppies need more protein, fat, and certain minerals to support growth than adult dogs.
As understanding about what dogs need to eat to survive, dog nutrition trends have evolved. Dog parents who have dogs with allergies or health conditions are in the market for foods that do not contain foods that can trigger or exacerbate their pet’s health conditions.
Grain-free dog foods are formulated without the use of grains. Instead of using grains like rice or corn to bulk up foods, grain-free dog foods may use alternatives like sweet potatoes or tapioca starch.
How We Found The Best Dog Food Brands
To find the best dog food brands, we looked at foods formulated for adult dogs and puppies (or all life stages) in wet and dry foods, including conventional and grain-free formulas. We looked for foods that had named protein as its first ingredient, and that contained no by-products. Lastly, we looked at ratings from Dog Food Advisor and customer reviews from online retailers.
Our Picks for the Best Dog Food Brands
Here are the foods that made our top choices, listed in no particular order.
- GRAIN FREE DOG FOOD WITH CAGE FREE CHICKEN: Instinct Original dry dog food is made with 70% real animal ingredients and...
- NATURAL DOG FOOD: Instinct Original dry dog food is high protein dog food made with probiotics to support healthy...
- THE FIRST RAW COATED KIBBLE: Instinct Original dry dog food is high protein dog food where every piece of kibble is...
Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original is a dry, grain-free food for adult dogs. The first ingredient in all of the Instinct Original Grain-Free recipes is the named protein. For example, in the beef variety, the first three ingredients are beef, turkey meal, and herring meal.
Dog Food Advisor “enthusiastically” recommends this food, citing its significant use of named meat protein sources. Chewy customers report that their dogs love this food.
One potential downside to this food is that it has had some recalls since 2009. The most recent recall was a voluntary recall by the manufacturer in 2015 due to possible salmonella contamination.
- REAL MEAT FIRST: Blue Buffalo foods always feature real meat as the first ingredient. High-quality protein from real...
- FOR ADULT DOGS: BLUE Life Protection Formula adult dog food contains essential proteins and carbohydrates to help meet...
- WITH LIFESOURCE BITS: This formula contains BLUE’s exclusive LifeSource Bits – a precise blend of antioxidants,...
Blue Buffalo Life Protection is a dry food for adult dogs. It lists chicken as its first ingredient, followed by chicken meal, brown rice, and barley.
Dog owners report that their dogs like the flavor of this food and that it seems to be suitable for dogs with allergies.
Blue Buffalo does suffer from a history of recalls, with the two most recent recalls happening in separate incidents in March 2017. Neither recall affected the Blue Buffalo Life Protection product. One recall was due to the possibility of excess thyroid hormone in a beef based wet food. The other recall was due to lack of quality in the foil seals of another wet food.
- Finely minced beef cooked in broth with barley, potatoes, and carrots.
- 343 kcal/can
- Meets the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for All Life Stages
Fromm Family Gold Pate is wet dog food for adult dogs. The first ingredient list for the beef and barley recipe is beef, followed by broth and beef liver.
Fromm dog food has had a voluntary recall involving the Gold Pate product line. This recall was in March 2016 for some batches of food that may have contained elevated levels of vitamin D. Also, due to Fromm’s commitment to selling through independently owned pet businesses, Fromm food may be difficult to find online.
- A taste of the wild with REAL BISON; REAL MEAT is the #1 ingredient; optimal amino acid profile, PROTEIN rich for LEAN,...
- Premium ingredients with added vitamins & minerals; fruits and vegetables as SUPERFOODS for hard-working ANTIOXIDANTS;...
- Ingredients From Trusted, Sustainable Sources Around The World; Made With No Grain, Corn, Wheat, Filler; No Artificial...
Taste of the Wild High Prarie is a wet, grain free dog food for adults. Its first listed ingredient is beef followed by lamb broth and vegetable broth. This formula also includes some gourmet proteins like bison and roasted venison. Chewy customers report that their dogs love this food, mainly the taste and texture of it.
- SELECT AN AMOUNT: Bags are available in small 4 pound, medium 10 pound, and large 22 pound sizes
- PICK A FORMULA: Our turkey and salmon recipes are sourced with a single protein for pure flavor
- ALLERGY FRIENDLY: Made without chicken, corn, wheat, soy, eggs, peas, white potato, and tapioca
Nulo Freestyle Limited + Puppy is a dry, grain free dog food for puppies and adults. The first listed ingredient in the Salmon recipe is salmon, followed by salmon meal and chickpeas. Dog Food Advisor gives this puppy food an “enthusiastic” recommendation as a plant-based food with substantial named protein. Reviewers on Chewy report loving this food for their dogs.
- Great for dogs and puppies of all ages
- No wheat, corn, soy, fillers, antibiotics, hormones, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
- A great tasting formula that dogs love
Canidae All Life Stages is wet dog food for puppies, adults, and seniors. It is a multi-protein formula with chicken, chicken broth, and lamb as its first three ingredients.
Canidae All Stages canned gets a “highly recommended” from Dog Food Advisor for being a meat based food with a sizeable amount of named proteins. Several users talk about how their puppies love the food. Owners with multiple dogs find it suitable for families with different aged dogs.
- ADVANCED NATURAL NUTRITION TO FUEL YOUR DOGS BEST LIFE: Premium protein expertly balanced with nutrient rich superfoods...
- SAVORY FOOD DOGS LOVE: Wellness CORE is available in grain and grain free recipes, as well as limited ingredient diets...
- LEANER BODY MASS AND MUSCLE TONE: This recipe is made with a high concentration of protein from fresh meat ingredients;...
Wellness CORE Puppy is a wet, grain free food formulated especially for puppies. The first three ingredients are turkey, chicken liver, and chicken. Wellness CORE canned dog foods, including puppy formula, get an “enthusiastic” recommendation from Dog Food Advisor.
However, pet owners should know that Wellness CORE has a recent history of product recalls. The latest product recall was voluntary, due to the possibility of elevated levels of a naturally occurring thyroid hormone in their canned beef recipe.
- ORIJEN Puppy dog food delivers a diet rich and varied in fresh, whole animal ingredients from free-run chicken and...
- With 85% quality animal ingredients, ORIJEN nourishes dogs according to their natural, biological needs
- Using fresh and raw animal ingredients, including meat, organs, cartilage, and bone, ORIJEN is the Biologically...
ORIJEN Puppy Food is a dry, grain free dog food formulated for puppies and younger dogs. Its first ingredient is deboned turkey, followed be deboned chicken and flounder.
The entire line of ORIJEN foods, including the puppy formula, gets an enthusiastic recommendation from Dog Food Advisor for its superior quality as meat and organ based dog food. It gets very supportive reviews on independent retailer sites Hollywood Feed and Petflow. Additionally, ORIJEN commits independent retailers so it may be more difficult to find than other brands of dog food.
Out of all of these incredible foods, our choice for overall best dog food is Instinct by Nature’s Variety. This dog food has superior nutritional value and consistently high customer reviews.
Our choice for the best dog food for puppies goes to Wellness CORE for wet foods and ORIJEN for dry.