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The Best Dog Food Brands, According to a Veterinarian

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Updated January 18, 2024

The best dog food that money can buy is the one that suits your best friend’s needs. There are many important factors to consider when planning your dog’s diet, ranging from their age, size, breed, potential allergies, the food’s ingredient quality, and the dog’s personal tastes. On top of that, dog owners have to choose from a variety of meat types, such as beef, pork, and salmon, as well as a raw, wet canned, or dry kibble food, depending on your dog’s preferences

With so many choices available in the marketplace, it can be tough for a pet owner to make sense of all the options. Here are our top picks for best dog food and why it may be worth asking your vet if it’s a wise choice for your own pup.

How to choose the best dog food

Dr. Matthew McCarthy, a veterinarian and founder of Juniper Valley Animal Hospital in Middle Village Queens, New York offers advice on how pet parents can wisely choose the best dog food for their fur children. “The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), which is a global volunteer association of more than 200,000 veterinarians and whose mission is to raise the standards of care for companion animals worldwide, has developed criteria that veterinarians and pet parents can use to select a pet food and evaluate the overwhelming amount of nutrition claims flying around the internet. Some of the minimum criteria from WSAVA guidelines include:

  • Selecting a food that is made by a responsible company.
  • Selecting a food that is quality control tested.
  • Evaluating the label for Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statements that are appropriate. AAFCO is an independent organization that has developed ingredient definitions and label standards for well over 100 years.
  • Evaluating if there are any ‘red flags’ such as unsubstantiated health claims.

If you find food that aligns with this criteria, then it may be worth consideration for your pet. “The best approach is to partner with your veterinary team to figure out what’s going to work best for your doggie, as they are going to have to best handle on all of this,” advises Dr. McCarthy.

As Dr. McCarthy mentioned, the Association of American Food Control Officials, or AAFCO, also offers guidance on selecting the best food for your dog. In addition to reading the label carefully, you should check that the food corresponds to your pet’s species, life stage, and condition.

Before selecting the food, ask the following questions:

What are the main ingredients listed?

No matter what breed you have, one of the top considerations to keep in mind when selecting dog food is ensuring that a quality protein source is the first ingredient on the label, which indicates the protein is the most prominent ingredient in the food.

What life stage is your dog in?

Puppies, adults, pregnant and lactating dogs, and seniors have different nutritional needs, so consider choosing a food that closely matches the life stage they’re in. For instance, a puppy formula is likely higher in calories versus a formula for seniors, since an older dog doesn’t require as many calories. If you’re unsure which one is best for your dog, it’s wise to consult the veterinarian for clarity.

Does your pet have any special conditions?

Digestive issues, skin issues, or allergies are examples of conditions you need to consider when selecting the best dog food. If your pooch has a special condition you feel needs addressing, talk to your vet about any specialty food they may recommend for a specific condition.

Our top picks for best dog food

We scoured the marketplace to find the best dog food options with the key information you need – including the top three ingredients in each formulation– so you can make an informed decision.

Best raw dry dog food: Instinct Raw Boost Dry Dog Food

Instinct Raw Boost Dry Dog Food

Instinct Raw Boost brings the convenience factor of dry food to those following a raw diet for their dogs. This shelf-stable formula combines high-protein kibble with chunks of freeze-dried raw chicken, beef, or salmon. There are also a number of varieties that you can choose from, each tailored to your pup’s nutritional needs—from skin and coat issues to puppy-specific formulations.

Pros

  • Multiple flavor combinations
  • Contains higher amounts of protein
  • Includes probiotics for digestive health

Cons

  • High cost per pound of food

What to know

  • Flavors: Real Chicken, Real Beef, Real Salmon
  • Life Stage: Available in puppy, large breed puppy and adult formulas
  • Meets AAFCO nutritional standards: Yes
  • Nutrition: The first three ingredients in the Real Chicken variety are chicken, chicken meal, and peas.
Best raw dry dog food
Instinct Raw Boost Grain-Free Recipe with Real Chicken Natural Dry Dog Food by Nature s Variety 4 lb. Bag

Instinct Raw Boost Grain-Free Recipe with Real Chicken Natural Dry Dog Food by Nature s Variety 4 lb. Bag



Best dog food for allergies: Merrick Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Merrick Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Pet parents whose pups have allergies will enjoy the luxury of choice in the Merrick Grain-Free line. Since every recipe in this line was crafted without common allergy-triggering filler ingredients like soy, gluten, and corn, it’s a simple process of elimination to discover a variety your dog will love. With its priority on fewer overall ingredients, multiple recipes, and quality protein sources (lamb, duck, and beef), Merrick Grain-Free is a reliable choice for dogs with allergies.

Pros

  • Large variety of flavor combinations
  • Majority of recipe is protein
  • High in fiber and vitamins

Cons

  • High cost per pound of food

What to know

  • Flavors: Real Lamb & Sweet Potato, Real Bison, Beef & Sweet Potato, Real Chicken & Sweet Potato, Real Duck & Sweet Potato, Real Salmon & Sweet Potato, Real Texas Beef & Sweet Potato
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Meets AAFCO nutritional standards: Yes
  • Nutrition:The first three ingredients in the Real Lamb & Sweet Potato variety are deboned lamb, chicken meal, and turkey meal.
Best for allergies
Merrick Grain-Free Dry Dog Food Healthy Weight Recipe

Merrick Grain-Free Dry Dog Food Healthy Weight Recipe



Best wet dog food: Taste of the Wild Canned Dog Food

taste of the wild

Protein is the main focus at Taste of the Wild, with a trio of canned wet dog foods packed with premium meat (and other sources of protein). For example, the Canyon Canine Formula includes beef, lamb, wild boar, egg, beef liver, and peas. To round out the ingredients, there are easily digestible fruits and vegetables like blueberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and raspberries. Each 12-pack of cans may be a little pricey. However, this nutritious wet dog food is sure to keep dogs excited for every mealtime.

Pros

  • Real beef is first ingredient
  • Contains high fiber
  • Family-owned brand

Cons

  • Limited flavor options

What to know

  • Flavors: Southwest Canyon Canine Formula with Beef in Gravy, Wild Pacific Stream Canine Formula with Salmon in Gravy, Wetlands Grain-Free Fowl in Gravy
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Meets AAFCO nutritional standards: Yes
  • Price: $36 for a case of 12 cans
  • Nutrition: The first three ingredients in the Southwest Canyon Canine Recipe with Beef in Gravy variety are beef, beef broth, and lamb broth.
Taste Of The Wild Southwest Canyon Canine Formula Dog Food | 13.2 oz

Taste Of The Wild Southwest Canyon Canine Formula Dog Food | 13.2 oz




Best dog food for sensitive stomachs: ACANA Singles Limited Ingredient Diet

ACANA Singles Limited Ingredient Diet

Some dogs seem to have a digestive system of steel, but others need help finding a tasty and healthy dog food that agrees with their sensitive stomachs. Not only does ACANA offer four high-end dog food recipes that cater for dogs with a delicate palate, each variety is grain-free and offers an easy-to-digest combination of single-source meats and nutrient-rich fruits and veggies. This allows both choosey and food-sensitive dogs a chance to enjoy their favorite protein sources, while their owners can rest easy that their dog’s stomach will easily handle this nutritious grain-free kibble.

Pros

  • Free from peas and corn
  • Protein-rich kibble
  • Interesting flavor combinations

Cons

  • High cost per pound

What to know

  • Flavors:Pork & Squash, Duck & Pear, Beef & Pumpkin, Lamb & Apple
  • Life Stage:Adult
  • Meets AAFCO nutritional standards: Yes
  • Nutrition: The first three ingredients in the Pork & Squash variety are deboned pork, pork meal, and pork liver.
Best for sensitive stomachs
ACANA Singles Limited Ingredient Diet Beef & Pumpkin Recipe Grain-Free Dry Dog Food, 22.5-lb bag

ACANA Singles Limited Ingredient Diet Beef & Pumpkin Recipe Grain-Free Dry Dog Food, 22.5-lb bag



Best dog food for puppies: Nulo Freestyle Puppy Grain-Free Puppy

Nulo Freestyle Puppy Grain-Free Puppy

Since it’s important to lay a wholesome foundation for your puppy’s health from the start, you’ll want to study labels a bit more when shopping. Nulo Freestyle Puppy makes understanding what’s inside simple. Offered in both a turkey and a salmon-based recipe, this formula’s first three ingredients are sourced from quality protein-rich sources for stronger muscles, teeth, and bones. Nulo’s pair of dry puppy foods are fortified with nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables like carrots, blueberries, and apples—these kibble formulas are also both chicken and grain-free to dodge common food allergies.

Pros

  • Free of chicken and egg proteins
  • 80% of protein comes from salmon
  • Includes fruits and vegetables

Cons

  • Can cause stomach issues for sensitive puppies
  • High price

What to know

  • Flavors: Salmon and Peas, Turkey and Sweet Potato
  • Life Stage: Puppy
  • Meets AAFCO nutritional standards: Yes
  • Price: $38.95 for a 4.5 pound bag
  • Nutrition: The first three ingredients for the Salmon and Peas variety are deboned salmon, turkey meal, and Menhaden fish meal.
Best for puppies
Nulo FreeStyle Grain Free Salmon & Peas Puppy Recipe Dry Dog Food - 24 lb Bag

Nulo FreeStyle Grain Free Salmon & Peas Puppy Recipe Dry Dog Food - 24 lb Bag



Best senior dog food: Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Senior

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Senior

Older dogs need specialized nutrition to keep them alert, mobile, and healthy in their senior years. Unfortunately, the high heat needed to kill bacteria and make dry dog foods shelf stable also destroys a disappointing amount of nutrients in the process, but Blue Buffalo’s signature “LifeSource Bits” are formed under far less heat to avoid that outcome. The extra antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals from ingredients like pumpkin, spinach, and cranberries add a little extra boost in nutritional value (and add variety to each bite).

Pros

  • Includes glucosamine to promote mobility
  • Increased protein compared to other adult formulas
  • No corn, wheat, soy, or chicken by-products

Cons

  • Numerous customer complaints regarding the smell

What to know

  • Flavors: Chicken and Brown Rice
  • Life Stage: Senior
  • Meets AAFCO nutritional standards: Yes
  • Nutrition: The first three ingredients for the Senior Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe are deboned chicken, brown rice, and barley
Best senior dog food
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Natural Senior Dry Dog Food Chicken and Brown Rice 15-lb

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Natural Senior Dry Dog Food Chicken and Brown Rice 15-lb



Best dog food for weight loss: Nutro Natural Choice Healthy Weight

Nutro Natural Choice Healthy Weight

Everyone indulges from time to time, but once your dog gets a little too heavy, searching for the right diet to help them slim down and maintain a healthy weight can be difficult. Thankfully, there are two recipes of Nutro Natural Choice Healthy Weight available for overweight dogs, and its leaner chicken and lamb options provide the easy-to-digest protein they need, while the brown rice contains the natural fiber required for proper digestion.

This high-end healthy dog food is worth feeding to dogs long after they’ve reached their optimum weight due to its quality protein sources and lack of filler grains like corn, soy, and gluten.

Pros

  • Includes glucosamine to promote mobility
  • Lamb or chicken is first ingredient
  • No corn, wheat, soy, or chicken by-products
  • Non-GMO ingredients

Cons

  • Limited flavor options

What to know

  • Flavors: Chicken & Brown Rice, Lamb & Brown Rice
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Meets AAFCO nutritional standards: Yes
  • Nutrition: The first three ingredients in the Lamb & Brown Rice variety are deboned lamb, chicken meal, and whole grain barley
Best for weight loss
Nutro Natural Choice Chicken & Brown Rice Dry Dog Food for Adult Dog 22 lb. Bag

Nutro Natural Choice Chicken & Brown Rice Dry Dog Food for Adult Dog 22 lb. Bag



Best large breed dog food: Taste of the Wild PREY

xtra-large dog breeds have different nutritional needs than smaller dogs. Taste of the Wild PREY makes it easy to ensure that they’re getting enough protein. It features more single-source protein per piece than most other dry dog foods on the market, as well as a healthy limited-ingredient recipe. Offered in a trio of top-tier protein sources, Angus beef, turkey, and trout, alongside its other three main ingredients of lentils, tomato pomace, and chicken fat, this simple dry dog food is also an attractive diet for dogs with food allergies.

Pros

  • Limited ingredient list
  • Includes probiotics
  • Seasoned for added tastiness

Cons

  • Limited flavor options

What to know

  • Flavors: Angus Beef, Turkey, Trout
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Meets AAFCO nutritional standards: Yes
  • Nutrition: The top three ingredients in the Angus Beef Recipe are beef, lentils, and tomato pomace.
Best for large breed
Taste of the Wild PREY Angus Beef Limited Ingredient Recipe Dry Dog Food, 25 lbs

Taste of the Wild PREY Angus Beef Limited Ingredient Recipe Dry Dog Food, 25 lbs



Best dog food for small dogs: Castor Pollux ORGANIX Grain-Free

Castor Pollux ORGANIX Grain-Free

Some of the most important features to keep in mind when food shopping for a small breed are tiny bite-sized pieces and quality ingredients. Castor & Pollux ORGANIX has easy-to-eat pieces and features no fewer than ten organic ingredients in their small-breed dog food. Although it is only available in a single recipe, it is hard to top the quality of its organic free-range chicken, vegetables, and fruits. Small-breed ORGANIX also features a combination of pro- and prebiotic fiber to promote a healthy digestive system.

Pros

  • Made without corn, wheat, soy, or chickpeas
  • USDA-certified organic ingredients
  • Includes pro- and prebiotic fiber to promote proper digestion

Cons

  • Limited flavor and size options

What to know

  • Flavors: Grain-Free Organic Free-Range Chicken
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Price: $89.39 for a 10 pound bag
  • Nutrition: The first three ingredients are organic chicken, organic chicken meal, and organic oatmeal.
Best for small dogs
Castor & Pollux ORGANIX Organic Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Castor & Pollux ORGANIX Organic Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dry Dog Food



How we chose the best dog food

No matter the recipe, age range, or kind of dog food, there are a few key points where great dog foods stand apart from the competition. The best dog foods feature fewer ingredients overall, but the quality of each ingredient must be excellent, and they do not include any unhealthy or filler ingredients, such as wheat, artificial colorings, or soy.

We especially value dog foods that are offered in multiple formulas, because they are especially valuable for dogs with allergies and picky eaters. It is important to note that cost was never a consideration when we selected the best dog food available, because giving your dog the healthiest diet for the happiest life you can give them is invaluable.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What ingredients should I avoid?

While choosing between key ingredients like pork, beef, and chicken will vary by your dog’s personal taste and potential allergies, there are some ingredients some pet parents tend to avoid when comparing dog food recipes. These include fillers like corn, meat by-products, and soy, which can mean less of the “premium” ingredients that are touted on the label.

How much should I budget for dog food a month?

The price of premium healthy dog food may seem steep at first, but consider it a major investment to sidestep the high cost of treating conditions such as obesity, digestive issues, and allergies that may arise from a poor diet. Whether you plan on getting wet or dry dog food, purchasing in bulk and searching for promotional codes online will help to reduce costs, but whatever you are feeding them, set aside between $30 and $90 a month for buying quality dog food.

“Bear in mind that expense doesn’t necessarily equal quality. There are some really inexpensive diets that have years of rigorous scientific testing behind them and some very expensive diets that are lacking in vital nutrients or based on unsound science” according to Dr. Matthew McCarthy.

Which is better: Wet or dry dog food?

Dry kibble aids in dental health by scraping plaque from teeth, tends to last longer, and is easier to store. Canned wet food adds much-needed hydration to a dog’s diet, is easier for dogs to chew, and generally has a higher protein and fat content. While some owners serve a mixture of both so their dogs get the best of both diets, talking to your vet and discussing the best food option for your dog is the best approach.

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