Dogs provide unconditional love and emotional support to people that pet owners could be especially grateful for during the stressful times we live in. Feeding your dog a nutritious diet is just one way to show him how important you are and provide him with the right dog bed, toys to play with, and the occasional dog treat. Simply put, dogs deserve to eat well – in fact, “Adequate Food” is ranked fourth on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s guidelines for responsible pet care.
SKIP How to Buy Dog Food
The pursuit of the best food for dogs also brings them distinct health benefits, said Jennifer Freeman, DVM, resident veterinarian and pet care expert at PetSmart. “Premium dog food will have meat for protein, vitamin-rich vegetables and fruits, and omega fatty acids for a shiny coat,” Freeman told NBC News, adding, “there will also likely be fewer fillers like corn, wheat and soy.”
Another noticeable difference: The best dog food for your best friend can result in better absorption and digestion, and result in dog poop that is smaller and stronger, Freeman explained. (Every dog owner knows this is a huge win). The field for high quality whole food options (and often for humans too) is growing, as is the demand for them. According to the nonprofit American Pet Products Association, people will have spent more than $ 38 billion on food and treats for their pets by 2020 (up from $ 36.9 billion in 2019). But which dog food is best for your dog? To put the best dog foods together now, we’ve consulted experts to find out which dog food is the best and which of the best dog food options are.
Which dog food is best? Here are some of the most important options
1. Taste the wild old prairie
They revamped their formula to include old grains like sorghum and millet, but the first two ingredients are buffalo and pork, which are packaged in protein.
2. Instinct RawBoost Mixer
When feeding your dog dry food, Morgan recommends adding a topper to expand the range of nutrients you are feeding them. You can do this at home by adding a boiled egg, canned sardines in water, sauteed dark leafy vegetables, blueberries, or pumpkin as examples. You can also purchase freeze-dried raw “toppers,” which are traditional cuts of meat and organ meat that you mix with your nibbles, like this one from Instinct.
3. Orijen Original dry dog food
The company says 85 percent of the ingredients are from animal sources (the rest are fruits and vegetables). In their original formula, you’ll find fresh chicken, turkey, and cage-free eggs as the first three ingredients, followed by organ meat and fish.
4. Organix Chicken & Oatmeal dry dog food
In Organix, organic chicken is the first ingredient, along with oats and barley for whole grains and flaxseed and coconut oil for a healthier fat.
5. Zignature Lamb Limited Ingredient Canned Dog Food
In addition to chickpeas, flax and sunflower oil, this moist canned food also contains lamb as the first ingredient.
6. Freshpet fresh from the kitchen
You’ll find chicken listed as the first ingredient. Considering the amount of food in there – like cranberries and carrots – you can feel good about your dog getting a meal full of goodies.
7. The farm dog
There are several subscription delivery services like The Farmer’s Dog. “I call these dog TV dinners,” said Judy Morgan, DVM, a veterinarian who specializes in inclusive care. These companies regularly send bags of fresh, human food specifically designed for your dog’s needs to your door. If you’re on a budget and have a large dog, this may not be an affordable option for you, but it may be more workable for smaller dog owners, she said.
8. Natural Pet MaxMeat Air Dried Dog Food only
Made from air dried meat, the lamb and cod formula can be used as a meal or as a topper to nibble on the protein and add variety to your dog’s dish. The company uses New Zealand free range and pasture lamb. (Your dog deserves it, right?) This one is grain and legume free.
9. Rachael Ray Nutrish Supermedleys
A newcomer to dog food, this dry food features beef as the first ingredient and a variety of fruits and vegetables such as pumpkin, blueberries, spinach and carrots.
How to Buy the Best Food for Dogs
One of the most important steps in figuring out the best dog food is through the ingredients list, Freeman said. The first three are the most critical. “That way, you can tell if the formula is vegetable-based with things like corn and rice, or meat-based with chicken, fish, or lamb,” Freeman said. While every dog is different, they generally do best with a high-protein, meat-based diet, she added.
Next, analyze what kind of meat is in it. “Look for brands that specifically name the type of meat, like beef, chicken, or lamb,” Morgan said. She found that meat, bone meal or meat by-products could come from any animal. Similarly, “poultry meal” signals every bird, she said.
The ingredients will also highlight some of the things that you want to avoid. Freeman suggested avoiding dog foods that include: dyes (dogs don’t care what color their food is, she emphasizes), sugar and salt (which could be used as preservatives), and other solvents and preservatives like propylene glycol, BHA , BHT and ethoxyquin.
Types of dog foods to consider
The field of dog food is wide and so are your options. You have wet and dry dog food, chilled food, and fresh subscription-based options.
Organic dog food
While buzz words like “natural” aren’t regulated, Freeman noted, there are some solid takeaways that go with an “organic” label. With this label, your dog food is certified as free from antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides and preservatives. And according to the certification, its ingredients cannot be genetically modified, grown in chemical fertilizers or irradiated.
Dry dog food versus wet or canned dog food
Freeman argued that the amount of water in wet food could be an unwise investment and recommended using dry food instead. One benefit of dry foods (or nibbles) is that the friction while chewing can help keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy. It’s also less messy. Morgan added that bags of dry food tend to be cheaper compared to the other options.
Morgan noted, however, that nibbles typically contain less meat and often some type of grain, legume, or potato. If you go with nibbles, Morgan suggested topping the dry food with some canned food, home meat, or other toppers.
Is Grain-Free Dog Food Better?
Grain-free formulas have grown in popularity, but there has been concern recently: The FDA opened an investigation in 2018 to investigate a possible link between grain-free diets and a heart condition called canine dilated cardiomyopathy. Existing research is based on a small sample size, can be breed specific and involve other factors, said Morgan, “Overall, more research needs to be done and unfortunately this has affected a lot of good quality dog foods.” Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s particular nutritional needs before switching to grain-free dog food.
While ingredients are important, you really want to determine if the food contains the nutrients your dog needs to be healthy, not necessarily whether it contains grains or not, some experts argue. To make sure you are buying quality food, read the Diet Adequacy Statement. You should be able to find the statement – which the FDA considers “one of the most important aspects of a dog or cat food label” – on the back label (in small print). You may need to do a little research first to find it, but it has lots of helpful details about dog food, including profile information about the types and ages of dogs it is best suited for.