“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” – Agnes Sligh Turnbull
Canines have walked beside us as domesticated dogs for between 12,500 to 15,000 years, according to researchers. Since the first wolves wandered up to our caves in search of some dinner scraps, the foundation of our unspoken agreement has been: will work for food.
Through the centuries, leftovers remained the primary sustenance that we bestowed upon our best friends. For all the hunting, guarding and companionship they provided, stale bread and bones were likely their only nourishment. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the first ‘dog food’ became a commercial product. It is widely believed that the Ohio-born electrician James Spratt was the first to manufacture dog food for commercial use.
While in London on a business trip, he witnessed sailors toss ‘hard tack’ – bland biscuits consisting of flour, water, and salt – to stray dogs on the docks. From this simple moment, Spratt got the idea to bake the first dog biscuits. These ‘dog cakes’ proved successful amongst the British, so Spratt took his product to upper-class American dog owners. Although this was simply a supplemental treat, this was the very beginning of commercial dog food.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the success of the biscuit gave rise to more substantial dog meals consisting of canned meats. Popularity waxed and waned depending on availability of metal for packaging due to the two World Wars. In the 1950s the sudden emergence of processed meats for humans, designed to have a lasting shelf life, saw a renewed interest in dog food. The increase in highly processed canned meats like Spam meant there was suddenly a lot of meat scraps and waste. Here, entrepreneurial companies saw as a fantastic opportunity.
They were able to grind down all those castaway parts and package it as a food not fit for human consumption, but suitable for pets. During this same period, one of the major pet food companies discovered how to transform a liquid mash of meat and scraps into dry nuggets through a similar heating process used to create cereals. Dry kibble emerged as a lighter, less messy alternative to canned wet food.
The timing couldn’t have been perfect for all of these developments. Television and radio were trickling into every household. Companies now had even more platforms to market directly to the hundreds of thousands of middle and upper middle class homes where the family dog was now almost an American tradition. Lo and behold, the pet food industry was born.
Within the last half a century alone, this has become a multibillion-dollar industry. You know yourself that pet stores are absolutely brimming with different brands and types of edible options, all claiming to be the best dog food for your furry friend. Unfortunately, though we would like to think companies have come a long way from gathering waste from the floors of meat rendering facilities, there are plenty of pet food manufacturers who still use this practice to mass produce their products. This is why it is so critical to be informed about what is in your pup’s dish.
As long as you know what makes a top rated dog food, commercial dog food is still probably the most convenient way to nourish your pup. Some of the highest quality brands out there may very well even be the best food to feed your dog. For those companies that care and love our canine companions as much as pet parents do, they do produce a lot of very well-balanced products.
Here we will take a look at some of the different dog food options you’ll find on the today’s shelves. From dry kibble to wet canned, up to the latest trends in raw and freeze-dried foods. This is a review of the best dog food on the market. If you have a puppy, check out our post on the best puppy foods on the market here.
What To Avoid In ANY Food
Before we start getting into the specifics of top-tier foods, let’s just get this very important matter out of the way. While the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are now in charge of regulating what goes into pet food, the standards are disappointingly low. What constitutes ‘feed grade,’ as in, safe for animal consumption, is still so lax that harmful chemicals, additives, and allergens are still permissible.
Again, the most important thing any dog owner can do is to educate themselves on what to look for in their pet’s food. You probably don’t want your dog consuming anything that you wouldn’t put in your own body and neither do we. That’s why we have set out to compile as much information as we can on what to avoid, what to seek out and which are the top dog foods. You won’t find anything from this list on the labels of brands on our best dog food ratings.
Here’s What You Do Not Want To See On The Label:
- Corn, wheat, gluten or soy
- Meat, meat meal, or by-product
- Artificial colors or flavors
- Fructose, corn syrup, sorbitol, xylitol
- BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole), BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), PG (Propylene Glycol), Ethoxyquin
Any of the above can cause dangerous allergic reactions, digestive issues, poor health, increased risk of injury, disease, stunted growth, poor mood, lethargy or shorter life expectancy.
Generic terms like ‘meat’ are used when the manufacturers cannot identify what animal or what parts of an animal are included in the food. Think of those scraps from the meat processing plant floor. What’s worse, dog food manufacturers are still allowed to use waste from meat rendering facilities. These establishments breakdown and dispose of anything from diseased livestock and expired grocery goods to road kill.
Artificial anything does not belong in your dog’s body and just like with any of those artificial sugars on the list, the canine digestive system really can’t process them. Long-term consumption can lead to allergies or even diabetes. Those commonly used preservatives are chemicals found in things such as household cleaners and antifreeze. Again, none of this should be ingested by any animal let alone your household pet.
Use your best judgment when you look at the label. If you find things you cannot identify or that cause you concern, put it on the shelf and maybe do some research later.
All Of The Good Stuff
Whether you personally choose to eat healthy or not, you at least have a pretty good idea of what healthy choices look like. More often than not, these are simple, wholesome foods that are as close to natural as can be. This is what you want to find in any dog food.
It is also a huge plus if you can find foods that source their ingredients locally or at least within the United States or Canada. There have been a vast number of recalls and warnings issued on pet food products containing ingredients sourced elsewhere, in particular from China. While there are plenty of problems to address domestically in regards to pet food quality, there is even more ambiguity when it comes to ingredients from foreign suppliers.
Here’s All That You Need To See On A Quality Dog Food Label:
- Protein From An Animal
Chicken, beef, lamb, salmon, venison, etc.
- Complex Carbohydrates
Oats, barley, brown rice, tapioca, quinoa, sweet potatoes, etc.
- Oils & Fats
Fats from identifiable sources like chicken, oils from fish, flaxseed, sunflower, almond, olive, etc.
- Fruits & Vegetables
Almost anything except onions, grapes, cherries, avocado
- Vitamins & Minerals
Many foods will supplement with these over using fruits and vegetables
Any good dog food will not go beyond these fundamental ingredients because your dog does not need anything he would not find in nature.
High-quality foods may also add supplements like probiotics for digestion, taurine and l-carnitine for heart health, or glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support.
Freeze-dried, Raw Frozen, Wet Or Dry?
There are of course a multitude of different types of dog food to choose from. Bagged dry kibble or canned wet foods are clearly the most popular. In the very short history of dog food, these two were the mainstays, developed through a combination of convenience and cost-effectiveness.
Nowadays, the booming pet food market has seen new products that may be much more than passing trends. The movement towards mimicking our dogs’ ancestral ‘wolf’ diet is a positive step towards feeding our pups what their body has craved since long before they came to work with us for scraps.
The best food to feed your dog should be full of simple nutrition. Manufacturers now offer raw diets in several convenient forms that assemble some of the more natural elements of the canine diet. Raw frozen and freeze-dried raw are gaining popularity as convenient ways to feed your dog the way nature intended.
With attention shifted towards this healthier approach to dog food, the traditional kibble and wet food manufacturers are also increasing their quality by finding ways to add similar benefits to their tried and true forms of food. It’s actually great news for dog owners because now there is a need to produce high-quality, natural diets that remain convenient and affordable.
Each Type Of Food Has Its Pros And Cons, Which We’ll Briefly Review Here.
Still a favorite for its convenience, ingredients are processed with heat and pressure to form coarse bits that are light, easily stored and have a long shelf life. The hard texture is arguably best for your dog’s teeth, effectively scrubbing them every meal time. Although the method of processing still allows for a wide range of great ingredients to be blended into the kibble, this is a highly processed food. It tends to have higher carbohydrates and fewer nutrients overall.
Also very convenient with a long shelf life, wet food cans are more cumbersome than convenient. They do allow for less processing and the ingredients are closer to their natural state, meaning they’ve retained a lot more vital nutrients. There are a lot fewer carbohydrates in wet food, but more moisture, which are both positives.
Freeze-dried & raw frozen
The process of freeze-drying preserves so much more of the original nutritional content while making it safe for storage without refrigeration. Once rehydrated, this food as the same nutritional content as its frozen counterpart. While frozen raw has the same great nutritional benefits, it does not travel as well. Both options are usually made with limited ingredients based on meat, bone, and organs, the cornerstone of a healthy canine diet.
What does it all mean? There is a very competitive market for quality dog food with more options than ever.
It will be great to see where the raw diet trend goes in the coming years. As the trend has gained momentum, it has become a top recommendation for dogs with sensitivities, allergies and even fussy eaters. While it is currently not the cheapest option, it is one of the healthiest for a lot of reasons – all based on the fact that it is as close to natural as you can buy.
As we mentioned, the shift towards natural and ancestral has been great for all dog foods. Concerned pet owners are looking closely at the labels for the first time in history and the result has been a lot of streamlining in the pet food industry.
Here we’ve made sure to mix it up in our top 10 best dog food choices. There are quality dog foods of all types and it largely depends on what is best for your individual canine. This top ten best dog foods list is not exhaustive but should serve as a compilation of examples for a best dog food comparison.
This brand has created several lines of raw food options, with their freeze-dried formula being particularly convenient. Formulated with chicken meat, bone and organs, all rich in natural nutrients, compounds and trace minerals canines need. This recipe is supplemented with flaxseed and fish oil for omega fatty acids as well as fruits and vegetables like cantaloupe, carrots, broccoli, kelp, blueberry and cranberry for antioxidants.
Stella and Chewy’s is another brand embracing raw and setting the standard in natural nutrition. They use over 90% meat, organs and bones in their formulas from responsibly sourced animals. This is an antioxidant-rich recipe with all organic squash, carrots, spinach, blueberries and more. This brand thrives on locally grown expertise to craft some of the most nutritious, natural food you can give your pup.
Again, simple and natural is what we’re looking for in raw foods and Primal Canine does this well. What’s more, they use human grade ingredients in their raw frozen formulas. Meat, organs, bone, and marrow are blended with organic produce, minerals, and vitamins. Primal Canine sources all of their ingredients locally, as well.
For anyone looking to start slowly into raw options, Nature’s Variety offers a line that includes everything from familiar dry kibble with a raw coating or freeze-dried bits to their raw frozen options. The latter is a nutritious mix of meat, organ, and bone with fruits and veggies like butternut squash and kelp. This brand is one of the bigger names in raw and is a good choice for transitioning.
This recipe is organic as advertised, from the chicken and chicken liver to the peas and alfalfa. For a wet food option, this has high levels of quality protein, low carbohydrates, and absolutely no harmful fillers. Newman’s Own also supplements with a balanced blend of vitamins and minerals.
The Wellness line of dog foods is really a top choice all-around. Their canned wet food doesn’t disappoint with all natural and wholesome ingredients like chicken, egg whites, potatoes, peas, carrots, and celery. Grain, gluten and artificial filler-free, Wellness Stews are a good choice if wet food is your dog’s pick.
Another dog food brand that gets good marks from us, Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Stews have high protein levels, a great blend of fruits and vegetables and high levels of healthy oils from flaxseed and olive oil. Again, it is all natural and free from anything that doesn’t add nutritional value.
(For a thorough list, see our Best Dry Dog Food Reviews: A Top Rated Comparison Guide)
This brand produces holistic food recipes that really pack in so much good stuff. Their dry food has above-average protein, high levels of healthy oils and a great antioxidant blend of fruits and vegetables. Solid Gold includes probiotics, taurine and l-carnitine for digestive and heart support, as well.
Acana Heritage offers one of the most unique dry foods that takes natural to a whole new level. They lay a solid foundation with plenty of protein then add a long list of super nutritious legumes, vegetables, and fruits. Their formula contains one of the highest amounts of botanicals and herbs, such as marshmallow root for digestion and rose hips for immune support.
Another wholesome, holistic choice, Orijen uses great diverse protein sources in their recipes. Carbohydrates are very moderate, while fiber and nutrients are high. Orijen also includes turkey and chicken cartilage, natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health.
The history of commercial dog food is actually a short one and for many decades, consumers were stuck with two options of questionable benefit to your dog.
Only recently has quality become more of a concern as pet owners are more informed. Luckily, many pet food manufacturers answered the call for healthier options, although there are plenty of popular brands that are still relying on their names to pass off cheap fillers and low-grade meats. Any top 10 best dog foods list will reveal how few major brands make the cut.
Always read the label and remember that natural is best. Our canine friends have been eating a simple, protein-based diet for tens of thousands of years. The return to this foundation with the raw ancestral diet trend has seen healthier dogs with fewer allergies and disease. What’s more, major pet food manufacturers are upping the ante to keep the pace with these smaller holistic companies that are stealing the hearts of dog lovers. While the best dog foods may not be the cheapest, it’s worth it when it comes to your family. Your dog’s health is so critically dependant on nutrition that it pays to invest a little more for a top dog food.
We’ve offered up an array of options in our best dog food comparison because you can find healthy options in all forms, depending on your dog’s needs and preference. You know your dog better than anyone. If you ever have concerns about your pup’s dietary needs, consult your veterinarian.
Product images sourced from Amazon.com.