“A dog is the only thing on Earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” –Josh Billings
There is no doubt in any dog lover’s mind that our pups are members of the family. Just like family, we always want to do what’s best for them to keep them healthy and happy. One of the single most important things we can do is to make sure they are well-nourished. Choosing the best dry dog food for your pup ensures that they will have the fuel they need to be the best walking partner, babysitter, guardian and snuggle buddy that they can be. What’s more, it will give them the foundation they need for good health throughout their lives.
Say you have two bowls of dry dog food in front of you. One is a top dry dog food and the other is low quality, filled with harmful additives. Could you tell the difference?
Even with our own food, we know that controversies abound as to whether a lot of it is safely grown, raised and processed. With pet food, quality control monitoring and enforcing is even more of an issue. Two agencies, the American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are loosely tasked with regulating pet food ingredients and their quality. However, regulations are not up to the same standards as most pet owners might hope and enforcement is even laxer.
Large-scale pet food manufacturers can get away with plenty of shortcuts to mass produce food for less cost. When their priority is the company’s bottom line, they would rather spend more money on, perhaps, flashy marketing campaigns. While this is not necessarily true of all major pet food brands, do keep it in mind when you are trying to choose what dog food is best for your four-legged family members.
While the single most important thing you can do for your dog’s health is to feed him well, the single most important thing you can do when choosing his food is to read the label. Of course, with the seemingly endless options nowadays, selecting the best dog food can seem overwhelming. Our aim is to help inform you as well as offer up our own picks of the top 10 best dry dog foods.
Reasons to put it back on the shelf
Feeding your dog a low-quality food filled with harmful or nutritiously void ingredients is terrible for their overall health. Think of how diverse our diets are to meet our nutritional needs. Your dog has to get everything he needs from one food. Low-quality dog foods can cause immediate health problems like allergic reactions, digestive issues, lethargy and low mood. In the long run, your dog is at an increased risk of disease, injuries, and a shorter lifespan. Top dry dog foods will keep your pup performing at his best for many years to come. Just like us, our dogs need the right combination of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber to stay healthy and happy.
The AAFCO and FDA have set regulations on what dog food manufacturers should and should not include in their food. However, these guidelines are set to make the product ‘feed grade’ rather than ‘human grade,’ meaning far lower quality ingredients that are not fit for human consumption. They are not concerned with what’s the best dog food for nourishing your pup inside and out for years to come. Simply put, the measures that are meant to give our dogs some level of protection against harmful foods are really not up to the same levels of most pet parents.
As we said, dog food manufacturers can get away with a lot of shortcuts and can still add a host of dangerous ingredients while staying well within the boundaries of being ‘feed grade.’
If you see any of these on the ingredient list, consider putting it back on the shelf:
“Meat” or “meat meal” – these generic terms mean that the manufacturers don’t even know what’s in there… they just know it came from some part of some animal at some point in time
“By-product” – similar to above, but this means that it is anything and everything else except the actual meat part of some animal
Corn, wheat, gluten or soy – these are not only cheap fillers, but they are major allergens and can cause bad reactions
Artificial colors or flavors – your dog does not need colorful food nor does he need the weird chemicals that make it colorful and if it needs artificial flavor, then the other ingredients must not taste very good, which is a bad sign
BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole), BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), PG (Propylene Glycol), Ethoxyquin – aside from their use as preservatives in very bad dog food, these chemicals can be commonly found in other things such as antifreeze, herbicides, and plastic… they do not belong in any animal’s body
Fructose, corn syrup, sorbitol, xylitol – these are all dangerous artificial sweeteners added to trick your pup into liking a food that is unhealthy
While these are only the most commonly found offenders, you can be confident that once you know most of the trademarks of a quality food, your risk of choosing something with any harmful ingredients will be drastically reduced. It’s also pretty safe to say those dog food companies who take the time to put together a formula full of healthy, responsibly sourced ingredients is not going to sneak in an obscure chemical under some other name. Even if they did, they surely would not find their brands on our top 10 dog food list.
What you need to see on the label
Just knowing what to avoid already takes a lot of foods out of the equation. It is pretty disappointing to see how many leading brands have things such as corn front and center as the first ingredient, or a host of fillers and artificial additives. This is why it’s so critical to be informed.
So now that you know what to avoid, let’s look at some of the things that you want to find on your dog food label. The AAFCO has published nutrient profiles by which dog food manufacturers should abide to meet the needs of canines. If a food claims to be complete and balanced it must fulfill those profiles, but again, their idea of acceptable nutritional value does not mean it will meet your dog’s needs. You are the best judge of what makes a food good enough for your best friend.
As a general rule, when you read over your dog food label try to see if you can form a mental image of the ingredient. Everything that goes into your dog’s food should be identifiable. Keep this in mind as we review some of the things you want to find on the label and in our dog food comparison.
Here’s the foundation of a top quality dog food:
Your dog needs protein from meat sources to be the cornerstone of his diet. This means you want to see chicken, lamb, beef, salmon or another animal listed as the first ingredient(s). Again, ‘meat’ is not a good sign, neither is ‘poultry’ or something similarly vague. ‘Meal’ is condensed protein frequently used and should always be preceded with an identifiable source, as well.
This means whole grains, oatmeal, barley, quinoa, brown rice and fiber-rich tubers like sweet potatoes or tapioca.
Healthy oils and fats
Fats should also come from identifiable sources, like chicken fat. Omega fatty acids are critical for your dog’s skin and coat as well as heart health and brain function. Great sources are fish, flaxseed, almond, olive and sunflower oils.
Fruits and vegetables
A good blend of fruits and vegetables adds antioxidants, fiber and trace minerals. A high-quality dog food will also accompany these with a supplemental list of vitamins to ensure your dog is getting everything he needs.
These will have suffixes like chelate, proteinate or glycinate. Minerals that have gone through the chelation process are molecularly bonded with proteins so they are more easily absorbed by the digestive tract.
Supplements for digestion, metabolism, heart and joint health*
This earns an asterisk because it is dependent on your pup’s individual needs. Probiotics to support digestion or supplements like taurine and l-carnitine for heart health are beneficial to most dogs, while glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support are even more important for large breeds.
You may notice that everything on this list is pretty straightforward. In fact, these are all things that we would consume, as well. Your dog’s diet should be filled with natural, wholesome ingredients that he would be likely to consume in nature.
This is another basic rule to choosing what dog food is best. Those companies that are trying to offer recipes which mimic your dog’s ancestral diet – what his wolf cousins would eat – have the right idea. Your dog shares 99% of his DNA with the wolf and his body needs most of the same nourishment that has kept his species going strong for tens of thousands of years.
The trend towards more grain-free, high protein options is really a welcome movement for dogs everywhere. By removing even more of those things that dogs are not built to process, such as simple carbohydrates and large amounts of grains, we are returning their diets to the nourishment their systems are more accustomed to. This reduces the risk of food allergies, improves digestibility and improves overall health. You will find several formulas that are embracing this trend on our top-rated dog food list.
Our Short List of Some of the Best Dry Dog Food on the Market
So based on these guidelines, what is the best dry dog food? It would be nearly impossible to declare what dog food is best among a fairly substantial list of top rated dog foods.
In the sea of choices, we’ve searched label after label and tossed a lot of very popular brands aside. Don’t forget, some of the oldest brands are also adhering to old standards long before pet owners began to really question what companies were packing into those unexceptional-looking kibble pieces. Many of those manufacturers who also have the biggest production really cannot balance the demand for quantity with the need for quality. Besides, their brands are now recognized worldwide and no one even thinks to look at the label, right?
We’ve narrowed down some of our favorites among top rated dry dog foods that we would confidently feed our own pups:
Grain and gluten-free with high levels of lean protein, Solid Gold is aptly named. Their recipe features sustainably sourced proteins such as beef, lamb, and fish. Potatoes, peas, and chicory add complex carbs and fiber. Olive, almond and salmon oil make this food super-rich in healthy oils and omega fatty acids that will keep your pup’s skin and coat soft and supple and his heart and mind healthy.
They also mix in a bunch of great fruits and veggies like spinach, kelp, pumpkin, cranberries, broccoli, carrots and more to really up the antioxidant content. Solid Gold includes probiotics, taurine and l-carnitine for digestive and heart support, as well.
Orijen also offers a grain-free food with a diverse range of protein sources. Chicken, turkey, mackerel, and herring makes this formula particularly high in protein and omega fatty acids. Navy beans and lentils are rich in fiber, plant protein, and complex carbohydrates, while turnip greens, kale, spinach, apples, pears and pumpkin add antioxidants. Orijen also uses turkey and chicken cartilage to give their recipe natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health to keep your dog healthy on the move.
Wellness is another brand that offers holistic, wholesome dog food with all the right stuff. Turkey and chicken meal provide above-average levels of protein, while potatoes and sweet potatoes give this formula fiber, nutrients, and complex carbohydrates. Wellness includes flaxseed and salmon oil for a boost of omega fatty acids, as well.
Spinach, parsley, kale, carrots, blueberries, and apples add bountiful antioxidants. This recipe is further supplemented with probiotics, taurine, glucosamine, and chondroitin, filling every bowl with goodness for your pup.
Horizon Legacy’s philosophy is based on creating a kibble that reflects all the natural goodness of a raw diet. Salmon provides excellent protein, and with the addition of both salmon oil and flaxseed oil, this recipe is full of essential omega fatty acids. Peas and pea fiber provide very moderate amounts of carbohydrates, while broccoli, bok choy, carrots, pineapple, blueberries, and cranberries add substantial antioxidants. Horizon also includes probiotics, glucosamine, and chondroitin, making this a well-rounded and highly beneficial choice.
Chicken, turkey meal, herring, flounder, and eggs provide Acana Heritage with an excellent protein base. Their formula features lentils and beans as fiber and nutrient-rich carbohydrates, free from any gluten or grain. Herring oil adds to the already high omega fatty acid content.
Acana also packs their recipe with antioxidants though kelp, pumpkin, butternut squash, parsnips, kale, blueberries, carrots, apples and more. This formula uses a unique blend of herbs and botanicals, as well, such as milk thistle for liver health, marshmallow root for digestion and rose hips for immune support. Acana Heritage really goes beyond when preparing a truly holistic, natural dog food.
Castor & Pollux uses duck, turkey, lamb and salmon meal to provide great levels of protein for your pup. Sweet potatoes offer fiber and healthy complex carbs, while duck fat and salmon oil will provide the omega acids needed to keep your dogs skin, coat, heart and mind at their best. Cranberries, blueberries, bananas, apples, and carrots are among the diverse antioxidant blend used in this recipe. Castor & Pollux also includes probiotics, as well, making this super healthy formula even easier to digest.
Fromm is a family-owned manufacturer that pays attention to the details when it comes to their signature recipes. Duck, turkey, and pheasant lay a great diverse protein foundation while potatoes and sweet potatoes offer the moderate, healthy carbs your pup needs.
Spinach, carrots, broccoli, apples, blueberries, and cranberries give this formula antioxidants and vitamins. Fromm also uses salmon oil and flaxseed to provide essential omega fatty acids. This food is naturally nutritious, with the added benefit of taurine for heart health, probiotics for digestion and chicken cartilage for glucosamine and chondroitin.
Natural Balance does as advertised in providing a very well-balanced dry food with a great synergy of wholesome ingredients. Chicken, chicken meal, salmon meal and egg give this food its lean protein base. Complex carbohydrates and fiber are derived from oatmeal, brown rice, and barley.
Natural Balance provides their recipe with an antioxidant blend that includes carrot, spinach, cranberries, and kelp, along with omega fatty acids from salmon and flaxseed oils. This recipe is well-supplemented with both l-carnitine and taurine for heart health, as well.
Nature’s Variety is an all-around high-quality brand that offers a grain and gluten-free dry food with a freeze-dried raw coating your pup will find delicious as well as healthy. Chicken and fish meal provide high levels of lean protein and tapioca adds fiber-rich carbohydrates. The essential omega fatty acids in this formula come from salmon, flaxseed and olive oil. Kelp, apples, carrots, peas, squash, spinach and more are excellent sources of antioxidants. Nature’ Variety Instinct tops it off with probiotics for digestive support.
Merrick is another brand that has a solid line of foods, but their Backcountry Raw-Infused dry food is especially well done. High protein kibble is combined with freeze-dried raw ingredients that are cold formed to preserve all those wonderful nutrients. Beef, lamb, and rabbit make great sources of protein, balanced with healthy complex carbs from sweet potatoes.
This is an antioxidant-rich food, packed with blueberries, peas, apples and more. Salmon oil gives this recipe those critical omega fatty acids, as well. Merrick supplements this formula with probiotics and glucosamine and chondroitin, making this another very complete and balanced choice with many benefits for your dog.
It may seem that there is a lot to take into account when searching for the best dry food for dogs. There are a lot of choices veiled in a lot of bold claims. By being informed and reading the labels, you will be able to make the right choice on the best food to feed your dog.
Do not be swayed by a particular brand’s popularity or claims. Some of the biggest dog food manufacturers have the least motivation to ensure their products are actually providing what your dog needs. It sometimes helps to take a look at the company behind the brand to get an idea of where they are coming from.
On the same note, the best dry dog foods are most certainly not going to be the cheapest. When it comes to your family, it is worth the extra cost to be sure you are nourishing their health and well-being. To spend a little more now for one of the best dry dog food brands means that you are investing in a future with less risk of injury or serious health problems.
Here we have offered this best dog food comparison to give you some more concrete options to consider. We’ll leave it to you to decide on what is the best dry dog food. After all, when it comes to your four-pawed friend, you know what he needs better than anyone.
Product images sourced from Amazon.com