Our list of best dog food brands will probably look a little different than other lists you see online.
That’s not because we’re not familiar with the top selling brands or the ratings that dog foods usually receive from other sources.
It’s because we look at what’s healthy for your dog and follow the latest scientific and veterinary health information.
For the last 10-15 years, grain-free dog foods have been skyrocketing in sales, partly due to marketing.
There have never been any studies that showed grain-free dog foods were healthier for dogs.
Many dog foods have also become popular based on the trend toward feeding dogs what humans like to eat.
According to veterinary nutritionists, boutique dog foods that are grain-free or that use exotic ingredients can be more likely to lead to health problems for dogs.
This became clear in the summer of 2018 when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) put out a warning about grain-free dog foods and their possible link to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. DCM is a serious heart problem that can kill dogs.
It is associated with a few breeds genetically but there has been a surge in cases in recent years.
It is now being diagnosed in all kinds of dogs, even small breeds – dogs that have no genetic predisposition to DCM.
Research is showing that the form of DCM that is being seen so often now appears to be diet-related in some dogs.
Per the FDA warning, dog lovers were advised to be careful about feeding their dogs food that contained large amounts of peas, legumes, lentils, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
These are the ingredients that are often found in grain-free dog foods. The FDA and veterinary cardiologists continue to investigate the problem.
Veterinary nutritionists and other experts indicate that the problem may not be simply grain-free dog foods. Instead, the problem may lie with the dog food companies.
Many companies have won AAFCO approval for their foods based on nutrient profiles instead of feeding trials, for example.
They may not employ veterinary nutritionists to formulate their foods or conduct nutrition research.
They may lack appropriate quality control measures or testing of their foods after production.
All of these things can result in pet foods that are lacking in nutrients that dogs need for long-term health.
A product may have a great label and the ingredients can look good but your dog’s health could be put at risk in the future.
That’s why our criteria for choosing foods takes into consideration the FDA’s warning about the ingredients to avoid (in large amounts).
We are staying informed about the testing for taurine levels and the dog foods that have been associated with low levels; as well as the foods dogs have been eating that are testing with good taurine levels.
Most of the companies that conduct feeding trials, do nutrition research, and employ veterinary nutritionists are big companies.
They are not always popular companies and they aren’t usually the “boutique” brands. The small, trendy companies can’t always afford to do these things.
But, when it comes to your dog’s health, good nutrition should be more important than buying a popular or trendy food.
Our choice for the best dog food brand today is Farmina N & D Ancestral Low Grain Dry Dog Food. Farmina has been little-known in the U.S. until recently but it’s well-known in Europe.
We have found this food to be excellent. With the announcement in the summer of 2018 that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration was concerned about grain free dog foods and their possible link to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, many dog lovers began looking for good grain-inclusive foods.
We believe that Farmine N & D Ancestral Low Grain is the best grain-inclusive food available today.
We especially like the cod formula but all of the low-grain formulas are very good.
The food is made in Italy and the company works with the Chair of Animal Nutrition at the University of Naples to formulate the food.
It contains 60 percent high quality animal ingredients for protein, 20 percent organic spelt and organic oats, and 20 percent vegetables, fruits, vitamins, and minerals.
Farmina’s low-grain foods have been in high demand recently so they have been hard to find at times but the company says they have caught up with the demand.
These low-grain formulas have been performing very well in dogs that have had their taurine levels tested.
There are plenty of cheap dog food brands out there, but Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dry Food is an affordable option that offers decent quality. This brand is produced by Merrick, one of the top dog food brands on the market, and most of their recipes are grain-free. This particular recipe features lean proteins like chicken and turkey with digestible carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and peas.
This dog food is free from byproducts as well as low-quality fillers like corn, wheat, and soy. It is made in the USA and designed to support balanced nutrition as well as healthy skin and coat. You’ll also love that it contains beneficial supplements like chelated minerals for optimal nutrient absorption as well as probiotics for healthy digestion.
Royal Canin is one of the best dog food brands you can buy today for any kind of dog. Regardless if you have a small or large breed, Royal Canin makes various foods for different breeds and sizes of dogs.
Their foods are tailored to the unique needs of different dogs based on their size and breed.
They also make different lifestage formulas so if you have a puppy, adult dog, or a mature older dog, your pet can get the nutrition he needs.
Purina Pro Plan Sport is one of Purina’s top foods. It comes in several different versions. The 30/20 version has 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat. Owners often buy it for very active dogs because of the high fat content which provides lots of calories for dogs that are hunting, doing agility, or working.
It’s available in the all life stage formula, the maintenance chicken and egg formula with no grain or soy, and the salmon and rice formula. Pro Plan Sport also comes in a turkey and barley formula that is 27/17 protein and fat.
It contains no corn, wheat, or soy. There is also an active 26/16 all life stage formula for dogs that don’t need quite as much fat or calories in their diet.
We can recommend the 30/20 and 26/16 all life stage formulas. These formulas do contain grains and they seem to be doing better with dogs that have been tested for dilated cardiomyopathy.
Purina invests heavily in pet nutrition research, producing breakthrough products such as Pro Plan Bright Mind (another product we can recommend) that helps improve memory and cognition in older dogs.
Eukanuba makes several good foods you could consider if you’re looking for a good dog food for your dog.
We particularly like Eukanuba Active Performance 28/18 Dog Food. This food could be higher in fat than some pet owners like since it’s formulated for very active dogs but it’s been performing very well for people who feed it.
If you prefer a food that has less fat or one that isn’t formulated for very active dogs, Eukanuba also make foods that are tailored to specific breeds and to dogs of different sizes.
For example, they have breed specific formulas for Boxers, Dalmatians, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Yorkshire Terriers, and more. Eukanuba also has weight control and mobility dog foods, if your dog needs these products.
You will find that some of these brands (perhaps all of them) also make grain-free dog foods.
We only recommend their grain-inclusive foods that fit the FDA’s criteria.
We haven’t seen evidence that grain-free foods from these companies are necessarily any better than grain-free foods from other companies that have been having problems.
Bravo raw meats are sold as frozen chubs – 2, 5, or 10 pounds; or as 4 or 8 ounce frozen patties.
You keep them frozen until you are ready to use them. You can buy Bravo Boneless (red meat or fish); Bravo Basics (a medley of meat, bone, and organ meat for you to customize); Bravo Blends (a four-part limited ingredient formula that you add supplements to); and Bravo Balance (complete balanced dinners that contain essential nutrients your dog needs).
It’s up to you how “raw” you want to go with Bravo and how much you want to formulate the meals yourself. They also have freeze-dried raw diets that you don’t have to freeze. These meals could be more convenient for some owners.
It contains 75 percent meat and 25 percent vegetables. It contains no steroids, no hormones, and no antibiotics. It’s a high protein, moderate fat, low carbohydrate formula that’s made with grass-fed beef, cage-free poultry, and organic vegetables. These are nutritionally complete meals.
This food is also available in a prescription line called Intelligent Design for dogs with health issues; and as Biologics Raw Dog Food, a value line (Requires a prescription.)
The value line is made with conventionally-grown meat and vegetables.
The formulas are available in chicken, turkey, and beef. (The premium line has more meat protein choices.) Darwin’s foods are vacuum-sealed and arrive frozen .
They will keep in your freezer for four to six months. Thaw what you need for your dog a day or two ahead of time.
K-9 Kraving uses 100 percent certified human-grade ingredients. The company works with a PhD in animal nutrition to make their foods. According to the company, their foods are biologically-appropriate frozen raw dog foods.
Each recipe is a blend of USA-sourced human-grade muscle meat, organ meat, ground bone, vegetables, essential vitamins, minerals, and a trace mineral mix.
They are sold in 1, 2, and 5-pound rolls and individual patties.
The company uses real muscle meat as the first ingredient. They use no chemicals, additives, or preservatives.
The food arrives frozen and should be kept frozen in your freezer until you are ready to thaw it. Large rolls will take 10-12 hours to thaw.
Individual patties will take 1-2 hours to thaw. Once thawed, the food will stay fresh in your refrigerator for 4-5 days.
If your puppy is sensitive to grains or you suspect food allergies, a limited ingredient diet like this Canidae Grain-Free PURE Limited Ingredient Diet Puppy Food might be a good choice.
Made with protein-rich chicken and a select number of other healthy ingredients, this recipe is just what a growing puppy needs. It’s also supplemented with chelated minerals and probiotics.
Best Natural Dog Food Brands
“Natural” is a rather vague term. There are no real rules regarding the use of the term “natural” in the United States. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”
As long as the product doesn’t contain something that you wouldn’t normally expect to be there, companies can get away with calling their product “natural.”
Dog food companies have taken full advantage of this term in marketing their foods. After all, calling a dog food “natural” makes it much more appealing to the buyer.
Who doesn’t want to feed their dog a “natural” food? You should be careful about dog foods that are marketed as “natural” foods but in the case of the foods here, we think these are very good brands.
We are happy to recommend these natural dog foods.
Family-owned and operated since 1986, Annamaet makes a wide range of dog foods including grain-inclusive and grain-free foods.
They have formulas for puppies, adults, and seniors, as well as formulas for active dogs; plus foods for your average dog. Their meat and fish are passed fit for human consumption.
Products are holistic and GMO-free and the company maintains strict standards of quality control.
All products are free of corn, wheat, and soy and the company is now using algae as a source of omega-3 fatty acid. Their original canine formulas are made with low ash chicken, salmon, or venison and whole grains, along with chelated minerals for better mineral absorption.
We particularly recommend Option Formula with 24 percent protein – made with wild caught salmon and free range, grass fed lamb; and Extra Formula with 26 percent protein and a slightly higher fat content.
Sport Dog Food makes three lines of food that are all free of peas and flax. While some pet food companies tout flax as a source of omega-3 for dogs, the truth is that dogs cannot efficiently convert plant sources of omega-3. They need fish and animal sources of omega-3.
So flax in a dog food as a source of omega-3 is wasted, though it can be a useful fiber.
In addition, there is some evidence that, since flax is a phytoestrogen, it can interfere with a dog’s hormones so some dog owners look for foods that are free of flax.
Sport Dog Food has grain-free, highly active, and performance product lines.
Most of these foods are geared toward active dogs so they tend to have higher protein and fat percentages but you can still find foods that would be suitable for the typical pet dog.
This food has 26 percent protein and 19 percent fat. Animal protein makes up 82 percent of the protein.
It has no peas, flax, white potatoes, or rice; and no corn, wheat, or soy. It contains glucosamine and chondroitin for joints. Chicken meal is the first ingredient. This would be a good dog food for many dogs.
We have not included many popular grain-free dog foods in our lists because of the FDA warning and because many grain-free dog food companies have been having issues.
Many companies are either denying they have a problem with taurine and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs; or they are in the process of changing their formulas.
That limits the number of grain-free dog foods that we feel comfortable about recommending at this time. There are a few individual formulas from some companies that we feel comfortable recommending and we have listed them below.
This food contains no meat or poultry by-products, no wheat or wheat gluten fillers, and no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
It has omega-3 fatty acids from salmon oil, along with prebiotics, probiotics, live yogurt cultures, digestive enzymes, and natural fiber. Salmon, anchovy, and sardine meal is the first ingredient.
Plus, this food has done well with dogs that have had taurine levels tested, even though it contains potatoes and peas in the first five ingredients. (Sardines and other fish are sources of taurine for dogs.)
Coastal Catch is grain-free, gluten-free, potato-free, and high in protein. It’s fish-based with herring meal as the first ingredient.
It also contains salmon meal and Pacific Whiting meal. It has 32 percent crude protein and 18 percent crude fat.
Once again, this grain-free food has been doing well with dogs that have had taurine levels tested despite the fact that it has peas, pea protein, and pea starch in the first several ingredients, perhaps because it’s a fish-based food.
Health Extension makes holistic pet foods. They use whole food ingredients to make canned dog foods.
They use no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives and their foods are GMO-free.
They have grain-free wet foods, stews, and canned foods with 95 percent meat. We can especially recommend their chicken, beef, and turkey stews. These foods are made with real meat and whole vegetables.
Go! from Petcurean in Canada, makes Daily Defense Turkey Stew. It’s made with premium quality turkey, fruits, vegetables, and omega fatty acids. It contains no by-product meals, added growth hormones, and no artificial preservatives. And, it has no beef, corn, wheat, or soy for dogs that have trouble with these ingredients.
All of the Go! recipes are formulated for dogs that have special dietary needs. If your dog has a food sensitivity or needs a limited ingredient diet, Go! could have a formula that would help.
There are not as many true organic dog food brands as many people probably think, at least in North America.
The National Organic Program in the U.S. is in the process of making organic standards for dog foods but they don’t apply yet.
A few companies use a smattering of organic ingredients in their dog foods but that’s not enough to technically be certified as an “organic” dog food.
In the United States there are three different levels of organic certification – none of which is easy to achieve. A product can be labeled “made with organic ingredients” if at least 70 percent of the ingredients are certified organic.
Products can be labeled “organic” if all agricultural ingredients are certified as organic dog food.
And, finally, a product can be labeled “100 percent organic” if ALL ingredients and processing aids are certified organic. Most dog foods can’t achieve the highest organic status because some ingredients can be hard to find in an organic form.
The organic industry is still much smaller than conventional farming so it may become easier to find these ingredients in the future.
Organix is a USDA Organic food, meaning that all of the agriculture ingredients in the food are certified organic. It’s the only complete line of USDA organically certified pet food.
The number one ingredient in their foods is always organic free-range chicken or turkey. Their organic ingredients are produced without any chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, artificial preservatives, added growth hormones, or antibiotics.
Their foods have no corn, wheat, or soy. Their foods are also non-GMO.
Their foods are made in the United States in an organically-certified kitchen. They offer three recipes.
If you’re looking for a healthy, high-quality diet for your small breed dog try this Wellness Complete Health Small Breed Adult Recipe. Made with deboned turkey and oatmeal, it is protein-rich and highly digestible. It features three animal proteins for high energy and strong muscles, plus plenty of healthy fats for beautiful skin and coat. It is also optimized to support your dog’s ideal body weight.
For an affordable dog food that will nourish your small breed dog’s body from the inside out, consider this Nature’s Recipe Grain-Free Small Breed Dog Food. It features real chicken as the #1 ingredient with sweet potato and pumpkin for digestible carbohydrates. This recipe is rich in antioxidants for healthy immunity with plenty of fiber and healthy fats. Plus, it is supplemented with glucosamine for joint health and mobility.
As your large breed dog gets older, its metabolism slows down, so you need a recipe rich in protein to support lean muscle mass with limited fat to prevent obesity.
This Blue Buffalo Life Protection formula features chicken and brown rice in a nutritionally complete recipe designed specifically for large breed seniors. As an added bonus, it contains Blue Buffalo LifeSource Bits for vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Holistic Select pays a lot of attention to the dog’s digestive system which makes up about 70 percent of the dog’s immune system. Their food has 100 million active probiotics in each pound along with prebiotics to feed the growth of healthy bacteria.
They use six different kinds of probiotics to improve the variety of healthy gut bacteria as well as digestive enzymes to help break down the food in your dog’s digestive tract so your dog will get the most nutrition from his food.
Their kibbles are produced at their own facility in Indiana. They never use artificial flavors, preservatives, or other chemicals.
Holistic Select has a full range of products such as grain-inclusive, grain-free, maintenance foods, all life stage, foods for puppies, adults, seniors, weight management food, and foods for large and giant breed dogs.
The perennial favorite in this category, Hill’s pioneered vet-recommended dog foods decades ago. If you like to feed dogs “people” food, you should not read the ingredients of Hill’s dog foods.
You won’t like them at all. Hill’s is completely science and nutrition-based. They don’t cater to trends in feeding dogs ingredients that sound appealing to humans.
You won’t find organic, free-range, or other popular food ideas here. Instead, they choose ingredients based solely on nutritional value.
Veterinarians and many dog owners agree that these foods work for dogs that need special diets.
They also have foods for dogs that don’t have any health problems. Depending on your dog’s needs, Hill’s literally makes hundreds of formulas with their prescription dog foods, Science Diet brand, Healthy Advantage brand, and Ideal Balance brand.
If you have doubts, Hill’s does an enormous amount of pet food research so they can back up their formulas.
If your dog has a health problem, check their web site to see if they have a dog food that might help. They probably do.
There are several dog foods made by veterinarians. One brand we especially like is Dr. Gary’s Best Breed. Dr. Gary’s Best Breed has been making dog food since the early 1990s though it’s still something of a well-kept secret today.
The food is based on “common sense nutrition.” Ingredients are approved for the European Union.
Chicken meal is made from chicken that is fit for human consumption. The company has three grain-free formulas, seven grain-inclusive formulas, and six specialty formulas for specific breeds and active/working dogs.
The All Breed Dog Diet is a good example of one of their foods. The first ingredient is chicken meal followed by oatmeal and pearled barley.
The food has 25 percent crude protein and 12 percent crude fat. Dr. Gary’s also uses green-lipped mussels in their foods for joint and connective tissue health.
The food also contains probiotics, a balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and healthy fiber. We think Dr. Gary’s Best Breed is a good brand made by a veterinarian and more people should know about it.
Hill’s Prescription Diet w/d Canine is made for digestive issues, weight control, and glucose management. For dogs with diabetes, the food has an optimum blend of soluble and insoluble fiber to help control blood glucose levels. This food also comes as a kibble.
Purina Pro Plan En Gastroenteric Fiber Balance Canine Formula dry dog food
High in fiber, Royal Canin Canine Glycobalance dry dog food has an optimal ratio of soluble and insoluble fiber to help control blood glucose levels in diabetic dogs. Chicken meal is the first ingredient and it is higher in protein than the other two diabetic dog foods listed here. This food also comes in a canned formula.
The idea with a hydrolyzed dog food is that the protein has been broken down into tiny molecules that are so small your dog’s immune system cannot identify them. If it can’t identify them, it won’t react to them – so not allergic reaction.
This food has a single carbohydrate source. If your dog needs this food, you cannot worry about the ingredients.
The proteins (soy protein isolate, chicken liver, chicken) are broken down into substances that you could never identify.
This is a prescription diet and you need to consider this food something that your dog really needs.
It has antioxidants to help support a healthy immune system; and omega-3 fatty and omega-6 fatty acids and zinc to nourish the skin and promote a healthy coat. The food contains no corn, wheat, or soy. And, it has no artificial colors or flavors, and not poultry by-product meal. This food also comes in a canned version.
We could list a lot of dog food brands that you should avoid right now but we would probably be hearing from their attorneys.
You should try to keep in mind that a dog food’s nutrition is more important than ingredients that sound like something you would like to eat yourself.
Obviously, we always want dog food companies to use quality ingredients.
But that doesn’t mean the ingredient list needs to read like the menu at a four-star restaurant.
Many pet food companies have duped dog lovers into believing that dogs need to eat like humans.
That’s not true. Good canine nutrition is not the same as good human nutrition.
Dogs and humans have different amino acid and protein requirements.
Vitamin C is an “essential” vitamin for humans because we can’t make it ourselves. Not so for dogs. Saturated fat affects us differently.
Large amounts of fiber affects us differently. And there are other differences. But dog lovers and some pet food companies have been moving toward feeding dogs like people.
One result has been an increase in protein in pet food – first with more meat and then, perhaps to save money with grain-free foods, with plant proteins such as peas, lentils, and legumes as the meat content was slowly reduced.
Corn and wheat have been shunned in recent years when, properly cooked, they can play an important role in a dog’s diet.
On paper peas look great since they are higher in protein than corn; but corn provides the precursor nutrients for the dog’s body to make its own taurine. Peas, lentils, and legumes provide virtually none of these precursors.
You should try to avoid foods that contain large amounts of peas, lentils, legumes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes – or any root vegetable.
These are often the primary ingredients in grain-free dog foods so be very cautious about buying grain-free foods right now.
We suggest that you examine the first 5-10 ingredients to see if the food contains these ingredients.
Many dog foods today, including canned foods, might contain some peas or potatoes far down on the list of ingredients.
That’s not usually anything to worry about. However, if the ingredients read something like “Chicken, peas, sweet potatoes, chicken fat, pea protein,” that would definitely be a food to void.
Remember that ingredients are listed by weight before cooking so if the second or third ingredient is one of these possibly harmful ingredients, that means the food contains a lot of the ingredient.
The foods you should avoid right now include some expensive, highly-regarded brands so this is not an issue of companies with inferior or poor quality products.
This is a case of companies that have formulated recipes without enough nutrition research and, in some cases, without using veterinary nutritionists on staff.
Carlotta Cooper is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine DN Dog News. She's the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, a Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) award winner. In addition, she is an American Kennel Club Gazette breed columnist and is the author of several books about dogs. She has been reviewing pet foods and writing about dog food for more than 10 years.