All dogs require a blend of protein, fat, and other nutrients in their diet – these nutrients must come from their dog food. Adult dogs need a minimum of 18% crude protein and 5% fat with no more than 5% fiber in their diet.
For the most part, dog foods that provide more than 18% protein are ideal. Puppies in particular need as much protein as they can get, as do active and working breeds.
It is also important to remember that dogs are primarily carnivores, so most of their nutrition should come from animal-based sources.
Animal proteins like meat and poultry are considered complete proteins which simply means that they contain all of the essential amino acids your dog needs. Plant proteins are typically not complete and they are not as easy for your dog’s body to absorb.
Plant-based fats can help ensure a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, though things like chicken fat and salmon oil are typically preferable to things like canola oil.
Here are some things to look for in a good dry dog food:
Quality Ingredients. The quality of the ingredients determines the quality of the product, so look for whole food ingredients and a lack of artificial additives and byproducts.
Animal Protein. High-quality, animal-based protein should be the first ingredient in any good dry dog food. Things like meat, poultry, and fish are good options.
Healthy Fats. Fat provides a highly concentrated source of energy for your dog as well as essential fatty acids for brain development and healthy skin and coat. These fats should come from animal-based sources as much as possible.
Digestible Carbohydrates. Dogs don’t have specific requirements for carbohydrates, but whole grains and other digestible carbs are a valuable source of energy, essential nutrients, and fiber.
Beneficial Supplements. In addition to protein, carbohydrate, and fat, your dog needs a blend of vitamins and minerals in its diet. Beneficial supplements like vitamins and chelated minerals ensure nutritional balance in a high-quality dog food.
Taking all of these things into consideration, you’re now prepared to learn how to choose the best dry dog food. Here’s what you need to know:
How to Choose the Best Dry Dog Food
When it comes to dry dog food, the ingredients are the most important thing to consider because they determine the quality of the product. If the list of ingredients is a mile long and contains numerous by-products, unnamed ingredients, chemicals, and artificial additives, then it is a safe bet that it isn’t a high-quality product for your dog.
Protein is the most important nutrient for dogs, so that’s where you should start your search. Look for a recipe that lists a quality animal protein like meat, poultry, or fish as the main ingredient. Plant-based proteins can be used to boost the total nutrient content, but they are less biologically valuable for your dog and thus should only be used supplementally.
The next most important nutrient is fat, a highly concentrated source of calories (energy) for your dog. Again, these should come from animal sources like chicken fat and salmon oil for optimal absorption. In addition to calories, fats provide essential fatty acids for your dog’s healthy skin and coat. Healthy fats also play a role in brain development for puppies.
Dogs don’t have specific needs for carbohydrates, but any recipe you choose should contain digestible options like whole grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes. These foods provide energy, dietary fiber, and essential nutrients. Look for a recipe that contains no more than 5% crude fiber because anything higher could upset your dog’s digestive system.
To ensure nutritional balance, your dog’s food may also contain synthetic vitamins and minerals. Chelated minerals are the best mineral supplements to look for because they have been bound to protein molecules to increase their absorption. Other beneficial supplements include prebiotics and probiotics to ensure healthy digestion as well as optimal nutrient absorption.
Keep reading to see our top 10 recommendations for the best dry dog food.
The Top 10 Best Rated Dry Dog Foods Reviewed
A quality dry dog food will feature animal protein as the main ingredient with digestible carbohydrates, healthy fats, and beneficial supplements to ensure nutritional balance. It should also come from a reputable brand that doesn’t use fillers or artificial additives.
Here are our top 5 picks for the best dry dog food that you should consider:
Best Dry Dog Food Overall: Orijen Original Dry Dog Food
If you’re in the market for a healthy, high-quality diet for your adult dog, then look no further than this Orijen Original Dry Dog Food. Made with regionally sourced ingredients, this recipe is designed to mimic the natural diet of wild dogs which makes it protein-rich and highly digestible.
This formula features high-quality animal proteins like free-run chicken and turkey plus wild-caught fish for a total of 38% crude protein. It also contains plenty of healthy fats for energy and essential fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.
You’ll also be glad to know that it is low-glycemic and supplemented with vitamins and chelated minerals for optimal nutritional balance with probiotics for healthy digestion.
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.
Growing puppies need a healthy and high-quality diet that is rich in protein to support their growth and development as well as plenty of fats for energy. This Castor & Pollux Grain-Free Organic Puppy Food meets these nutritional needs in a healthy way with plenty of organic-quality ingredients.
This recipe features organic chicken and organic chicken meal for a total of 25% crude protein, with nutrient-rich fats like chicken fat and coconut oil. It contains organic fruits and vegetables to provide natural sources for key nutrients with chelated minerals for balance. It also contains probiotics to support your puppy’s health and regular digestion.
As your senior dog gets older, its metabolism will slow down. This means that it needs fewer calories to maintain a healthy body weight, but protein is still essential for lean muscle mass.
This Wellness Complete Health Senior Recipe Dry Food is a great choice because it is protein-rich with moderate fat content and plenty of fiber for healthy digestion.
This recipe features deboned chicken and chicken meal to provide 22% crude protein with digestible whole grains like oatmeal, barley, and brown rice for carbohydrate support. This recipe also contains a blend of omega fatty acids as well as beneficial supplements like chelated minerals and probiotics.
If you have a toy breed dog, you need a recipe that is high in protein and healthy fats that also comes in a smaller kibble size. This Nutro ULTRA Toy Breed Adult Recipe is a great choice for toy breeds because it features a blend of superfood ingredients including protein-rich chicken and chicken meal, whole brown rice, chicken fat, and dried fruits and vegetables.
The high fat content of this recipe doesn’t just provide for your dog’s high energy needs; it also supports its skin and coat. Plus, the kibbles are small enough for tiny mouths to eat with ease.
Small breed dogs have very fast metabolisms which means that they burn through calories more quickly than larger breeds. A high-protein and high-fat recipe like this Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain-Free Small Breed Recipe is a great choice because it provides for these needs while also being made with high-quality ingredients.
This formula is made with both fresh chicken and chicken meal to ensure high levels of protein with healthy fats like chicken fat and flaxseed oil for essential fatty acids. It also contains chelated minerals to ensure optimal nutrient absorption and probiotics for digestion. Plus, it is made in a smaller kibble size for your small-breed dog’s small mouth.
Large-breed dogs have high needs for protein to maintain their lean muscle mass with moderate fat for energy. This Blue Buffalo Life Protection Large-Breed Adult Recipe is uniquely formulated to meet the protein and energy requirements of large breeds while also supporting bone and joint health.
This recipe features fish and oatmeal as the main ingredients to provide protein, dietary fiber, and healthy fats for skin and coat support. In addition to high-quality proteins and digestible carbohydrates, this recipe also features Blue Buffalo’s LifeSource Bits which are made with a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.
If your dog has trouble digesting grains, or if it is allergic to them, a grain-free dog food like this Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Dry Food might be a good option. Not only is it completely grain-free, but it is made with premium animal proteins like roasted venison and roasted bison.
This recipe contains 32% protein and 18% fat which makes it a great choice for active breeds and dogs who need to gain weight, but it can also be a good choice for smaller dogs that have high protein and energy requirements. It is supplemented with fresh fruits and veggies as natural sources for key nutrients but still contains vitamin and mineral supplements for balance and probiotics for healthy digestion.
Made with premium animal proteins like roasted bison and roasted venison
Naturally grain-free with digestible carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and peas
Fresh fruits and veggies for nutrients plus beneficial supplements for balance
Some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients
First source of fat is plant-based (canola oil)
Best Limited Ingredient Dry Dog Food: Canidae Grain-Free PURE Land Dry Dog Food
Dogs with food allergies and sensitivities often require a diet made with a limited number of high-quality ingredients like this Canidae Grain-Free PURE Land Dry Dog Food. This formula is not only grain-free, but it also features novel protein and carbohydrate options – this simply means that your dog is unlikely to have had them before which reduces the risk for allergies and sensitivities.
This recipe features protein-rich bison as the main ingredient with lamb meal and pork meal for supplemental protein. It is naturally grain-free, made with digestible carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, peas, and lentils. Plus, it is rich in healthy fats, chelated minerals, and probiotics.
If you’re trying to help your dog gain weight, or if it leads a very active lifestyle, this Solid Gold High Protein Dry Dog Food is a great option. Formulated with 38% crude protein and 18% fat, this recipe will help build and maintain lean muscle mass while also providing for your dog’s energy needs.
It is naturally grain-free, featuring digestible carbohydrates like garbanzo beans and peas with fresh fruits and vegetables as natural sources for key nutrients. It also contains several premium animal proteins and beneficial supplements like chelated minerals and probiotics.
High protein and fat content for weight gain or active breeds
Grain-free, digestible carbohydrates and fresh fruits/veggies
Numerous animal proteins with no by-products
Some dogs are sensitive to chicken and beef ingredients
Contains some plant-based protein (potato protein)
How Much and How Often Should You Feed Your Dog?
How often you feed your dog depends largely on the type of dog you have and its age. Puppies need to eat frequently (four meals a day or more) to sustain their growth and development while senior dogs need a reduced calorie load to prevent weight gain. Adult dogs should be fed two or three meals per day, determined by their size. Small breeds have faster metabolisms and therefore need three meals a day while larger dogs need only two.
The amount you feed your dog is determined by its age and size. Check the feeding recommendations on whatever pet food you choose to see how much to feed your dog. These recommendations are made based on the dog’s age and body weight, so you’ll need to weigh your dog. As you feed your dog, keep a close eye on its body weight and condition to make sure it isn’t gaining or losing too much weight. Your veterinarian can help you determine a healthy weight for your dog.
What About Food Allergies and Sensitivities?
Food allergies are much more common in dogs than people realize. While a dog can develop an allergy to any ingredient, the most common culprits are things like corn, wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, chicken, and beef.
Food allergies become more common as dogs get older and there are certain breeds that have a higher risk for allergies than others. Some of the breeds most highly prone to allergies include retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, Dachshunds, Terriers, and Collies.
When it comes to choosing a dry dog food for food allergies and sensitivities, the fewer the ingredients the better. Limited Ingredient Diets (LIDs) use a low number of main ingredients to reduce the risk for triggering food allergies and they are generally easy to digest as well.
Grain-free recipes are a good choice for dogs with sensitive stomachs as long as the carbohydrates they do use are highly digestible. Just make sure that any grain-free recipe you choose still lists a high-quality protein as the first ingredient to meet your dog’s basic nutritional needs.
The Best Dry Dog Food: Summed Up
Orijen Original Dry Dog Food
Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dry Food
Castor & Pollux Grain-Free Organic Puppy Food
Wellness Complete Health Senior Recipe Dry Food
Nutro ULTRA Toy Breed Adult Recipe
Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain-Free Small Breed Recipe
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Large-Breed Adult Recipe
Taste of the Wild High-Prairie Dry Dog Food
Canidae Grain-Free PURE Land Dry Dog Food
Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Recipe
In the end, the best dry dog food is the one that will provide for your dog’s unique nutritional needs. It’s a good idea to start with a recipe formulated for your dog’s size (small breed vs. large breed) as well as its age (puppy vs senior). From there, simply choose a recipe made with high-quality ingredients.
Dry dog food comes in all different flavors and each brand is unique, so take your time while shopping to make sure you make the best choice. If you need help getting started, try one of the top 10 best dry dog foods reviewed above!
Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate holds a certificate in fitness nutrition and enjoys writing about health and wellness trends — she also enjoys crafting original recipes. In addition to her work as a ghostwriter and author, Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.