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A good diet is one of the keys to keeping your canine companion happy and healthy, but how do you select the best dog food?
Even a trip to your local grocery store will reveal 10 or 20 different brands and formulas, and if you head to a dedicated pet store or look online, that number increases exponentially.
If you're not entirely sure what you're looking for, picking the correct food for your furbaby can seem about as confusing as a lecture on quantum physics (assuming you're not a quantum physicist).
If you need help, you're in the right place! Here at BestReviews, we've done extensive research so you don't have to.
This fair and thorough review will tell you everything you need to know about how to pick out a good food that will suit your dog's individual requirements. We don’t accept manufacturer samples, so you can be confident our analysis is unbiased.
Ready to buy right away? If you already know what you need but just want some brand recommendations, check out the product matrix above for our top picks!
The first thing that's handy to know is what actually makes a good dog food — key characteristics that set a particular food apart from the less desirable options.
Here are the things a quality dog food should and should not contain:
No generic animal fats
No harmful or controversial chemical preservatives
A decent amount of protein
A carbohydrate content that's not excessively high
No anonymous meats
No higher than 75% fat to protein ratio
No artificial colorings
A good dog food should have quality ingredients and no artificial colorings nor controversial chemical preservatives.
As a dog lover, you know your pooch is one of a kind. this extends beyond her personality and goes on to physical differences. Just like a 10-year-old needs a different diet from an adult, and an average adult will need a different diet from a professional athlete, the right food for your dog will depend on factors like her age, size and activity level.
An average adult dog who's getting an appropriate amount of exercise for her breed and size should thrive on a regular adult dog food.
However, dogs that get significantly more exercise than average — such as working dogs or dogs that regularly train and compete in canine sports — may benefit from a "performance" food that has higher levels of protein and is slightly more calorie dense.
For active dogs, look for dry dog foods with over 28% protein and over 20% fat content. If using wet food for active dogs, make sure it has over 7% protein and over 5% fat content.
First, think about whether you dog has any special dietary requirements, such as a food allergy or intolerance. If so, you'll need to make sure you avoid any problem ingredients when selecting a dog food.
If your dog doesn't have any food sensitivities, there's no reason to go for gluten-free or grain-free options, as they aren't inherently healthier. In fact, grains are a great source of carbohydrates and are easily digested by most dogs.
Another thing to consider is calorie content. If your pooch needs to drop a few pounds, you can get special, lower calorie foods to help her reach and maintain a healthy weight.
There's a big trend for gluten-free and grain-free dog food right now, but unless your dog is actually allergic to gluten or grains, there's no reason why these foods are any better than those that do contain grains and gluten.
Most dog foods are designed to meet the needs of dogs of all sizes, but some are specially tailored to be more suitable for large or small breeds.
This doesn't mean that all large breeds or all small breeds need to eat "large breed" or "small breed" formulas, but if a dog isn’t thriving on her current food it might be worth a try, especially if she’s exceptionally big or tiny.
Look out for "large breed puppy" formulas, too, as large breed pups grow at a slower rate than their smaller counterparts. Such dogs can really benefit from a special food to meet specific nutritional requirements as they mature.
If you have a giant or toy dog, you might find she does better on a "large breed" or "small breed" formula, respectively.
The age of your dog will make a difference as to what food you should feed her.
If you have a puppy, she needs to eat a specially formulated puppy food, as growing dogs have different nutritional requirements from adults. Getting the right food as a puppy is vital to growing up strong and healthy. Most dogs should eat puppy food up to about one year old, but large breeds should continue on puppy food until about 18 months of age.
Adult dogs should eat a standard adult formula, but some older dogs will benefit from a "senior" formula. Dogs are officially considered senior once they pass seven years, but many dogs don't show signs of slowing down for several more years.
As a rule, it's not worth switching to a senior food unless your dog has gained weight or is no longer thriving on her regular food.
If you have an older dog who has gained weight, she might benefit from a "senior" formula, as these tend to be lower in fat and protein.
You might be thinking about whether to feed wet or dry food. Well, there are pros and cons to each!
Wet Food Pros:
Wet food is quite tasty.
It’s often popular even with fussy eaters.
Wet food can be more nutritionally sound than dry food.
Canned food doesn't require chemical preservatives.
For older dogs and young puppies, it’s easier to eat than dry food.
Wet Food Cons:
Wet dog food is significantly more expensive than dry food, which can make it unaffordable if you have a large dog that needs a lot of food.
If your dog doesn't eat a whole can in one sitting, wet food requires refrigeration.
It’s also much more messy than dry food.
To avoid stomach upsets, always gradually transition your dog from one food to another, over the course of a week or so.
Dry Food Pros:
Dry food is more convenient and less messy to feed.
The hard kibbles can also help remove plaque on teeth, as it lightly scrapes them when chewed.
Even premium brands are much more affordable than wet food.
Dry food creates less waste, as it comes in one large bag instead of individual cans or pouches that all end up in the trash.
Dry Food Cons:
Some dogs don't find it as palatable as wet food.
It's more likely to contain chemical preservatives.
If your dog loves wet food but you can't afford to buy that alone, a good compromise is a mixture of wet and dry food for each meal.
The best dog foods should contain quality ingredients, such as whole meat, fresh vegetables, and quality grains or other sources of carbohydrate, such as sweet potato.
Some higher end brands even go as far as selecting only locally sourced or organic ingredients.
Avoid brands that contain anonymous meat products, or are packed with nutritionally void fillers, like corn starch or cereal by-products.
The guaranteed analysis on a dog food tells you the minimum percentages of certain nutrients contained within a food. It's worth looking at, but it doesn't indicate the quality of the ingredients, so it shouldn't be the only thing you consider.
Dog foods are required to display a statement about their nutritional adequacy.
Check the packet (or check the manufacturer's specifications when buying online) for a statement that reads something like, “This food is complete and balanced for all life stages” or “This food is complete and balanced for adult dogs.”
If there isn't such a statement, that means the food you're looking at isn't a complete and balanced food and won't provide all the nutrients your dog needs.
For your dog to stay healthy, you need a food that's nutritionally complete. Some kibbles are labelled "mixers" and need to be mixed with another food to get a fully balanced diet. It's best to steer clear from these to avoid confusion.
While you shouldn't scrimp on dog food, a higher price doesn't always mean a better quality food. Here's roughly what you can expect to pay to feed your dog. We've analyzed cost per pound, as dog foods can come in a range of bag sizes.
Cheap dog food can either be generic grocery store brands or lower end name brands, like Pedigree or Iams. These foods tend to contain ingredients like meat meal and fat, and cereal by-products. Expect to pay roughly $0.65 to $1 per pound.
If your dog vomits or has diarrhea after switching foods, her new food might not agree with her. If the problem persists, it's worth getting your dog checked by her vet, as these can be signs of more serious issues.
Mid-range dog foods include premium brands like Taste of the Wild and Blue Buffalo, which generally have high quality ingredients, but aren't the most expensive out there. These kinds of foods will generally set you back about $1 to $2 per pound.
The most expensive dog foods out there include quality wet food and top-end dry foods, with ethically sourced ingredients and no fillers. These include brands like Lily's Kitchen and Merrick. These foods cost approximately $2 to $5 per pound.
Q. Is there a single best dog food?
A. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as saying, "This is the best dog food out there and every dog should be eating it." All dogs are different, and a food that one dog absolutely thrives on might make another dog sick or sluggish. Finding the right food for your dog can take a little bit of trial and error. All we can do is give you the information you need to pick a decent dog food, and you and your pup have to do the rest. Don't worry if you have to try a few brands before you get it right.
Q. How can you tell if your dog is doing well on her food?
A. It can be difficult to tell if your dog has taken to her new food. Here are a few signs that your pup is thriving on her current diet:
Regular stools that aren't too loose or too dry
Bright eyes and a shiny coat
Maintaining a healthy weight
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.