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    Shopping Guide for Best Dry Dog Food

    Your dog is a member of your family, so of course you want to do your best for him. Part of keeping him happy and healthy is feeding him quality meals, which is why you need to find a decent dry dog food. With so many options on the market, selecting the best dry dog food can seem overwhelming. The good news is, we can teach you how to differentiate quality foods from those that leave a lot to be desired. Armed with this knowledge, picking a dry food for your dog is simple!

    At BestReviews, you can be sure you're getting unbiased reviews of today’s products. We never accept items from manufacturers. Instead, we buy them straight off the shelves to test in our labs and in real-world situations. We also consult experts and talk to existing customers to gain their useful insights.

    If you're ready to buy some dry dog food, head to the product matrix above to see our top recommendations. If you want to learn more about dry dog food and how to pick the best formulas, read on for our full guide.

    The fact is, there's no single dry dog food that's hands-down the best option for all dogs. What's right for one dog might not work for another, so finding the ideal food for your pup can take some experimentation.

    Types of Dry Dog Food

    You can find several varieties of dog food on the market, all designed to meet the needs of different dogs, so choose accordingly.

    Types

    Dry Puppy Food

    Dry puppy food is specially formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of growing puppies. Puppy food should have larger amounts of protein and fat compared to standard adult formulas, plus higher levels of calcium, phosphorus, and a range of other minerals.

    Types

    Dry Adult Dog Food

    Adult dog food is designed for canines that have reached their full adult size and completely finished growing. Most dogs should be fed adult food from the age of one year onward, although giant breeds grow more slowly and may need to keep eating puppy food for up to two years.

    Types

    Small-Breed Dry Dog Food

    Small-breed dry dog foods are formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of small-breed dogs. These formulas generally contain pieces that are smaller and more suited to tiny mouths.

    Some dogs with certain medical conditions may be recommended a specially formulated diet by a veterinarian.

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    Types

    Dry Senior Dog Food

    Senior dog food is made with the needs of senior dogs in mind. These formulas usually contain less fat and fewer calories, as some older dogs put on weight more easily than they did when they were younger. That said, there's no strict definition of what constitutes senior dog food, and many pooches do perfectly well on regular adult food for their entire adult lives. If you have an older dog who stops thriving on her food, consider a senior formula. Otherwise, feel free to stick to adult food.

    Types

    Dry Active Dog Food

    You can find “active formula” dry dog food that is balanced with the needs of a very active dog in mind. If you have a working dog, a dog who regularly takes part in agility competitions or a similar sport, or even just a very active dog who gets several hours of vigorous exercise each day, he may benefit from an active dry dog food.

    Types

    Large-Breed Dry Dog Food

    Some big dogs – especially giant breeds such as Great Danes and St. Bernards – thrive on a slightly different balance of nutrients than their smaller counterparts. Large-breed dry dog food is designed to meet these needs.

    EXPERT TIP

    While some dogs thrive on large-breed or small-breed formulas, other giant and toy dogs do excellently on regular adult dog food. In many cases, it’s not essential to buy a dry dog food based on your dog’s size.


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    What to Look for in a Dry Dog Food

    Features

    Quality Protein Sources

    Choose a dry dog food that contains quality sources or protein. Meat and/or meat meal should be the top ingredients, but remember that fresh meat has a high moisture content, so you'll have to bump it down a couple of places in the ingredient list to compensate for this.

    Features

    Whole Vegetables, Fruits, and Grains

    Look for a dry dog food that contains a range of fruits and vegetables. If it contains grains, these should be whole grains, as they contain much more goodness than grain meals.

    You'll pay less per pound for the same dry dog food if you buy a large bag instead of a small one.

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    Features

    Vitamins and Minerals

    Dry dog food should contain a wide range of added vitamins and minerals to help meet your dog's nutritional needs. Chelated vitamins and minerals are supposedly more bioavailable and thus more easily absorbed.

    Features

    AAFCO Statement

    The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the body that monitors dog food. Your chosen dog food should have a statement from the AAFCO on the package conveying that it meets minimum nutritional requirements.

    This isn't necessarily proof that a dog food is good, but only poor-quality dog foods won't meet AAFCO requirements.

    FOR YOUR SAFETY

    Check the FDA website to see if your chosen dog food brand has frequent recalls. The odd recall might be excusable, but a brand with multiple recalls may not be trustworthy.

    What to Avoid in a Dry Dog Food

    What to avoid

    Unnatural Preservatives, Colorings, and Flavorings

    A quality dog food should contain natural preservatives – such as tocopherols (vitamin E) or ascorbate (vitamin C) – and get its flavor and color from natural ingredients. Avoid artificial preservatives, colorings, and flavorings such as BHT, BHA, ethoxyquin, and propylene glycol.

    What to avoid

    A Large Amount of Filler Ingredients

    Almost all dry dog foods contain some starches (usually potatoes or grains), but they shouldn't be the main ingredients.

    What to avoid

    A Large Amount of Filler Ingredients

    Grain splitting is the practice of using a number of different grains or listing one kind of grain in separate parts. For instance, listing "maize flour," "maize gluten," and "maize meal" separately instead of just listing "maize" is an example of grain splitting. A manufacturer might do this so the ingredients appear farther down on the list, making it look like the food contains less grain than it really does.

    What to avoid

    Unnamed Meats

    A clear sign of poor-quality protein is when meats or fats are unnamed. For instance, if an ingredients list contains "meat meal" or "animal fats" instead of "beef meal" or "chicken fat," the food should be avoided.

    CAUTION

    Sugar is completely unnecessary in a dog's diet. Steer clear of any dry dog food that contains sugar or other sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup or sucrose.

    Considerations for Selecting a Dry Dog Food

    Considerations

    Complete Food or Mixer

    Some dry dog foods are complete, whereas others are mixers. Complete dog foods contain all the nutrients your dog needs to stay healthy. Mixers don't contain all your pooch's essential nutrients. Instead, they're designed to mix with high-quality foods to bulk them out and reduce the cost. For simplicity's sake and to ensure a proper nutrient balance, we recommend you feed your pup a complete dog food.

    Considerations

    Flavor and Palatability

    Dry dog food comes in a range of flavors, some of which may be more palatable to your dog than others. Just like some people can't get enough of broccoli whereas others completely banish it from their plates, all dogs have different food and flavor preferences, and some are more picky than others. If you happen to have a picky pup, you may need to try out a number of different foods before you find one she loves.

    Dry dog food is generally less messy to feed compared to wet dog food, and it doesn't need to be refrigerated once opened.

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    Considerations

    Allergens

    Some ingredients are potential allergens, such as gluten, grains, and even meat. If your four-legged friend has any allergies, pay close attention to the ingredients list so your chosen food won't trigger a reaction.

    Though grain-free dog food is all the rage right now, there's really no reason to avoid grains altogether unless your dog has an allergy. Instead, look for dry dog food that contains healthy whole grains in reasonable amounts – no grain should be at the top of the ingredient list.

    Considerations

    Open Formula vs. Fixed Formula

    Fixed-formula dry dog foods list every ingredient separately, and the ingredients are properly named. For instance, it might list, "tuna meal," "salmon meal," "brown rice," and "maize." This makes it clear exactly what the dry dog food contains.

    Open-formula dry dog foods don't list specific ingredients. For instance, they might list simply "fish meal" and "grains."

    We highly recommend fixed-formula dog food over open-formula dog food, as you just don't know what you're getting with the latter. This generally means it contains poor-quality ingredients.

    EXPERT TIP

    When reading labels, remember that ingredients are listed in order of quantity. The first ingredient on the list is what the food in question contains the most of, and the last ingredient is what it contains the least of.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Dry Dog Food Prices

    Dog food varies in price primarily due to the quality of the ingredients, so you will have to pay more for a top-notch food.

    Since dry foods come in bags of various sizes, we've compared the price per pound rather than the price per bag.

    • Budget dry dog food costs between $.50 and $1 per pound. We generally wouldn't recommend feeding your canine companion cheap dog food unless you have no leeway in your budget.

    • Mid-range dry dog food costs between $1 and $2 per pound. You can find some gems at this price point, but there are also options out there that leave something to be desired.

    • High-end dry dog food cost between $2 and $5 per pound. In this price range, you can find some extremely good foods made with local or wild-caught ingredients.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Dry dog food tends to be cheaper than wet dog food of a similar quality.

    Tips

    • Look for signs that your dog is thriving on her food. A shiny coat, bright eyes, regular stools, and a healthy weight are all good indicators.

    • Make the switch to a new food gradually. Changing your dog's diet without warning can lead to an upset stomach. Instead, replace roughly 20% of his old food with his new food and increase this by 20% each day until you've phased out the old stuff.

    • Consider welfare standards. Some dog food manufacturers only use meat that has been raised with high welfare standards in place.

    • Think about fat content. Fat is an essential part of your dog's diet when consumed in moderation. Most dry dog food contains between 9% and 14% fat. If your dog is prone to weight gain, choose a food with no more than 10% fat.

    Dry dog food is ideal for pets who like to "free feed,” consuming their food gradually throughout the day rather than eating it in one sitting. The reason: it won't spoil quickly once put down the way wet dog food does.

    FAQ

    Q. How many meals per day should my dog eat?

    A. Most adult dogs thrive on two meals per day – one in the morning and one in the evening. Puppies need more frequent meals, preferably three or four a day, evenly spaced.

    Q. How should I store my dog's dry food?

    A. Dry dog food is easy to store and has a long shelf life, even once opened. However, we still recommend keeping it in a cool, dry place to increase its longevity. If you buy large bags of food that last for months, you may consider sealing the bag with a clip or storing it in a closed container between feedings.

    Q. How can I help my dog maintain a healthy weight?

    A. A dog that gets the correct amount of food, plus plenty of daily exercise, should have no trouble maintaining a healthy weight. Feed your pup the recommended amount of food for his weight and activity level, but still keep an eye on his weight, since feeding guidelines aren't absolute and may not be accurate for all dogs. If he starts to gain weight, reduce the size of his meals and/or increase his exercise.

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