Finding the best dry dog food for your dog is a difficult task, absolutely!
Every dog has different needs, and there are hundreds of options to choose from, so how do you make an informed decision?
That’s where we have you covered. This complete guide to buying dry dog food will help you easily identify the best brand and formula for your dog, without all the guesswork.
We’ll share everything you need to know including key considerations when buying dry dog food, an overview of the different types of dry food, reviews of popular brands/formulas, and answers to some frequently asked questions.
To get started, here are the main things you’ll want to consider choosing a great dry food:
Key Considerations When Buying Dry Dog Food
To get started, here are the main things you’ll want to consider choosing a great dry food:
Protein, fat, carb ratio
According to Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs: A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners, your dog’s diet can contain up to 50% carbohydrates. Their diet should also include at least 5.5% fat and 10% protein.
Keep in mind that these ratios change depending on whether your dog is still a puppy, adult, or perhaps pregnant/nursing. For example, puppies need around 56 grams of protein in their daily diet compared to adults who only needs 25 grams. Puppies require about 21 grams of fat in their diet each day and adults need only 14 grams. These numbers are higher for pregnant or nursing dogs.
Fruits and vegetables
As carnivores, dogs don’t require fruits and vegetables in their diet. However, some may be added to your dog’s diet as a treat and they are often included in dry dog food as a source of important vitamins and minerals. Just keep in mind that some fruits and vegetables are safe for dogs and some are not.
This list provided by the American Kennel Club identifies what is safe and what isn’t:
YES: Apples, Bananas, Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Cranberries, Cucumbers, Mango, Oranges, Peaches, Pears, Pineapple, Raspberries, Strawberries, Watermelon, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Celery, Green Beans, Peas, Spinach
NO: Avocado, Cherries, Grapes, Tomato, Asparagus, Mushrooms, Onions
Where it is made
These days, many owners are switching to dog food brands that are made and source their ingredients mainly in the USA. This is because there have been several recalls of dry kibble from brands that source raw ingredients from places like China.
Since there aren’t strict guidelines for how dog food is made, it’s important to find a company that you can trust. Companies that are transparent about where they source their ingredients can give you peace of mind that your dog won’t get sick from questionable practices used by cheaper brands.
Grain vs. grain-free
Many dry dog food brands now offer grain-free options. This is great news for dogs who require a grain-free diet, but just because the term is used positively in marketing doesn’t mean grain-free is right for all dogs. In fact, most dogs do well on diets with grains because their digestive systems have adapted to it.
Some owners put their dogs on grain-free diets because they believe this food better matches that of their ancestors. However, your dog really only needs to be on grain-free dry food if they are allergic or intolerant to wheat. Some symptoms that could indicate a wheat allergy include itchiness, sores and scabs, hair loss, and bald patches.
As a general rule of thumb, you can expect an unopened bag of dry dog food to have a shelf-life of one year, as indicated by the ‘best before’ date.
Surprisingly, Steve Brown (a well-known pet food formula developer and Founder of Steve’s Real Food) told Dog’s Naturally Magazine that once open dry kibble only lasts two weeks tops due to oxidization.
The solution? Buying smaller bags and making sure they are consumed quickly is the best way to make sure your dog’s food is fresh and they are getting the quality nutrition that they need.
The prices for dog food can vary greatly depending on whether you go with discount brands, premium brands, or more expensive veterinary diets or raw diets. Dry dog food typically costs anywhere from $200 - $700 a year, or $20 - $60 a month.
The amount you spend will also depend on the size of your dog, their age, and their unique energy requirements. A working dog needs more food that a sedentary (mostly inactive) dog, for example.
Although some dog foods are made to support all dog breeds and life stages, different sizes of dog typically have different nutritional needs.
Large dogs benefit from slightly lower levels of calcium and phosphorus, for example.
Small dogs, on the other hand, require calorie-dense food to help maintain their high energy levels. Many brands do make formulas that cater to small, medium, or large dogs.
Dry dog food types
Freeze-dried: Freeze-Dried dog food is popular because it’s a way to give dogs some of the best natural ingredients with minimal added moisture.
This type of dog food contains a high percentage of meat ingredients (sometimes up to 95%!) including muscle and organ meat, and raw ground bone.
All other ingredients are either raw or lightly processed, meaning that vitamins and minerals whose nutrients are usually lost during the cooking process are retained.
Raw (dry): Another option for owners looking into raw food is dehydrated raw dog food. This method uses gentle dehydration which preserves the ingredients’ flavor, taste, and color. More palatable and minimally processed, these foods are ideal for dogs with digestive issues, upset stomach, and itching due to allergies.
Dehydrated raw foods are made in small batches for superior freshness and contain around 20 - 40% min. protein and 10 - 20% min. fat.
Special veterinary diets: According to the Animal Hospital of Cambridge, “One big difference in the veterinary exclusive diets is that they go far beyond most pet food companies with further testing on their products to ensure product quality and safety.”
These diets go beyond the AAFCO statement. They conduct clinical trials and peer reviewed research to ensure that their food meets your dog’s nutritional needs.
Veterinary diets exist for many health conditions/purposes, including healthy life stages, dental health, formulas for diseases and allergies, weight management, joint/mobility management, and more.
Hypoallergenic: If your dog is experiencing symptoms like frequent itchiness, chronic skin infections, gassiness, or even diarrhea and vomiting, they may suffer from food-related allergies.
The most common food-triggered allergies for dogs are caused by beef, dairy, wheat, and chicken. Hypoallergenic diets use ingredients that most dogs haven’t been exposed to, like venison, kangaroo, duck, or salmon with carbs like potato and pea.
These formulas can be more expensive because of the ingredients used.
Puppy foods: It’s important to feed puppies food that is specially made for their growing bodies; adult food just doesn’t cut it.
Puppy food is nutrient rich and higher in important proteins and fats. Small dogs can switch to adult food at around 7 - 9 months, says the AKC, while bigger breeds stay on puppy food until they are a little over a year old.
Senior formulas: When your dog starts to get older, usually around 6 years old for bigger dogs and 8 - 9 for smaller dogs, veterinarians recommend having them on a senior formula.
These formulas are made with fewer calories to help combat obesity and more fiber to help with digestion.
Pregnant/lactating: Unfortunately, there aren’t really formulas specific for pregnant and lactating dogs. The norm is to switch a pregnant mama to energy dense puppy food or food formulated for more active dogs in the last half of her pregnancy.
This food should contain at least 30% protein and 20% fat.
Best Dry Dog Food Reviews of 2020
Now we can take a look at some of the top dry kibble options available for your canine companion. These dry dog food formulas according to pet parents and experts are truly worth the investment and are complete and balanced to meet your four-legged family member’s nutritional needs.
1. Wellness Core Grain-Free Dog Food "Ocean Formula"
Best Grain Free Dry Dog Food
Wellness Core’s Ocean Formula is an excellent holistic food for dogs with grain allergies or sensitivities.
This grain-free dry dog food doesn’t contain common food allergens like poultry, beef, corn, wheat, or soy. It’s also free from meat by-products, fillers, artificial preservatives, colors, and unnatural flavors. The inspiration for the ‘Core’ line is the idea that dogs’ ancestral diets consisted primarily of meat protein, which is what they should eat today.
What this food does contain is 49% high quality protein to support lean and powerful muscle, starting with real whitefish. The flaxseed and salmon oil in this recipe offer plenty of natural Omega fatty acids, and nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables add important vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants, glucosamine hydrochloride, and probiotics are also incorporated for whole body health.
Customers love that Wellness is a family owned company. Their food is made in the USA, where there are higher standards for pet food manufacturing. The quality ingredients in this recipe are globally and thoughtfully sourced to promote healthy skin and coats, boost immune and gastrointestinal systems, and support joint and muscle health.
PROS: Heals itchiness caused by allergies, proprietary Acticoat blend supports digestion
CONS: Fishy Smell
2. Fromm Four Star Game Bird Recipe
Best Tasting Dry Dog Food for Picky Eaters
Fromm Four Star’s Game Bird recipe is made with a fresh, unique mixture of proteins that picky dogs crave.
This grain-free recipe includes duck, turkey, quail, and pheasant to avoid allergies and increase nutrient absorption in dogs that otherwise might not eat a lot. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support whole body health and help slow down the aging process.
In addition to creating a nutritionally balanced food, Fromm has also added several ingredients to proactively prevent common dog issues. For example, Yucca Schidigera extract helps reduce stool odor and chicken cartilage supports healthy joints. Chicory root reduces the risk of worms, while taurine supports a healthy heart and eyes.
Fromm’s dry food is made from USDA-inspected ingredients that arrive fresh daily, so owners know their pets are getting the best. This food comes highly rated from customers who want a higher quality food for their dogs. Anecdotally, one owner shared that switching to this food cleared up her Yorkie’s eye moisture/stains while another found it helped their dog bounce back after chemo.
PROS: Small kibble easy to chew, natural ingredients, all life stages formula
3. Taste of the Wild Appalachian Valley Small Breed
Best Dry Dog Food for Small Dogs
Taste of the Wild’s Appalachian Valley formula is rich in protein and fat with smaller kibble, making it ideal for active small breed dogs.
This grain-free recipe contains real pasture-raised venison as the first ingredient. This protein was chosen for its amino acid profile and the fact that it contributes to lean, strong muscles. Vitamins and minerals are added to support overall health, along with superfoods for antioxidants and a fatty acid blend for skin and coat health.
TOTW’s ingredients come from trusted and sustainable sources around the world. The Wild Appalachian Valley recipe contains no grain, corn, wheat, fillers, or artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. A species specific K9 Strain of probiotics is included after the cooking process to ensure that there are 80 million live probiotics per pound of this highly digestible food.
Made in the USA by a family owned and run brand, TOTW is trusted by dogs and their owners. Unlike discount pet food brands, this company follows a scientifically advanced food safety protocol to ensure quality food every time. Guaranteed levels of trace minerals such as zinc, selenium, and vitamin E support dogs’ healthy immune systems.
PROS: Not a lot of ingredients, high protein which is easy to digest, small kibble size, uses complex carbs, low in kcal (307/per cup)
CONS: May not suit picky eaters
4. NutriSource Large Breed Chicken & Rice
BEST DRY DOG FOOD FOR LARGE BREEDS
NutriSource’s large breed formula is specially designed for large and giant breeds and features a revolutionary Good 4 Life supplement system to repair and improve gut health.
The first ingredient in this recipe is humanely sourced, fresh, farm-raised chicken. This high-quality protein is tasty and ideal for maintaining muscle mass and strength in large dogs. Larger kibbles are used to provide a good crunch while supporting dental health. Customers like that this formula is grain-free and uses corn instead of rice as its source of carbohydrates.
Tuffy’s, the family-owned brand making NutriSource in the USA, uses readily available nutrients and fortifies food with vitamins and minerals to promote healthy immune systems. This formula also includes highly bioavailable Selenium, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, to support brain health. The ingredients are low-glycemic to reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity.
NutriSource is formulated specifically to solve big breed problems, with adjusted levels of phosphorus and calcium for muscular and skeletal maintenance. Balanced protein, fat, and calories keep dogs satisfied and energetic while eating and pooping less due to fewer fillers. The easy-to-digest recipe ensures that smelly gas is reduced and things like runny stools are an issue of the past.
PROS: Perfect for dogs with frequent upset stomach, made in the USA, large kibble size
CONS: Not suitable for small breeds
5. ORIJEN PUPPY
Best Dry Dog Food for Puppies
Orijen’s award-winning puppy formula is made with 85% quality animal ingredients to nourish growing pups according to their biological needs.
This high-protein, grain-free recipe contains a variety of premium quality meat ingredients such as fresh free-run chicken and turkey, wild-caught fish, and cage-free eggs. These meat ingredients include organs, cartilage, and bone to mirror actual prey in the wild. The other 15% of ingredients come from fresh vegetables, fruit, and botanicals.
To support puppies’ growth and development, only the freshest natural ingredients are used. How fresh, you ask? To be specific, two-thirds of this recipe is made up of raw meat and plant ingredients. The other third is made up of dehydrated chicken and turkey. This meat is dehydrated at low temperatures for a more concentrated source of protein.
Orijen has earned the trust of its customers through stringent food safety practices. They are always transparent about their process, which is never outsourced to third parties. The company makes this food in their DogStar Kitchen in Kentucky, using fresh regional ingredients supplied by people they know and trust.
PROS: Some sizes are resealable, 5 star rated food, made in Kentucky, USA
CONS: Expensive, may be too rich for some puppies
6. Rachel Ray Nutrish Dish
Best Soft Dry Dog Food
Rachel Ray’s Nutrish Dish is a popular softer kibble, with real pieces of dried chicken, peas, carrots, and apple mixed in.
The team behind Rachael Ray’s USA-made formulas has over 80 years’ experience in pet nutrition. The main ingredient in this recipe is U.S. farm-raised chicken. It’s a good choice for dogs with allergies or sensitive stomachs because of its natural, healthy ingredients. There is no corn, wheat, soy, gluten, poultry by-product meals, fillers, or anything artificial in this food.
Nutrish Dish gets its Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids from poultry fat and flax seed. Brown rice serves as an easily digestible source of fiber, while cranberries offer fiber along with Vitamins A and C to support your dog’s immunity. Thorough testing is done to ensure that all ingredients are safe and high quality (never from China).
Customers rate this food highly, with the only complaint being that some dogs gain weight on it. Still, many satisfied owners report that their dogs love this food and are energetic and healthy after eating it. Since dogs absorb the nutrition in this food well, there is less waste to pick up after and dogs’ stools don’t smell as bad.
PROS: Brand is passionate about food safety and giving back, whole food pieces that dogs love, affordable, USA sourced and made, good for senior dogs who can't chew well
CONS: Can lead to weight gain in some dogs
7. Nutro Ultra Holistic Superfood Blend
Best Dry Dog Food for Seniors
Nutro Ultra is specifically formulated to support the needs of senior dogs, including the perfect balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
This holistic dog food is made with three main sources of great tasting lean protein for strong muscles: farm-raised chicken, pasture-fed lamb, and salmon. An exclusive, antioxidant-rich blend of 15 superfoods helps support healthy aging. Added vitamins and minerals ensure that your dog is getting the balanced nutrition they need, while whole grains offer a healthy source of fiber.
Nutro’s experts have tailored this food to the needs of dogs over the age of five. This recipe is formulated with naturally sourced glucosamine and chondroitin to promote joint health. Healthy oils contribute to great skin and a healthy coat. This food has no artificial ingredients and is produced in-house to ensure safety and quality.
Owners of senior dogs believe that this food has everything their dogs’ need to thrive. This food usually does well with picky dogs and dogs with sensitive stomachs.
PROS: Can improve digestive issues, palatable, suits all breed types, includes taurine for better eyesight and hearing
CONS: May not suit picky eaters
8. Crave Grain-Free Dog Food
Best Dry Dog Food for Weight-Gain
Crave's Salmon & Ocean Fish Adult grain-free dry food is made with 34% high-quality protein and packed with healthy ingredients dogs need to grow.
The first ingredient in this recipe is real salmon, along with ocean fish. Chickpeas are used as a healthy source of carbohydrates to give your dog the energy they need to lead a playful, active life. This food contains no chicken by-product meal, corn, wheat, soy protein, or artificial ingredients. Just a natural, protein-rich diet to support lean muscle and holistic health.
This food comes highly recommended by Dog Food Advisor and has many positive reviews from satisfied owners. Some owners have shared that their dogs’ stomach issues improved after switching to this food. Since Crave is great for both small and large breed dogs, households with multiple dogs may be able to buy just one type of food instead of several.
PROS: Good for any breed size, affordable, US sourced and processed
CONS: Not for dogs who need a low protein diet, only comes in 4, 12 and 22 lbs bags
9. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Salmon Recipe
Best Dry Dog Food for Allergies
Blue Buffalo’s Wilderness Salmon recipe is an ideal dry food for dogs with allergies because of its high-quality protein source and no common food allergy triggers.
This high protein, grain-free recipe is uses natural ingredients like real meat, fruits, and vegetables along with exclusive LifeSource Bits to offer dogs whole body health and vitality. These LifeSource Bits consist of a special blend of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals selected by holistic vets and animal nutritionists to boost immunity and supply your dog with everything it needs.
In addition to salmon as a healthy source of protein to support lean muscle development, the Wilderness Salmon recipe gets its carbohydrates for energy from peas and sweet potatoes. Customers can rest assured that there is no chicken or poultry by-product meals, corn, wheat, soy, or artificial flavors and preservatives in this food.
Aside from the whole ingredients, this formula is fortified with calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones and teeth. There are also Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids to support skin and coat health. Dogs with allergies, picky eaters, and dogs with sensitive stomachs often see improvements on this food, according to their owners.
PROS: Real salmon as 1st ingredient, suits all breed types
CONS: Formula doesn't agree with all dogs
10. Zignature Zssential Formula Dog Food
Best Dry Dog Food for Sensitive Stomach
Zignature Zssential dry dog food contains everything your sensitive dog needs from A to Z, like essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
This dog food tackles the problems caused by stomach sensitivity with its meat-first, limited ingredient recipe. Common triggers like chicken, dairy, corn, wheat gluten, soy, and potatoes are not included in this hypoallergenic, grain-free formula. Based on the true diet of dogs’ ancestors, this recipe uses chickpeas as a source of fiber and low-glycemic carbs to support stable blood sugar.
There are several sources of premium protein in this recipe and the makers are very transparent about where their ingredients are sourced from. To be specific, they use turkey and turkey meal from the American Midwest, salmon from the Northwest, duck meal from France, and lamb meal from New Zealand.
Owners love that this dog food is high in protein and low in saturated fat. It’s also fortified with important vitamin and minerals like Vitamin B12 and selenium that dogs need to thrive.
PROS: High quality protein from named sources, limited ingredients for sensitive dogs
CONS: Grain-free isn’t right for all dogs, expensive
Dog Kibble FAQs
What to look for when choosing the best dry food for your dog?
The three main things you want to make sure of when choosing the best dry food for your dog are:
1. Real meat is the first ingredient and there are other whole ingredients like fruits and vegetables
2. The food is appropriate for your dog’s life stage (puppy, adult, or senior) and health conditions (allergies, diseases, etc.)
3. Quality packaging and a clear ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ dates to ensure food safety and avoid unnecessary gastrointestinal issues
Is there a proven link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)?
A recent report from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggesting a potential link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, some consumers have become hesitant to feed grain-free diets. However, there has been no published evidence to support a cause-and-effect relationship between grain-free diets and DCM in dogs.
Here's what various pet experts and animal food scientist shave had to say in the wake of recent recalls of grain-free dog foods.
“For many pets, grain-free diets are an excellent option.....In some cases, they are the only option, particularly for pets who do better on a diet without grains, including those experiencing adverse food reactions.” says Jennifer Adolphe, Ph.D., Petcurean
“The current trend toward grain-free pet foods has led consumers to believe that corn, rice and their ingredient derivatives are fillers when, in fact, ingredients like corn gluten meal are highly digestible and good for pet health,” says Yvonne Wang, animal food scientist at Wild Earth.
Dr. Jason W. Gagné veterinary nutritionist with Purina explains other benefits grains offer “When it comes to the nutrients pets need, grains deliver. Grains provide antioxidants, energy-rich carbohydrates and fiber to promote digestion. In fact, grains, especially corn, are key for helping pets to digest the other nutrients in their food. Grains in dog food can also support healthy skin and hair, plus support healthy immune systems and more.”
Finally, on the positive sign on the DCM front, is that many in the pet food industry have conveyed concern that FDA’s DCM investigation primarily focused exclusively on the possible link to grain-free pet food ingredients to the detriment of other areas or potential causes, including genetic influences on nutrition. Instead of looking at decades of research and literature on the genetics behind canine DCM, several experts have pointed out the need for further research.
And so we were glad to hear about the recent announcement of the partnership between Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Embark on such a study.
How long does dry food last and how to store it?
Unopened bags of dog food can last a while, just follow the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ dates on the bag. Once opened, dry food should be used within a couple of weeks according to some experts (others say up to six) before air and moisture set in.
Keep bags of food off the floor and fold or clip the bag shut when not in use. Store in a cool, dry place and discard any uneaten food in your dog’s dish after 24 hours.
How do I transition my dog to a new diet?
Transitioning your dog to a new diet should be done gradually. You start by mixing 75% of their old food with 25% new for a few days, then 50/50, then 25% old and 75% new... until you’re completely switched. Some dry food packages have their own instructions on how to do this transition.
How much dry food should I feed my dog?
The amount of dry food you should feed your dog depends on a few factors. Each dry food is different, so you should start with the instructions on the food label. From there, you can adjust based on your dog’s unique life stage, size/breed, health, and energy needs.
PetMD has a helpful chart that breaks down some of the basics depending on your dog’s size.
How to soften dry dog food?
Softening dry dog food is simple. Start by serving up the usual amount of dry food and add equal parts water. If you want your dog to eat quickly, use warm water, otherwise it takes a few hours for the kibble to absorb the water. Once the water’s absorbed, mash the food into the desired consistency.
How to make dry dog food more appealing?
You can add several different foods to your dog’s dry kibble to make it more appealing (in moderation). Some of these include eggs, low or non-fat plain yogurt, sardines, fruits, vegetables, and even healthy whole food leftovers like lean meat.
What is the best wet dog food to mix with dry?
The best wet dog food to mix with dry is Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Canned Dog Food. This USA-made food is grain-free and uses real beef as the first ingredient. It’s nutrient rich and highly digestible which makes it an ideal choice for many dogs.
What is the best cheap dry dog food?
If you’re looking for a dry dog food that’s easy on the budget, try Taste of the Wild Appalachian Valley formula. Their food is high-quality and a little less expensive than their competitors.
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