p” class=”inline-offer pre-churn-offer”>

When you buy through our links, Business Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Choosing the best dog food for your pet can be difficult. There’s an overwhelming selection of dry and wet foods from popular brands, including recipes for puppies, large breeds, senior dogs, and dogs with sensitive stomachs. 

We spoke with veterinarians and animal nutritionists and researched hundreds of recipes to compile this list of nutritious, healthy dog foods. Our kibble, wet, and fresh food recommendations are based on each recipe’s nutritional adequacy, calorie content, and ingredients. One of our top picks, Wellness Complete Health Lamb and Barley Recipe, is a dry food for adult dogs. It has a healthy balance of protein, fat, and fiber, plus beneficial nutrients like omega fatty acids for brain health and glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health.

All of our picks for the best dog foods meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards, meaning they have the right balance of fat, protein, and fiber for a dog’s life stage. They also align with the Global Nutrition Guidelines published by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). 

Read more about how Business Insider Reviews researches and tests pet products.

Best dry food

The best dry dog food is convenient, practical, and affordable. Prices are lower because you’re not paying for the water that’s in higher moisture wet foods, says Dr. Megan Shepherd, a veterinary nutritionist and adjunct professor of nutrition at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Calorie and nutrient content in kibble varies, but the AAFCO minimum for protein is 18% for adult dogs. Pet dogs are omnivorous and don’t need super high levels of protein, so look for a moderate amount of protein. Protein quality and digestibility are most important, says Kelly Swanson, professor of animal and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  

The best dry foods contain ingredients that meet the AAFCO’s nutrient requirements for complete and balanced food. These ingredients include whole meats and fish, meat meals, rice and beans for protein, and fiber from grains, vegetables, and fruit. Swanson also recommends fat concentrations under 20%. However, if your dog is a healthy weight and doesn’t have pancreatitis or gastrointestinal disease, don’t worry too much about fat content.

Our recommendations for the best dog food have all the essential nutritional qualities plus healthy extras. Our pick from Nature’s Logic has also undergone feeding trials, which are tests to ensure a food is palatable, digestible, and able to sustain pets over time. The picks below also have health-boosting ingredients, like omega fatty acids for skin and coat health and glucosamine, chondroitin, and green-lipped mussels, which may provide joint support. 

Editor’s note: Shepherd is now a Scientific Communications Nutritionist for Royal Canin. She spoke with us in October 2021 before she began working for Royal Canin, so we do not view her contributions to this article as a conflict of interest.


Wellness Complete Health Adult Lamb and Barley Recipe

Lamb and lamb meal are the main protein sources, and carbohydrates include oatmeal, ground barley, and ground brown rice. Healthy extras like menhaden fish meal provide omega fatty acids, while glucosamine and chondroitin support joint health. This food is appropriate for moderately active, normal-weight dogs with 24% protein, 12% fat, and 4% fiber. Each cup contains 417 kcal.


Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Real Beef and Brown Rice Recipe

Beef and pork meal lead the ingredients list, and there are a variety of carbohydrates, including brown rice, barley, oatmeal, quinoa, carrots, and apples. Health extras include omega fatty acids (salmon), glucosamine, and chondroitin. With 26% protein, 15% fat, and 3.5% fiber, this is a good option for moderately active, normal-weight dogs. Each cup contains 386 kcal.


Nature’s Logic Canine Chicken Meal Feast

At the top of the list are chicken meal, chicken fat, millet, and eggs. Carbohydrates include pumpkin seeds, kelp, almonds, carrots, apples, blueberries, and cranberries. There are healthy extras like probiotics and digestive enzymes. We recommend this food for active, normal-weight dogs with a breakdown of 36% protein, 15% fat, and 5% fiber. This food has undergone feeding trials and each cup contains 418 kcal.

Best budget dry food

There’s a relationship between price and quality when it comes to the best dog foods. Ultra-cheap foods often contain lower-quality ingredients to bulk them up and keep their prices down. 

“But it’s important to remember that there are many more affordable dog foods that are perfectly good options,” says Dr. Jamie Richardson, head of veterinary medicine at Small Door Veterinary. You don’t need to break the bank to feed your dog a healthy diet. 

We’ve found plenty of high-quality foods available at lower prices. As long as a food meets the AAFCO complete and balanced standards like our picks and makes sense for your dog’s life stage, you’re good to go.


Rachael Ray Nutrish Dish Beef and Brown Rice Recipe With Veggie and Fruit Blend

Beef and chicken meal are the first two protein sources in this dry dog food. Other standout ingredients include brown rice, pea protein, and brewers rice. Menhaden fish oil provides omega fatty acids. With 26% protein, 14% fat, and 4% fiber, we recommend this food for moderately active, normal-weight dogs. One cup contains 352 kcal.


Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe

The main protein sources in this recipe are deboned chicken and chicken meal. Standout carbohydrates include brown rice, barley, oatmeal, peas, sweet potatoes, carrots, and cranberries. Healthy extras include omega fatty acids and glucosamine. We recommend it for moderately active, normal-weight dogs, with 24% protein, 14% fat, and 5% fiber. One cup is 378 kcal.


Natural Balance Original Ultra Chicken and Barley Formula

Chicken and chicken meal lead the list of ingredients. Other ingredients include pearled barley, peas, oat groats, brown rice, and dried beet pulp. It also contains fish oil for omega fatty acids. Its nutrition breakdown of 24% protein, 14% fat, and 5% fiber is ideal for normal, active-weight dogs. One cup contains 370 kcal.

Best wet food

Some dogs prefer the taste or texture of wet food, says Richardson. These foods may also be easier to digest because they may be less processed and contain fewer preservatives. Just avoid wet food containing only meat since an all-meat diet won’t provide your dog with complete and balanced nutrition. Instead, you can use a small amount of all-meat food as a delicious meal topper for kibble or stuff it in some of the best dog toys like the Kong Classic.

The same nutritional standards apply to dry and wet dog food, but comparing their labels isn’t easy because wet food has more water content. To compare them, you need a wet food’s protein, fat, and fiber on a “dry matter basis,” a measurement of nutrients without water included. Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University explains how to calculate that. You can also call the brand or ask your veterinarian for help. We contacted brands to obtain the dry matter basis for our picks.

Wet food often has more protein and fat and fewer carbohydrates. Before you switch your pet from dry food to any of our recommendations, talk to your vet about potential issues your dog may have digesting a lot of protein or fat.


Go! Solutions Skin + Coat Care Shredded Chicken Recipe

This wet food has protein sources of chicken, chicken and turkey broth, and chicken liver. Brown rice, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin round out the list. It contains 48% protein, 28% fat, 1.5% fiber, and 320 kcal per 12.5-ounce carton, which is about 25.6 calories per ounce.


Wellness Lamb and Beef Stew with Brown Rice and Apples

At the front of the ingredients list are lamb broth, lamb, beef, and beef liver as protein sources. Carbohydrates include brown rice, apples, carrots, and spinach. This food consists of 41% protein, 26% fat, and 1% fiber. A 12.5-ounce can contains 359 kcal, or about 29 calories per ounce.


Hill’s Science Diet Adult Beef and Barley Entree

Beef and pork liver are the main protein sources in this wet food for adult dogs ages 1 to 6 years. Carbohydrates include whole grain corn, cracked pearled barley, and prebiotic dried beet pulp. The food contains 23.7% protein, 19.3% fat, and 1.3% fiber, with 406 kcal per 13-ounce can.

Best fresh food

Pet guardians have shown increased interest in fresh food, says Richardson. That may be partly due to marketing promoting the benefits of feeding dogs a fresh diet. It’s often true that these foods are minimally processed and contain whole, gently cooked ingredients. They also tend to be preservative-free, so follow the storage instructions carefully.

Because these foods are fancier, they are more expensive, but you get convenience too. Brands typically offer subscription services and deliver frozen fresh, customized meals to your doorstep. 

Richardson says nutrition standards are the same as for other dog food. The food should have an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement and the ingredients should be the same ones found in other types of dog food: meat sources of protein, whole grains, fruits, and marine sources of fats. It’s a big bonus if there are healthy extras like omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin.

Our recommendations come from brands with strong quality control. We’ve tested our picks and vouch for their quality. You can read more about them in our guide to the best fresh dog food.


JustFoodForDogs Fresh Frozen Dog Food

JustFoodForDogs offers six gently cooked recipes, variety packs, and seasonal and limited-time recipes, all backed by industry-leading research.


Nom Nom Fresh Dog Food

Nom Nom ships easy-to-serve preoportioned fresh meals and offers an excellent two-week trial.


The Farmer’s Dog Fresh Dog Food

The Farmer’s Dog is a well-established fresh dog food company offering four grain-free recipes in portions customized for your pet.

Best for sensitive stomachs

Not every dog has a cast-iron gut. Dogs with allergies may experience digestive issues like diarrhea or vomiting. If you suspect your dog has an allergy or sensitivity, a trip to the vet should always be your first stop. But foods specially formulated for sensitive stomachs may be worth a try. 

Sensitive stomach foods are usually low in fat and contain easy-to-digest carbohydrates, like white rice or whole wheat, says Dr. Korinn Saker, associate professor of clinical nutrition at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University. They may also contain more processed protein sources, like chicken meal. “You want ingredients that are in a processed form so that the cells in the GI tract don’t have to do as much in terms of digestion,” she says. Ingredients like chicken meal are already processed, so it may be easier for your dog to absorb the nutrients. 

Our recommendations for the best dog foods for sensitive stomachs include meat and fish meals, rice, prebiotics, and probiotics, which may support gut health.


Purina Pro Plan Adult Sensitive Skin and Stomach Salmon and Rice Formula

The first few ingredients in this food are highly digestible ingredients like salmon, rice, barley, canola meal, and oatmeal. Sunflower oil and fish oil provide omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, while added probiotics help support immune and digestive health. This food contains 26% protein, 16% fat, and 4% fiber, with 449 kcal/cup.


Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach and Skin Chicken and Barley Recipe

Chicken, chicken meal, yellow peas, and cracked pearl barley are the top ingredients in this food, which is designed for easy digestion. Other standout ingredients include brown rice, brewers rice, and dried beet pulp, a prebiotic fiber that may help soothe your dog’s stomach. The food contains 25% protein, 16.8% fat, and 1.4% fiber, with 394 kcal per cup.


Blue Buffalo True Solutions Blissful Belly Digestive Care Formula

Protein sources in this wet food for sensitive stomachs include chicken, whitefish, and chicken liver. You’ll also find fiber sources like prebiotic beet pulp, oatmeal, brown rice, and barley. The food contains 46.4% protein, 20% fat, 2% fiber, and 373 kcal per 12.5-ounce can, or about 30 calories per ounce.

Best dry food for puppies

If you’re wondering whether your puppy needs special food, the answer is yes. Puppies need more calories, more fat, and a different vitamin and mineral balance to support healthy growth. 

Typically, puppy food is for dogs under a year old. There aren’t any AAFCO nutrient standards specifically for small and large breed puppies, but some of the best puppy foods are formulated for breed size. Shepherd says larger breeds need a unique ratio of calcium to phosphorus for their growing big bones and can benefit from supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin to help keep their joints healthy. On the flip side, foods for smaller breeds often have smaller kibble for smaller mouths. They may also be slightly higher in calories since smaller breeds can have higher metabolisms.

If you want to ensure a food is appropriate for puppies, check the label for an AAFCO complete-and-balanced statement that says it’s intended for growth for all life stages. Some foods might also state that they’re for younger dogs. Do not feed a puppy food that says “maintenance” on the label since that’s for adult dogs.

We’ve recommended three different puppy foods, one for small breeds, one for large breeds, and one for any size puppy. Our Purina pick has undergone feeding trials.


Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Puppy Chicken and Oatmeal Recipe

Deboned chicken and chicken meal are the main protein sources in this food for puppies. Carbohydrates include oatmeal, barley, peas, brown rice, carrots, and sweet potato. Healthy additions include probiotics and omega fatty acids from fish meal and fish oil. The food contains 29% protein, 17% fat, 5% fiber, and 415 kcal per cup.


Purina Pro Plan Puppy Large Breed Formula

Chicken is the main protein source in this food for large breed puppies. Standout carbohydrates include rice, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, and whole grain wheat. Healthy extras consist of omega fatty acids from fish oil plus glucosamine. The food contains 30% protein, 18% fat, 4.75% fiber, and 430 kcal per cup.


Wellness Complete Health Puppy Deboned Chicken, Oatmeal, and Salmon Meal Recipe

Deboned chicken, chicken meal, and salmon meal are the main proteins in this food. The list of carbohydrates includes oatmeal, barley, peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, blueberries, apples, and flaxseed. It also contains probiotics and omega fatty acids from salmon meal and salmon oil. The nutritional breakdown is 29% protein, 18% fat, 4.5% fiber, and 450 kcal per cup.

Best wet food for puppies

Wet food provides various benefits for puppies. “Wet food can help puppies transition from a liquid diet (the dam’s milk) to solid food,” says Shepherd. She adds that this transition should begin before a puppy is fully weaned and helps them accept solid food and learn how to drink water.

Canned food is also easy for puppies to eat. Without strong adult teeth, they can struggle to munch on dry kibble. It’s also packed with flavor, which can entice picky or hesitant eaters. However, if your puppy has a poor appetite, Shepherd recommends consulting your vet to make sure they don’t have an underlying condition.

While wet puppy food has its benefits, it’s not a necessity. The decision to feed wet food depends on an individual puppy’s needs and an owner’s preferences and budget. It tends to cost more than kibble and needs to be refrigerated and used within a few days to prevent spoiling.

When reading a label for wet puppy food, look for the AAFCO statement that says the food provides complete and balanced nutrition for growth or all life stages. The foods we chose include plenty of vitamins, minerals, and other healthy ingredients to support brain development and immune health. 


Wellness Complete Health Puppy Recipe

Chicken and salmon are the main protein sources in this food. Salmon provides omega fatty acids for proper brain development. Other healthy ingredients include sweet potatoes, apples, and bananas. The nutritional breakdown is 39% protein, 27% fat, 2% fiber, and 434 kcal per 12.5-ounce can, or about 35 calories per ounce.


Blue Buffalo Baby Blue Healthy Growth Formula Puppy Chicken and Vegetable Recipe

Chicken is the main protein source in this puppy food. Standout carbohydrates include carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, brown rice, and barley. This food also contains healthy extras like fish oil for omega fatty acids. It consists of 38.8% protein, 30% fat, and 2.6% fiber, with 422 kcal per 12.5-ounce can, or about 34 calories per ounce.


Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Chicken and Barley Entree Canned Dog Food

This puppy food has chicken as its main protein source. Whole grain corn, cracked pearled barley, and soybean meal provide carbohydrates. Other healthy ingredients include fish oil for omega fatty acids. It consists of 28% protein, 21.6% fat, and 1.7% fiber, with 482 kcal per 13-ounce can, or about 37 calories per ounce.

Best dry food for seniors

You might consider a senior dog food around age 6 or 7 for a large breed and around 10 or 11 for a small breed. Shepherd says the right food depends on the specific dog and how they’re doing. If they’re maintaining a healthy weight and muscle tone, their stool is well-formed, and they’re enjoying their food, you may not even need to change their diet.

That said, some foods are tailored to the needs of older dogs with specific health issues. “Senior diets are formulated to target some of the common ailments of older pets, such as joint health, digestive health, immune health, and possibly others,” says Swanson.

Both dry and wet foods are available for senior dogs. Whether to feed wet or dry food depends on factors like your dog’s health needs and preferences and your budget. Shepherd says that dry foods are appropriate for most senior dogs. While they could be problematic for dogs with dental disease, there are options with small-sized kibble for easy chewing. Another solution is to soften the kibble with a tasty low- or no-sodium broth.

Our kibble picks for the best senior dog food are packed with protein and have nutritional boosters, such as omega fatty acids and antioxidants, that can support an older dog’s changing needs. Purina also conducted feeding trials on its Pro Plan formula.


Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind Adult 7+ Chicken and Rice Formula

Chicken and poultry byproduct meals are the main protein sources in this food that’s undergone feeding trials. It includes rice, corn, wheat, barley, omega fatty acids, and glucosamine. With 29% protein, 14% fat, 3% fiber, and 423 kcal per cup, we recommend it for active normal-weight dogs.


Merrick Healthy Grains Senior Recipe

This food counts chicken, chicken meal, and turkey meal as its main protein sources. Carbohydrates include brown rice, oatmeal, barley, quinoa, apples, and carrots. Omega fatty acids from salmon oil, glucosamine, and chondroitin are healthy extras. We recommend it for moderately active normal-weight dogs. It contains 27% protein, 15% fat, 3.5% fiber, and 381 kcal per cup.


Nutro Senior Dog 7+ Years Lamb and Brown Rice Recipe

This senior dog food’s main protein source is deboned lamb. Standout carbohydrates consist of rice bran, whole grain barley, and whole grain brown rice. Healthy extras like omega fatty acids from fish oil and glucosamine and chondroitin from chicken meal round out the list. With 27% protein, 12% fat, and 4% fiber and 307 kcal per cup, we recommend it for moderately active, normal-weight dogs.

Best wet food for seniors

Wet foods offer a tasty option for senior dogs and have several benefits. Dogs with advanced dental disease will have an easier time chewing and swallowing wet food than kibble. Wet food’s strong flavor and aroma can also stimulate appetite in older dogs that may feel lousy from a chronic illness, such as chronic kidney disease.

The food’s high moisture content is good for dogs with urinary stones. “If a senior dog has recurring urinary stones, maximizing water intake by soaking kibble or replacing kibble with wet food may be ideal,” says Shepherd. The extra water will encourage urination and help reduce the risk of stone formation. 

Shepherd says it’s important to consider calorie count. Your dog would need to eat more wet food to get the appropriate amount of calories and nutrients since it has fewer calories than a cup of kibble. Canned foods also tend to be higher in fat, and some senior dogs can’t tolerate a high-fat diet. 

You may see various age designations on senior wet food labels, such as “mature adult,” “adult 7+,” or “senior.” As long as the food meets the AAFCO standards for maintenance (minimum 18% protein and 5.5% fat), it’s nutritionally appropriate.

Our picks for the best dog food for seniors also contain additional nutrients to help older pups maintain good overall health.


Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Chicken and Barley Entree

This food lists chicken as its main protein source with pork liver as an additional animal-based protein. Barley, whole grain corn, and corn gluten meal provide carbohydrates. Other ingredients include vitamins C and E, which have antioxidant properties and support immune health, and various minerals to support heart and kidney function. It contains 22% protein, 15% fat, 2% fiber, and can contain 375 kcal per 13-ounce can or about 29 calories per ounce.


Wellness Age Advantage Recipe Adult 7+

This food contains protein sources of chicken broth, chicken, and whitefish. Carbohydrate sources include barley, bran, and sweet potatoes. Vitamin C, zinc, and cobalt round out the ingredients list. A 12.5-ounce can contains 36% protein, 18% fat, 4% fiber, and 379 kcal, or about 30 calories per ounce.


Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe Senior Chicken Dinner

This food contains chicken, chicken broth, and chicken liver as its protein sources. Brown rice and barley provide whole grain sources of carbohydrates. Other healthy ingredients include blueberries and cranberries. A 12.5 oz. can contains 40% protein, 28% fat, 1% fiber and 396 kcal, or about 32 calories per ounce. Given this food’s relatively high fat content, it may not be appropriate for senior dogs that cannot tolerate a high-fat diet.

Best for small breeds

Small dogs are tiny but mighty, with a higher metabolism that quickly burns through the calories they consume. Because of this, they need a calorie-dense food that supplies more calories per pound of body weight than what a large dog would need. 

However, eating a calorie-dense food does not mean small dogs can overindulge. Not only can their small stomachs not accommodate a lot of food, but overfeeding can lead to obesity. “Foods for small dogs are also often higher in protein than foods for larger dogs,” says Swanson. This extra protein packs more nutrients into smaller servings. Small dogs have smaller mouths and weaker jaws than large dogs, so kibble for small-breed dogs is also smaller.

Our picks for the best dog food for small dogs are specially formulated for small breed dogs and contain healthy extras like omega fatty acids, antioxidants, glucosamine, and chondroitin.


Farmina N&D Ancestral Adult Mini Grain Lamb Recipe

Lamb leads the ingredients for this food, along with healthy carbohydrates consisting of whole spelt and whole oats. Extras include herring and herring oil for omega fatty acids and glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. With 28% protein, 18% fat, and 2.9% fiber, this food is ideal for high-energy small breed dogs. Each cup contains 462 kcal.


Wellness Complete Health Small Breed Turkey and Oatmeal Recipe

Deboned chicken and chicken and salmon meal are the main protein sources. Carbohydrates include oatmeal, ground brown rice, and barley. Healthy extras like flaxseed and salmon oil provide omega fatty acids and glucosamine and chondroitin support joint health. With 28% protein, 16% fat, 4% fiber, and 408 kcal per cup, we recommend this food for moderately active small breed dogs.


Nulo Frontrunner Ancient Grains Small Breed Turkey, Whitefish, and Quinoa Recipe

Deboned turkey and turkey and salmon meal are the top ingredients in this food, plus standout carbohydrates, including chickpeas, sweet potato, and yellow peas. Healthy extras include omega fatty acids and probiotics. With 27% protein, 16% fat, and 4.5% fiber, this food is ideal for small active dogs with high energy. Each cup contains 432 kcal.

Best for large breeds

Large-breed dogs have unique dietary needs to ensure their overall health and well-being. For example, skeletal disease is common in large-breed dogs. “To protect against skeletal disease and control weight, foods for large breed dogs are less energy-dense and have a tightly controlled ratio of calcium to phosphorus,” says Swanson. 

These foods often include healthy extras such as chondroitin, glucosamine, and omega fatty acids that support joint health. They may also contain prebiotics to reduce stool odor, says Swanson. As with smaller breeds, be careful not to overfeed. Obesity can exacerbate a larger dog’s skeletal disease by putting extra pressure on their already-painful joints.

Some deep-chested large breeds are also prone to bloat, a life-threatening condition in which the stomach expands and twists when they swallow excess gas. To reduce the risk of bloat, large-breed dog foods are made with large-size kibble to encourage dogs to chew more, slow down while eating, and swallow less gas.

Our picks are specially formulated for large breeds and contain ingredients to support joint health.


Wellness Complete Health Adult Large Breed Deboned Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe

Deboned chicken and chicken meal are the main protein sources in this large breed dog food. Standout carbohydrates include ground brown rice, barley, peas, and oats. Glucosamine, chondroitin, omega fatty acids, and probiotics are healthy extras. With 26% protein, 12% fat, 5% fiber, and 340 kcal per cup, this food is ideal for moderately active large breed dogs.


Merrick Healthy Grains Large Breed Recipe

This food features deboned chicken and chicken meal as its main protein sources, along with carbohydrates like brown rice, oatmeal, barley, and quinoa. Healthy extras include salmon oil and glucosamine and chondroitin. With 25% protein, 14% fat, and 3.5% fiber, this food is ideal for active large breed dogs. Each cup contains 377 kcal.


Nutro Large Breed Adult Lamb and Brown Rice Recipe

Deboned lamb and chicken meal are the main protein sources in this food. Carbohydrates include whole grain brown rice, split peas, and whole grain sorghum. Healthy extras include glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega fatty acids. With 20% protein, 12% fat, and 3.5% fiber, this food is ideal for moderately active large breed dogs. Each cup contains 318 kcal.

Best grain-free food

There’s a lot of buzz about grain-free diets. If your dog is allergic to or intolerant of certain grains, a grain-free food might be helpful.

However, a grain-free diet is not necessarily better for your dog. There’s also a misconception that carbohydrates are bad for dogs and grain-free dog foods are carbohydrate-free. Instead, the carbs in grain-free foods come from non-grain sources like white potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and tapioca. 

We recommend talking to your veterinarian about the potential health risks of a grain-free diet. In July 2018, the FDA began investigating a potential link between dogs fed grain-free diets and the development of a heart condition called non-hereditary dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). According to Richardson, the condition can be fatal in a matter of months. As of November 2022, there were 1,382 reported cases of DCM. Although this increase could be a cause for concern, there isn’t a definitive link between grain-free foods and DCM. “The FDA continues to encourage research and collaboration by academia, veterinarians, and industry,” the agency says in its latest update

Our grain-free recommendations contain whole meats and healthy ingredients like omega fatty acids and glucosamine. 


Merrick Grain-Free Real Duck and Sweet Potato Recipe

Deboned duck, chicken meal, and turkey meal are the main protein sources in this grain-free food. Carbohydrates include sweet potatoes, potatoes, and peas. Healthy extras consist of omega fatty acids from whitefish meal and glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. With 34% protein, 17% fat, and 3.5% fiber and 389 kcal per cup, this food is suitable for moderately active, normal-weight dogs.


Nulo Grain-Free Adult Turkey and Sweet Potato Recipe

This grain-free food’s main protein sources are deboned turkey, turkey meal, and salmon meal. Healthy carbohydrates include chickpeas, sweet potato, and yellow peas. Its nutritional breakdown is 33% protein, 18% fat, and 4% fiber. With 441 kcal per cup, we recommend it for active, normal-weight dogs.

Best limited-ingredient

When a dog is allergic to a particular ingredient in their food, they may experience gastrointestinal issues or skin irritation, says Saker. Some of the most common triggers include proteins like chicken and beef and other animal products, such as eggs and dairy. Less common allergens include grains or certain vegetables, like potatoes and carrots. 

If your dog is showing symptoms of allergies, you’ll want to consult your veterinarian before making changes to their diet. According to Saker, a vet might recommend a limited-ingredient food for two reasons: to find a “novel” protein source your dog hasn’t eaten before and to limit their exposure to other potentially irritating ingredients. 

When shopping for a limited-ingredient food, Saker recommends looking at the ingredient lists of your dog’s previous foods, then making a list of all their protein sources. From there, you can look for an option containing a novel protein your dog hasn’t sampled before, which could be anything from duck to kangaroo meat. Our recommendations include duck, salmon, and lamb as their main protein sources, and you won’t find any dairy or eggs in these recipes.


Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Diet Duck and Oatmeal Formula

This limited-ingredient food has duck as the top ingredient and novel protein. Other ingredients include oatmeal, peas, ground rice, and ground flaxseed. It also has prebiotics and probiotics as healthy extras. The food contains 25.6% protein, 13% fat, and 4.2% fiber, with 450 kcal per cup.


Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet Real Salmon and Brown Rice Recipe

Deboned salmon and salmon are this food’s main protein sources and first ingredients. Other top ingredients include the highly digestible carbohydrate brown rice, along with oatmeal, barley, and sweet potatoes. Extras include glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health. This food contains 21% protein, 14% fat, and 4.5% fiber, with 384 kcal per cup.


Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet Real Turkey and Brown Rice Recipe

Deboned turkey and turkey liver are the main proteins in this limited-ingredient recipe. Carbohydrate sources include brown rice and oatmeal. Beneficial additions to this food include vitamin E. The food contains 28% protein, 17% fat, 3% fiber, and 402 kcal per can, or 32 kcal per ounce.

Best low-fat food

Although fat often gets a bad rap, it’s one of the essential elements of a healthy diet. Fat is critical in a dog’s body, providing cushioning around vital organs, promoting fullness after meals, and providing insulation from cold temperatures. Fat is also energy-dense.

Even so, too much fat can be problematic. According to Swanson, high-fat foods can complicate disease management for dogs with certain health conditions, such as pancreatitis and diabetes. They can also increase the risk of a dog being overweight or obese, which affects nearly 60% of dogs in the US.

Low-fat dog food is a good option for overweight dogs or those who suffer from inflammatory conditions like pancreatitis or inflammatory bowel disease. Switching to low-fat food is best if your dog needs a lower-fat diet. Cutting back on portions of their regular food could create nutritional deficiencies. 

The AAFCO’s minimum nutritional requirements for fat vary according to a dog’s life stage: 8.5% for growth and reproduction and 5.5% for adult maintenance. Swanson considers “low fat” to be 8% to 12% fat on a dry matter basis. The low-fat foods we recommend contain no more than 12% fat and include healthy extras like probiotics and flaxseed. Our guide to the best dog food for weight loss includes other excellent options too.


Nutro Ultra Weight Management with Chicken, Lamb, and Salmon

Chicken and chicken meal are the main protein sources in this low-fat weight-management food, and standout carbohydrates include whole grain brown rice, sorghum, barley, and oats. Health extras consist of glucosamine and chondroitin. With 26% protein, 9% fat, 4% fiber, and 325 kcal per cup, this food is ideal for overweight dogs needing to lose weight.


Wellness Complete Health Healthy Weight Deboned Chicken and Peas Recipe

This low-fat food has deboned chicken and chicken meal as its top ingredients, followed by carbohydrates like oatmeal, ground brown rice, and ground barley. Healthy extras include glucosamine and chondroitin. With 24% protein, 10% fat, and 4% fiber, this food is recommended for maintaining a healthy weight in active dogs. Each cup contains 405 kcal.


Rachael Ray Nutrish Healthy Weight Real Turkey, Brown Rice, and Venison Recipe

Turkey and chicken meal are the main protein sources in this weight-management food. Standout carbohydrates include brown rice, whole ground corn, and soybean meal. With 25% protein, 11% fat, 6% fiber, and 280 kcal per cup, this food is ideal for overweight dogs that need to lose weight.

Best high-fiber food

Swanson says fiber in dog food can aid bowel movements, improve glucose metabolism, and make stool firmer. It also promotes a feeling of fullness without overeating, helping dogs lose weight and maintain that weight loss. 

High-fiber diets are most beneficial for dogs that are constipated, overweight, or have diabetes. It’s important not to go overboard with fiber. Fiber content above 10% can lead to loose stools and too-frequent bowel movements. The AAFCO does not have an established nutrient requirement for fiber. Generally, the fiber content ranges from 1% to 10%, with 6% to 10% being considered “high fiber.” Our picks contain at least 6% fiber.

When selecting a high-fiber food, look for healthy fiber sources in the ingredient list. Swanson says the most common sources of fiber include grain, fruit, vegetable pulps, beet pulp, and cellulose. It’s important to gradually switch dogs to high-fiber food to give their digestive system time to adjust.


Nutro Natural Choice Healthy Weight Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe

Chicken and chicken meal appear at the top of the ingredients list. Standout carbohydrates include rice bran, split peas, whole grain brown rice, and whole grain barley. With 27% protein, 9% fat, and 10% fiber, we recommend this food for dogs that need help with weight loss and weight maintenance. Each cup contains 231 kcal.


Merrick Healthy Grains Healthy Weight Recipe

Deboned chicken and chicken meal top the ingredient list of this food, along with brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa. Healthy extras include vitamin E, L-carnitine, omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin. With 26% protein, 9% fat, and 10% fiber, this food is ideal for moderately active dogs with constipation or that need help maintaining a healthy weight. Each cup contains 385 kcal.


Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Healthy Weight Chicken and Brown Rice Formula

Deboned chicken is at the top of this food’s ingredient list, along with barley, brown rice, and pea fiber. Healthy extras include probiotics and l-carnitine, an amino acid that can help promote weight loss. With 23% protein, 11% fat, and 8% fiber, this food is ideal for dogs that need to lose weight. Each cup contains 326 kcal.

What to look for in dog food

Our experts recommend using the following criteria as your guide. Your veterinarian can also help you determine the most appropriate food for your dog.

AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement: This is the most crucial factor in determining whether a dog food is healthy. Any food you feed your dog should say on the label that it meets the nutritional standards established by the AAFCO. This means the food is “complete and balanced” for the dog’s life stage. You can learn more about these standards and definitions at the end of this article.

Guaranteed analysis: This is where you’ll find the percentages of the most important nutrients in the food: protein, fat, fiber, and moisture. You might find other nutrients like glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega fatty acids listed in the guaranteed analysis. It’s worth checking if the brand routinely tests its finished product to ensure it meets standards, Shepherd says. You can usually find this information on a brand’s website. The foods in this guide have moderate to high protein (AAFCO minimums are 22.5% for puppies and 18% for adults) and low to moderate fat (AAFCO minimums are 8.5% for puppies and 5.5% for adults).

Ingredients list: The first thing to look for at the top is animal protein sources. You’ll find these in the top slot in all the foods featured in this guide. Whole meat is ideal but tends to be quite heavy due to its water content. With dry food, that water is removed, so the meat content might not be as high as it seems. There’s no need to write off meat meals, which are usually made from parts of animals that humans don’t eat. These can be excellent protein sources if they’re high quality and might even pack more protein than whole meat. Meat byproducts do not have to be a deal-breaker either. They are processed to remove harmful pathogens and, according to the AAFCO, are safe and nutritious.

Healthy extras: Some foods contain extra ingredients intended to support healthy skin, coat, and joints, says Swanson. Examples include long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA, usually from marine-based oils or meals), glucosamine, chondroitin, green-lipped mussels, and additional vitamins (vitamin A, biotin) and minerals (zinc, copper). Probiotics, prebiotics, and yeast can also benefit a puppy’s immature gastrointestinal tract, and probiotics may help boost overall immunity in senior dogs. 

Calorie content: The veterinarians we spoke with recommend that at least 90% of your dog’s daily calories come from their food, while treats can make up the remaining 10%. Dogs might start gaining weight if they consume excess calories. That can cause health problems, so look for the calorie content listed in kilocalories (kcal) on the nutrition label. If your dog isn’t very active, they’ll need fewer calories, and if your dog is super active, they’ll need more calorie-dense meals. Helping your dog feel satisfied with their food is really important, and volume can help. Ideally, you want your dog to eat the largest volume of food possible while staying within their ideal daily calorie range. Check out this calorie calculator from the Pet Nutrition Alliance to determine how many calories your dog needs. Foods that struck this balance rated higher in our selection process. As always, your veterinarian can help you figure out if you’re feeding your dog the right calorie amount. 

Feeding trials: If a food has undergone feeding trials in addition to laboratory analysis of the food’s ingredients, that’s a major plus. “It’s expensive to conduct feeding tests, and foods substantiated by feeding tests are made by companies that put a lot of resources into quality control,” says Shepherd. If the nutritional adequacy statement on the label says something along the lines of: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that provides complete and balanced nutrition for [life stage],” it means the food has been proven via feeding trials to be palatable, digestible, and able sustain pets over time.  

Expert formulations: It’s important to consider who decided what would go in the food. Shepherd says you want to look for companies with a doctorate-level nutritionist with experience in dog nutrition on staff. The brand should also employ food scientists who collaborate with nutrition experts. For this guide, we prioritized brands that have a dedicated nutrition expert on staff to align with the WSAVA guidelines. 

Next-level ingredients: Despite marketing messaging, human-grade, organic, wild-caught, or cage-free are not necessarily healthier for your pet. But if you care about the welfare of the animals you and your pets eat, these ingredients are a plus. Unlike farmed fish, wild-caught fish aren’t treated with antibiotics or medications, so they may also be better for your dog. You’ll also find some foods with meat and eggs from cage-free chickens and turkeys.

How we selected the best dog food

We’ve interviewed many veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists in our decades of writing and editing for pet and veterinary publications. We’ve also had the chance to feed our dogs many different brands and types of food.  

For this guide, we consulted veterinarians and a professor of animal nutrition to inform our recommendations. They helped us understand what qualities to look for in a healthy dog food and what to avoid. From there, we used the information gathered to guide our selections. 

Our experts include Dr. Jamie Richardson, a veterinarian and chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary; Dr. Korinn Saker, an associate professor of clinical nutrition at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University; Dr. Megan Shepherd, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and clinical assistant professor of nutrition at Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; and Kelly Swanson, a professor of animal and nutritional sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

It’s important to note that our experts didn’t endorse any of the products in this guide. When you think about it, this makes sense since most veterinarians agree that the best dog food for each animal will vary based on various factors. 

The foods in this guide are complete and balanced according to the AAFCO standards, contain high-quality ingredients, and have the right levels of protein, fat, and fiber for their respective categories. 

When making choices, we also referred to educational resources from the AAFCO and the Global Nutrition Guidelines published by the WSAVA.

Dog food FAQs

What is the number one healthiest dog food? 

There is no single healthiest dog food. Generally, healthy foods meet the AAFCO’s nutritional requirements for complete and balanced nutrition and contain only high-quality ingredients. However, no individual dog food can be considered the healthiest. 

What is the best vet-recommended food for dogs?

Given the wide variety of dog foods and the different health needs they cater to, there’s no one best dog food that veterinarians recommend. A vet will consider many factors, such as a dog’s overall health status, life stage, and lifestyle, to determine which dog food is most appropriate for an individual dog. 

What is the best food I can feed my dog?

Every dog is different, so there’s no end-all-be-all, best dog food. Shepherd shares a few indications that your dog is eating a food that’s right for them: 1) maintaining a healthy weight (body condition score of 4 or 5 out of 9, normal muscle condition score); 2) having normal poop (easy to pick up and not overly firm); 3) no vomiting between meals; 4) having healthy skin and coat (no dry, flaky skin); and 5) achieving appropriate growth if they’re a puppy. The best food for your dog will also be one they enjoy eating, which can take some trial and error. 

What is human-grade dog food?

If a dog food says it’s “human-grade,” it means the finished food is processed, handled, stored, and transported according to the manufacturing practices for human foods. This process must be meticulously documented, and the label should clearly mention the food is for dogs. In his years of experience, Swanson has tested a few human-grade pet foods in his lab. “While I don’t have a strong preference to any one type or brand of diet, I can say that the human-grade foods I have had experience with are highly palatable, highly digestible, and resulted in a low volume of stool that allowed for easy clean up,” he says.

Do dogs need grain-free food?

No. Despite pet food marketing suggesting that grain-free foods are better for dogs than grain-containing foods, no scientific evidence supports this claim. “Animals require nutrients, not ingredients,” says Swanson. Concern over grain-free dog foods began in 2018, when several veterinary cardiologists noticed unusually high numbers of non-genetic dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. As of November 2022, approximately 1,400 cases of DCM in dogs have been reported to the FDA, up from several hundred cases since 2018. In its latest update, the FDA notes that this increase in reported cases does not indicate a definitive link between grain-free dogs and DCM in dogs. The investigation is ongoing.

Are meat byproducts bad?

Not necessarily. The AAFCO defines byproducts as “secondary products produced in addition to the principal product.” Pet food advertising often portrays byproducts as undesirable and unappetizing, but properly processed byproducts are safe and nutritious. For example, liver is a byproduct full of vitamins and minerals that are good for pets. Before meat byproducts can be used in dry or canned pet food, they must be heat-treated and undergo additional processing to eliminate all disease-causing bacteria. Sometimes pet food manufacturing facilities render byproducts, meaning that the byproducts are cooked to kill disease-causing bacteria. On a dog food label, you will see a meat byproduct listed as “byproduct” or “meal.” This indicates that the meat ingredient has undergone additional processing and is safe for your dog to eat.

How often should I feed my dog?

Several factors determine how often you should feed your dog, such as their life stage, health status, and the food’s palatability. Your veterinarian can provide recommendations for your dog to ensure proper nutrition and calorie intake. “The most important thing is to feed a complete and balanced diet and provide controlled amounts of food,” Swanson says. “Monitor your dog’s body weight and body condition over time and adjust feeding amounts so that a healthy body weight is maintained.” Because dogs aren’t known for their portion control, don’t leave food out for all-day eating. Treats should comprise no more than 10% of a dog’s daily caloric intake. Your veterinarian can help you determine how many “treat” calories your dog can have daily. 

What are the AAFCO standards?

We’ve discussed AAFCO standards a lot, so you might wonder exactly what they are.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials is a private nonprofit corporation that establishes nutritional profiles and defines ingredients for animal feed and pet food. It’s important to note that the AAFCO doesn’t approve specific foods and is not a regulatory body. That means the AAFCO doesn’t check the ingredients or nutritional standards of pet foods. Instead, pet food companies are responsible for ensuring their products adhere to the AAFCO standards. 

The US Food and Drug Administration, a voting member of AAFCO, regulates pet food labels at the federal level. ” But surveillance is limited relative to the plethora of products on the market,” says Shepherd. “So it’s important to ensure you’re purchasing food from a responsible company.” States also regulate pet foods, and most have adopted the AAFCO standards.

If a food meets the AAFCO nutritional standards, you’ll find a statement on the label that says the food is complete and balanced for the dog’s life stage according to the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profile. There are three life stage categories: 1) maintenance, for adult dogs more than 1 year old; 2) growth, for puppies less than 1 year old and also pregnant and lactating females; and 3) all life stages, which is any dog of any age.

If a food label doesn’t say it’s complete and balanced by AAFCO standards, you should consider it a supplemental food only. It means the food doesn’t have the proper nutrition profile for use as your dog’s sole diet.

There are two ways brands can meet AAFCO standards: 

1. Guaranteed analysis: Laboratory analysis nails down the food’s nutrient profile. If you’re unsure whether a food has been analyzed or meets the AAFCO nutritional standards, you can contact the company to confirm.

2. Feeding trials: As mentioned earlier, feeding tests are when a food is fed to animals under controlled conditions and the outcome is monitored. Because feeding trials are so expensive, not all companies can do them.

What to avoid in dog food

Dogs are usually not picky eaters, but that doesn’t mean they can safely eat anything and everything. Shepherd told us what toxic ingredients dog owners should avoid when selecting food.

Garlic powder: Shepherd recommends avoiding any dog food that contains garlic powder. Garlic enhances the flavor of food but can damage red blood cells, leading to anemia. Signs of anemia in dogs include lethargy, pale gums, and weakness. 

Raw meat: A raw diet consists of uncooked meat, bones, fruit, vegetables, raw eggs, and yogurt or another dairy product. Raw meat may contain disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes, and genes that promote antibiotic resistance. Both the CDC and FDA advise against feeding raw meat. Shepherd says that freeze-dried meat products should be considered raw food and avoided because their manufacturing process does not eliminate disease-causing pathogens. Read more about the risks of feeding your dog a raw diet.

Specific allergens: For dogs with food allergies, avoid certain ingredients to prevent triggering an allergic reaction. For example, if a dog is allergic to chicken, their diet should not contain any form of chicken; a diet containing a novel animal protein source, such as duck or kangaroo, would be a good choice. A food elimination trial is typically used to determine what ingredients to avoid.

How to read a pet food label

A dog food label showing guaranteed analysis, AAFCO complete and balanced statement, ingredients, and calorie content.

On a dog food label, look for important details like the AAFCO Complete and Balanced statement, guaranteed analysis, and calorie content.

Alyssa Powell/Insider

Like human food brands, dog food brands use marketing to make their products more appealing. But to know the truth about the appropriateness of a dog food, look to the nutrition label. One place to get started is this handy reference from the WSAVA. The top things to look for are the AAFCO complete and balanced statement, guaranteed analysis (crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture), and calorie content.

You can read the ingredients list but don’t stress about it too much. “Although many pet owners make their decision based largely on the ingredient panel, it is only one of many considerations,” Swanson says. “Without knowing the exact formula and percentage of each ingredient, it is not too useful. What is more important is that the dietary formula is complete and balanced.”

Beware of marketing buzzwords like “natural” and “organic.” “While both terms were intended to highlight higher quality ingredients, they do not guarantee high quality,” says Swanson. The raw ingredients a company uses and its manufacturing processes are the best way to determine quality. “Like other ingredients that do not carry these terms, they are highly variable due to differences in soil quality (plants), feed quality (animals), ingredient storage, ingredient handling, etc.,” he says.

If reading pet food labels proves to be more confusing than helpful, check in with your veterinarian. They can help you determine your dog’s specific needs, guide you toward the right food for your pet, and advise you on how much to feed them.

You can purchase logo and accolade licensing to this story here.

Disclosure: Written and researched by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our partners. We may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected].