best dog food

Samantha SchwabFood & Treats / Nutrition

So Many Options When It Comes to Feeding Fido. Which Is the Best Dog Food for Them?

Loving your dog is easy. But when it comes to choosing their dog food? Not so much.

With so many different types of dog foods on the market (picture the dog food aisle in your local supermarket and then some), it can be overwhelming to navigate your options. There is no one-size-fits-all dog food that’s the best for every pooch, and vets recommend you evaluate all of your choices to find the best, or most appropriate, food for your dog’s unique needs.

“Finding a food that works well for your animal will help to maximize their health by keeping muscles, organs and immune system running at full speed,” says Dr. Sandra Mitchell, DVM, owner of All Creatures Veterinary Services in Bangor, Maine. “Dogs fed an appropriate food often feel better, produce less stool and gas, are more active, and have beautiful, shiny coats.”

If you are in the market for a new dog food, here’s the 4-1-1 on popular dog food types and some tips on how to choose the best dog food for your pooch.

How to Choose the Best Dog Food for Your Pup

Figuring out the best food for your dog “may take some trial and error as well as research,” says Dr. Mitchell.

Dr. Mitchell recommends starting by talking to your veterinarian. “We have the opportunity to see thousands of dogs and know what diets they are eating and often have a sense of what most dogs seem to fare best on. We are also aware of recalls and the frequency of recalls from different manufactures, which is an important consideration,” she says.

Typically, once the veterinarian makes a dog food recommendation, according to Dr. Mitchell, they’ll instruct the pet parent to feed that food for 4-6 weeks. At the end of that period, the veterinarian will evaluate the pet to determine if the chosen diet was the best for them, she says.

A Guide to the Different Types of Dog Food

There are several types of dog food on the market, each with its own purpose and benefits. To help you understand the difference between each type, here’s a breakdown of nine common types of dog food.

Remember to always consult with your veterinarian before changing your dog’s diet. They are your best resource for understanding your dog’s health needs.

Dry Dog Food

Sometimes called kibble, dry dog food is the most common type of meal offered to dogs of all ages and sizes. According to Dr. Alyssa Vincent, DVM, an associate veterinarian at Uxbridge Animal Hospital in Massachusetts, as long as the food is complete and balanced, “all of the nutrients that your dog needs is found in the kibble.”

“Dry food is a perfectly good option for many dogs,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, of Fort Collins, Colorado. “Because dry foods are cheaper than similar wet foods, the money saved can be used toward increasing the overall quality of a dog’s diet.” And besides being cost-effective, pet parents often opt for dry dog food is because it’s “easy to store and does not involve any cooking on the pet parent’s part,” says Dr. Vincent.

One common type of dry dog food is grain-free dog food, which is a corn- and wheat-free dog food that will typically utilize alternative carbohydrate sources, such as sweet potato, peas and legumes. This diet is best for dogs who have a sensitivity to corn or wheat ingredients.

When choosing the best kibble for your dog, consider dog food that is tailored for your dog’s age, breed, weight and activity level.

Cost:
$

Best dog food for:
healthy dogs in all ages and sizes.

Chewy’s most popular dry dog food:

American Journey Salmon & Sweet Potato Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
American Journey Salmon & Sweet Potato Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
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Purina Pro Plan Focus Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon & Rice Dry Dog Food
Bravecto Chews for Dogs, 44-88 lbs
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Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
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Wellness CORE Grain-Free Turkey, Turkey & Chicken Dry Dog Food
Wellness CORE Grain-Free Turkey, Turkey & Chicken Dry Dog Food
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Nulo Freestyle Salmon & Peas Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Nulo Freestyle Salmon & Peas Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
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Zignature Limited Ingredient Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Zignature Turkey Limited Ingredient Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
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Wet Dog Food

Wet dog food has a relatively high-water content and is typically served in cans, tubs or trays.

While dry dog food is the most commonly fed dog food, “feeding wet foods is preferable under certain circumstances,” says Dr. Coates. “For example, dogs who have trouble maintaining adequate hydration, like those suffering from kidney disease, can benefit from the high water content of wet foods.”

Wet dog foods are also more aromatic and have a meaty texture that can be enticing for picky eaters. Pet parents can also add in kibble to their dog’s wet food, or add wet food on their dog’s kibble, to keep their pup interested in their meals.

Another reason pet parents may opt for wet dog foods is because they typically contain fewer preservatives in comparison to dry dog food, says Dr. Coates. This may leave wet dog food with a short shelf-life—but with some airtight dog food lids, dog parents can keep wet food fresher for longer.

Get our tips for proper dry and wet dog food storage.

Cost:
$$

Best dog food for:
dogs who are susceptible to dehydration, have dental problems or are picky eaters.

Chewy’s most popular wet dog food:

Merrick Lil' Plates Mini Medley Grain-Free Dog Food Trays
Merrick Lil' Plates Mini Medley Grain-Free Dog Food Trays
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Natural Balance L.I.D. Duck & Potato Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
Natural Balance L.I.D. Duck & Potato Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
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Weruva Paw Lickin' Chicken in Gravy Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
Weruva Paw Lickin' Chicken in Gravy Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
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Rachael Ray Nutrish PEAK Grain-Free Adventure Variety Pack Wet Dog Food
Rachael Ray Nutrish PEAK Grain-Free Adventure Variety Pack Wet Dog Food
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American Journey L.I.D. Lamb & Sweet Potato Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
American Journey L.I.D. Lamb & Sweet Potato Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
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Veterinary Diets

Veterinary diets, also known as therapeutic diets, are dog foods that are available with a prescription from a veterinarian. They can come in wet or dry dog food forms and may be either short term diets—such as for urinary problems or weight loss—or long term—such as for food allergies.

“Veterinary diets are made to address a specific health concern such as digestive ailments, urinary issues (like bladder stones), diabetes, kidney disease and weight management,” says Dr. Vincent.

These types of therapeutic diets are only to be used under the supervision of a veterinarian “because they may do more harm than good when used incorrectly,” says Dr. Coates. The nutrient levels may be altered for the specific health condition, meaning that they may not be safe to feed to otherwise healthy dogs, according to Dr. Vincent.

Cost:
$$$

Best dog food for:
dogs with a specific health concern.

Chewy’s most popular veterinary diet wet dog food:

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Gastrointestinal Low Fat Canned Dog Food
Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Gastrointestinal Low Fat Canned Dog Food
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Hill's Prescription Diet i/d Digestive Care Low Fat Canned Dog Food
Hill's Prescription Diet i/d Digestive Care Low Fat Canned Dog Food
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Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets EN Gastroenteric Canned Dog Food
Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets EN Gastroenteric Canned Dog Food
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Chewy’s most popular veterinary diet dry dog food:

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein Adult HP Dry Dog Food
Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein Adult HP Dry Dog Food
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Hill's Prescription Diet z/d Original Skin/Food Sensitivities Dry Dog Food
Trifexis Chewable Tablets
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Purina Pro Plan Vet Diets HA Hydrolyzed Formula Dry Dog Food
Sentinel Flavor Tabs
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Blue Buffalo Natural Vet Diet HF Hydrolyzed for Food Intolerance Dry Dog Food
Blue Buffalo Natural Vet Diet HF Hydrolyzed for Food Intolerance Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
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Over-the-Counter Science Diets

Over-the-counter science diets, also known as OTC therapeutic or solution-based diets, are intended to support specific health issues in dogs, including digestion, weight control, skin and coat health, and mobility, but do not require a prescription from your veterinarian. According to Dr. Coates, these dog foods are most effective in mild to moderate cases.

Like prescription diets, it is common for OTC science diets to be formulated using artificial ingredients. One exception, however, is Blue Buffalo’s True Solutions dog food, which uses real meat as the foundation for every recipe and is made without fillers, by-product meals or anything artificial.

Dr. Coates says to consult with your veterinarian if your pet has more severe symptoms or if the over-the-counter food is ineffective.

Cost:

$$

 

 

Best dog food for:

dogs with mild to moderate health issues—including problems with digestion, weight control, skin and coat health or mobility.

Chewy’s most popular science diet dog food:

Hill's Science Diet Sensitive Stomach & Skin Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
Hill's Science Diet Sensitive Stomach & Skin Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
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Royal Canin Adult Canned Dog Food
Royal Canin Adult Canned Dog Food
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Blue Buffalo True Solutions Blissful Belly Digestive Care Dry Dog Food
Blue Buffalo True Solutions Blissful Belly Digestive Care Dry Dog Food
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Raw Dog Food

Raw dog food typically consists of raw meat or protein base and will often include a carbohydrate. When feeding a raw diet for dogs, you can prepare a homemade raw diet for dogs, or you can opt for a commercially prepared raw diet for dogs.

While there are no studies that suggest feeding a raw diet for dogs is better than feeding cooked diets, some pet parents claim they have seen positive results from the diet, such as better digestion, less shedding and a shinier coat.

It is important to note that “many studies show that raw dog foods often contain potentially dangerous pathogens like salmonella, E. coli, listeria, sarcocystis and toxoplasma,” says Dr. Coates. So, it is essential to take special precautions when handling raw food in order to avoid cross contamination.

Three options for commercially prepared raw diets include raw-infused kibble, which is kibble mixed with bits of freeze-dried raw protein, raw freeze-dried dog food, which has been processed using freeze-drying to remove moisture, and raw frozen food, which you can store in your freezer and thaw before serving to your pet.

Cost:
$$$

Best dog food for:
dogs with pet parents who don’t mind the extra cost and time of serving a raw diet.

Chewy’s most popular raw-infused kibble:

Merrick Backcountry Freeze-Dried Raw Beef, Lamb & Rabbit Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Advantus Soft Chew Flea Treatment
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Instinct Raw Boost Grain-Free Chicken & Freeze-Dried Raw Pieces Dry Dog Food
Bravecto Chews for Dogs, 44-88 lbs
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Wellness CORE RawRev Grain-Free With Freeze-Dried Turkey Dry Dog Food
Comfortis Chewable Tablets for Dogs
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Chewy’s most popular freeze-dried raw dog food:

Stella & Chewy's Duck Duck Goose Dinner Patties Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food
Advantus Soft Chew Flea Treatment
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Primal Chicken Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Dog Food
Bravecto Chews for Dogs, 44-88 lbs
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Vital Essentials Beef Entree Mini Nibs Grain-Free Freeze-Dried Dog Food
Comfortis Chewable Tablets for Dogs
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Chewy’s most popular frozen raw dog food:

Instinct Frozen Raw Bites Grain-Free Beef Dog Food
Advantus Soft Chew Flea Treatment
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Visionary Pet Foods Raw Frozen Keto Beef Patties Adult Dog Food
Bravecto Chews for Dogs, 44-88 lbs
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Nature's Logic Chicken Feast Patties Raw Frozen Dog Food
Comfortis Chewable Tablets for Dogs
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Check out our guide for feeding frozen raw dog food to your pup.

Human-Grade Dog Food

If a dog food is correctly labeled as human-grade, the recipe is made with human edible ingredients and is, theoretically, edible by humans. The main point of this claim is to show consumers that the dog food is of such high-quality that people can eat it.

To be considered a human-grade dog food, it must meet the following four criteria set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  1. Each ingredient in the dog food must be fit for human consumption.
  2. Every ingredient is stored, handled, processed and transported in a manner consistent and compliant with current good manufacturing processes for human edible foods.
  3. The manufacturing facility has been licensed by the appropriate authority.
  4. It is labeled for its intended use.

If a dog food is labeled as human-grade, it does not necessarily mean the dog food is healthier or safer for a pet compared to a feed-grade dog food. And while “a pet parent might consider this type of dog food to be healthy for their pet, not all food that is edible for humans is safe for pets and could even be dangerous or toxic,” says Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, founder of JPen Communications.

To be safe, when looking for human-grade dog foods—check to see that it is a high-quality, AAFCO-certified dog food that has been produced by a reliable and reputable manufacturer.

Cost:
$$

Best dog food for:
healthy dogs of all ages and sizes.

Chewy’s most popular human-grade dog food:

The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Beef Whole Food Clusters Dry Dog Food
The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Beef Whole Food Clusters Dry Dog Food
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Spot Farms Grain-Free Pork Dehydrated Human Grade Dog Food
•	Spot Farms Grain-Free Pork Dehydrated Human Grade Dog Food
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Caru Daily Dish Beef Stew Grain-Free Wet Dog Food
•	Caru Daily Dish Beef Stew Grain-Free Wet Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
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Dehydrated/Air-Dried Dog Food

Dehydrated dog food uses a gentle cooking and drying process to remove moisture from the food. “The dehydration process preserves important nutrients and enzymes,” says Dr. Pendergrass—which results in a food that has “no artificial preservatives and is only minimally processed.”

“Dehydrated food is sometimes categorized alongside raw food since high heat is not used in the cooking process,” Dr. Vincent says. “This is in contrast to dry dog food, which is fully cooked.”

Besides being nutritionally dense, dehydrated dog food is easy to store as “it does not require refrigeration,” Dr. Pendergrass says. Typically to prepare a dehydrated dog food meal, you just need to add warm water and wait a few minutes.

There are also air-dried dog foods, which have a similar process to manufacturing dehydrated dog foods except moisture is removed via evaporation versus heat.

Like with choosing any dog food for your pup, make sure it will meet your dog’s nutritional requirements. “If the dehydrated diet meets AAFCO standards, then it is complete and balanced, meaning it contains the nutrients that your [healthy] dog needs,” Dr. Vincent says.

Cost:
$$

 

Best dog food for:
puppies, pregnant dogs and active adults of all breeds and sizes—as dehydrated food typically has higher protein levels than normal.

Chewy’s most popular dehydrated/air-dried dog food:

Honest Kitchen Whole Grain Chicken Dehydrated Dog Food
The Honest Kitchen Whole Grain Chicken Recipe Dehydrated Dog Food
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Ziwi Peak Air-Dried Lamb Dog Food
Ziwi Peak Air-Dried Lamb Dog Food
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I and Love and You Stir & Boom Raw Raw Chick Boom Ba Dinner Grain-Free Dehydrated Dog Food
•	I and Love and You Stir & Boom Raw Raw Chick Boom Ba Dinner Grain-Free Dehydrated Dog Food
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Natural Dog Food

According to Dr. Pendergrass, a natural dog food is a dog food that has been formulated without artificial flavoring, coloring or preservatives—which may be preferable in many cases. “However,” she says, “there’s little consensus on what ‘natural’ actually means for dog food, and there’s no federal regulation regarding the use of the word ‘natural’ on dog food labels.”

Dr. Mitchell recommends evaluating the entire formula before purchasing a natural dog food for your pup. Like with any dog food, you want to make sure it has the nutrients your particular dog needs to thrive.

Cost:
$

Best dog food for:
healthy dogs of all ages and sizes.

Chewy’s most popular natural dog food:

Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch Grain-Free Natural Dry Dog Food
Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch Grain-Free Natural Dry Dog Food
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Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Pork, Beef & Lamb Dry Dog Food
Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Pork, Beef & Lamb Dry Dog Food
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CANIDAE Grain-Free PURE Salmon & Sweet Potato Dry Dog Food
CANIDAE Grain-Free PURE Salmon & Sweet Potato Dry Dog Food
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Nutro Ultra Large Breed Adult Dry Dog Food
Nutro Ultra Large Breed Adult Dry Dog Food
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Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free Organic Chicken & Sweet Potato Dry Dog Food
Trifexis Chewable Tablets
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Dog Food Toppings

Dog food toppings are an excellent way to entice picky eaters and add a boost of nutrition to your dog’s normal diet. Toppings are considered as treats instead of a dog food, however, because “they are not formulated as part of a nutritionally balanced food for dogs,” says Dr. Mitchell.

“Although most dogs will eat their regular meal without any coaxing, toppers can help encourage the picky eaters to finish their bowl,” Dr. Vincent says.

Like all treats, you want to make sure dog food toppings “don’t provide more than 10 percent of their daily calories,” says Dr. Vincent. “This can disrupt the balance of nutrients in the diet and increase the risk of weight gain.”

Cost:
$$

Best dog food for:
picky eaters

Chewy’s most popular dog food toppings:

Instinct Raw Boost Mixers Chicken Grain-Free Freeze-Dried Dog Food Topper
Instinct Raw Boost Mixers Chicken Grain-Free Freeze-Dried Dog Food Topper
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Stella & Chewy's Dandy Lamb Meal Mixers Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food Topper
Stella & Chewy's Dandy Lamb Meal Mixers Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food Topper
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Wellness CORE Simply Shreds Grain-Free Chicken, Beef & Carrots Wet Dog Food Topper
Wellness CORE Simply Shreds Grain-Free Chicken, Beef & Carrots Wet Dog Food Topper
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Solid Gold Beef Bone Broth With Turmeric Dog Food Topper
Solid Gold Beef Bone Broth With Turmeric Dog Food Topper
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The Honest Kitchen Bone Broth POUR OVERS Beef Stew Wet Dog Food Topper
The Honest Kitchen Bone Broth POUR OVERS Beef Stew Wet Dog Food Topper
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K9 Natural Lamb Green Tripe Booster Freeze-Dried Dog Food Topper
K9 Natural Lamb Green Tripe Booster Freeze-Dried Dog Food Topper
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Clearly, there are many options for what you can feed your dog. While overwhelming, as a pet parent you should take the time to understand your dog’s nutritional needs so you can choose a diet that will help them thrive.

Always include your veterinarian in any decision about your pet’s health. They are the best equipped to aide you in the search for an appropriate food for your pet.

“The importance of good nutrition can’t be overemphasized,” Dr. Coates says. “Dogs simply can’t be healthy—and therefore can’t be happy—unless they are getting all the nutrients they need in the proper quantities and ratios.”

By: Samantha Schwab, Web Editor

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