The Best Dog Foods That Your Pup Will Chow Down

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The Spruce Pets / Lecia Landis

If you just brought home a new puppy or have ever wandered the aisles in a pet store, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by dog food choices. There are so many formulas, flavors, sizes, and types. One great place to start is checking the label for the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement.

“Other things to look for on the label include mention of the company’s quality control process, and if the company provides contact information and is available for questions,” says Dr. Erin Katribe, DVM, MS, medical director and veterinarian for Best Friends Animal Society.

Then choose the right life stage (puppy, adult, senior) to make sure your dog is getting the nutrients it needs. You may want to get even more specific and choose a food based on your dog's size or breed.

Because there’s so much to take into account when feeding your best pal, we consulted with several veterinarians for some tips.

Our top choice for dry food is Hill’s Science Diet Small Bites, which is vet-recommended and comes in several formulas for puppies, adults, and seniors. And our top pick for wet is Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe Adult Wet Dog Food, which has protein as the main ingredient and comes in many flavors. While it's always a good idea to talk to your vet before changing up your dog's diet, there are several other foods your dog might also love.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall Dry

Hill's Science Diet Small Bites Dry Dog Food

4.8
Hill's Science Diet Small Bites Dry Dog Food

Amazon

What We Like
  • Many formulas and flavors

  • Vet-recommended

  • No artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors

What We Don't Like
  • Can be more expensive than some

Hill’s Pet Nutrition has been in business for more than 70 years. A favorite of many veterinarians and nutritionists, Hill’s Science Diet has many formulas and flavors. There are recipes for small and large dogs, puppies and seniors, and for health concerns ranging from weight management to digestion issues and oral care. 

Fans say that picky-eater pups are sure to find a flavor they’ll like. Like many of the recipes, this particular food has chicken as the main ingredient. There are no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. Formulated without any chicken byproduct meal, the food is made in the United States with globally sourced ingredients. The main ingredients typically include chicken or lamb meal along with brown rice and whole grain wheat. Natural fibers make the food easier to digest.

This small bites line has small kibble for dogs that are not so big or for big dogs that just prefer to eat little pieces.  Each formula is available in several sizes and comes in a resealable bag to keep it fresh. Hill’s Science Diet dog foods can cost a little more than some other brands.

Price at time of publish: $17

Life Stage: Adult (puppy and senior also available) | Available Flavors: Chicken, lamb | Nutritional Specs: (Small Bites Chicken and Barley): 20.0% min protein, 11.5% min crude fat, 10.0% max moisture

Best Overall Wet

Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe Adult Wet Dog Food

4.8
blue-buffalo-homestyle-recipe-adult-wet-food

Amazon

What We Like
  • Lots of flavor choices

  • More affordable than many high-end canned foods

  • Protein is main ingredient

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn’t come in small cans

Some dogs won’t eat dry kibble because they are picky eaters or maybe they have issues with their teeth and gums. They’ll likely come running when you grab some wet food and head for the can opener. There are lots of high-end canned dog foods on the market, but when you have to feed wet food every day, that can take a huge toll on your wallet. Blue Buffalo’s recipe not only is affordable, it also offers your pet the key nutrients it needs, in all sorts of tasty formulas.

Real beef, chicken, fish, lamb, or turkey is the main ingredient in this paté-like food. There are no artificial flavors or preservatives, and no added corn, wheat, or soy. You can feed this wet food as a complete diet or mix it into dry kibble to make it more delicious.

Price at time of publish: $33 (12 cans)

Life Stage: Adult | Available Flavors: Beef, chicken, fish, lamb, turkey | Nutritional Specs: (Chicken recipe) Percent Crude Protein: 8.5% min crude protein, 5.5% min crude fat, 78.0% max moisture

Best for Puppies

Purina Pro Plan High Protein Puppy Chicken & Rice Formula

5
What We Like
  • No artificial colors or flavors

  • Features chicken as the first ingredient

  • Many recipes

What We Don't Like
  • Formerly Purina Pro Plan Focus, there’s some confusion over the formulas

Also a favorite with veterinarians, this popular Purina puppy food is a step above some of the company’s more basic offerings. Each formula features protein (meat, poultry, or salmon) as the main ingredient and has added probiotics and antioxidants. It’s fortified with DHA for brain and vision development, omega-6 fatty acids for skin and coat, as well as all the minerals and nutrients you’d expect for a growing puppy. 

There are no artificial colors or flavors, and the cost is relatively affordable. There are also recipes for puppies from small to large sizes and for special health needs, such as sensitive skin and stomach.

Price at time of publish: $19

Life Stage: Puppy | Available Flavors: Chicken, beef, lamb, salmon | Nutritional Specs: (Chicken and Rice) 28.0% min protein, 18.0% min crude fat, 12.0% max moisture

Best for Senior Dogs

Nutro Natural Choice Senior Dog Dry Food

nutro-natural-choice-senior-dog-dry-food

Amazon

What We Like
  • Main ingredient is chicken or lamb

  • No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives

  • Also available in large and small breed sizes

What We Don't Like
  • Only two flavors

As dogs age, they might need fewer calories, but they also have changing nutrient needs. This formula has extra calcium to support strong bones and joints, fiber for digestion, and antioxidants for a healthy immune system. The main ingredient is either chicken or lamb, depending on the recipe.

The food is made without corn, wheat, soy protein, or GMOs. It’s also available in small breed senior and large breed senior for special formulas tailored to the needs of small and large aging dogs.

Price at time of publish: $32

Life Stage: Senior | Available Flavors: chicken, lamb | Nutritional Specs: (Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe) 24.0% min crude protein, 12.0% min fat, 10.0% max moisture

Best for Small Dogs

Merrick Healthy Grains Dry Dog Food

Merrick Healthy Grains Dry Dog Food

Petco

What We Like
  • Small kibble

  • Familiar ingredients

  • No preservatives or fillers

What We Don't Like
  • Only one flavor

Featuring tiny kibble that’s easier to eat, this food for small dogs has chicken as the primary ingredient. The recipe features high amounts of glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy joints and omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.

The Texas-based company uses ancient whole grains such as quinoa to promote digestion. The ingredient list is filled with familiar whole foods like carrots and apples with no preservatives, fillers, corn, or soy.

Price at time of publish: $23 (4 pound bag)

Life Stage: Adult | Available Flavors: Chicken | Nutritional Specs: 27.0% min crude protein, 16.0% min crude fat, 11.0% max moisture

Best for Large Dogs

Royal Canin Large Breed Adult Dry Dog Food

royal-canin-large-breed-dry-dog-food

Amazon

What We Like
  • No artificial colors or preservatives

  • Large-size kibble

  • Formulated for bones and joint health

What We Don't Like
  • Only comes in large bags

This large-breed recipe is formulated for adult dogs between the ages of 15 months and five years old who weigh 56 to 100 pounds. But there are similar formulas before and after for large-breed puppies and seniors. The food is large-sized for large mouths, and the recipe is formulated to help support bones and joint health in large breed dogs.

The food is fortified with antioxidants and omega-3's to support a healthy skin and coat. It contains lots of dietary fiber to help with digestibility. There are no artificial colors or preservatives in the kibble.

Life Stage: Adult (also available in puppy and senior) | Available Flavors: Chicken | Nutritional Specs: 24.0% min crude protein, 15.0% min crude fat, 10.0% max moisture

Best for Allergies

Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Duck & Oatmeal Recipe

5
Wellness Simple Limited IngredientDuck & Oatmeal Recipe

 Amazon

What We Like
  • A single protein is the main ingredient

  • No artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors

  • Four protein choices

What We Don't Like
  • More expensive than some others

A dog may develop allergies to all kinds of pet food ingredients. A single protein is the main ingredient in this simple, limited-ingredient food for dogs with food sensitivities, which makes it easier to avoid the ingredient that give your pet issues. The formula is rich with probiotics and easy-to-digest carbohydrates. The mix doesn’t have any artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.

There are regular and grain-free versions and the grain-free is fortified with taurine. Early research found a link between grain-free foods and taurine deficiency. The formula is also fortified with omega fatty acids, antioxidants, and glucosamine.

Price at time of publish: $80

Life Stage: Adult | Available Flavors: salmon, lamb, duck, turkey | Nutritional Specs: (Duck and oatmeal) 21.0% min crude protein, 11.0% min fat, 11.0% max moisture

Best Subscription / Best Delivery

The Farmer’s Dog Custom Fresh Dog Food

the-farmers-dog

The Farmer's Dog

What We Like
  • Customized suggestions for your pup

  • Four proteins

  • Food is delivered just days after cooking

  • Plans are easy to change

  • Packaging is mostly recyclable or biodegradable

What We Don't Like
  • Can be quite expensive

The Farmer’s Dog is a fresh dog food subscription service that delivers refrigerated, customized food right to your front door. First, you take a quiz about your dog, answering questions about its age, weight, breed, and activity level, and any allergies. Then you’ll receive custom recommendations of which formula to use and how much to feed. There are four recipes: chicken, turkey, beef, and pork, and they are shipped in packaging that is mostly recyclable or biodegradable.

You can easily change your order if your dog is persnickety or if you need more or less food. Everything is made using human-grade ingredients. Food comes in packages that need to be refrigerated until use. If your dog doesn’t like what you feed it, they’ll give you something else to try or offer a refund.

Price at time of publish: $2 to 12 per day, depending on dog size and breed

Life Stage: All | Available Flavors: Chicken, turkey, beef, pork | Nutritional Specs: (Chicken)  11.5% min crude protein, 8.5% min fat, 75% max moisture

Best Food Toppers

Honest Kitchen Pour Overs

honest-kitchen-pour-overs

Amazon

What We Like
  • Mix of broth and chunks

  • Limited ingredients and no additives or fillers

  • Human-grade food

  • Made in the U.S. with global ingredients

  • Easy to pour and reuse

What We Don't Like
  • Cartons can be hard to open and close

Food toppers are designed to be poured or sprinkled onto a dog’s kibble in order to make it tastier. Honest Kitchen Pour Overs are meaty-looking stews, made of thick broth with lots of chunks. Honest Kitchen says that it was the first to offer human-grade ingredients in pet foods, and these pour overs sure smell good. The stews come in nine different flavors from single proteins like chicken or turkey as well as meats mixed with pumpkin for healthy digestion.

They’re formulated with limited ingredients and no fillers, GMO ingredients, artificial flavors, or artificial preservatives. The slow-cooked stews can be warmed up to make meals more tempting. Cartons can be a little challenging to open, but they can be closed and refrigerated until the next use. Each carton contains at least two servings. 

Price at time of publish: $8 (variety pack of three)

Life Stage: Adult | Available Flavors: Chicken, turkey, lamb and beef; turkey and pumpkin stew, chicken and pumpkin stew, beef stew, turkey and salmon stew, chicken stew, salmon and pumpkin stew | Nutritional Specs: (Chicken stew) 4.5% min crude protein, 0.5% min crude fat, 91.0% max moisture

Best for Weight Management

Purina Pro Plan Adult Weight Management Dog Food, Shredded Blend Chicken & Rice Formula

5
Purina Pro Plan Adult Weight Management Dog Food

Amazon

What We Like
  • Recommended by vets

  • No artificial colors or flavors

  • Also available in small- and large-breed formulas

What We Don't Like
  • Only available in chicken recipes

Weight management dog foods are for overweight or less-active dogs. This recipe has 15 percent less fat than in similar adult Pro Plan formulas. The protein-to-fat ratio helps your pet keep muscle mass, but the high fiber makes it feel fuller so it won’t need to eat as much. It’s also fortified with probiotics for digestive health and also omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin A to promote a healthy skin and coat.

It comes in traditional kibble or a blend with shredded bits but is only available with chicken as the main protein. There are no artificial colors or flavors. Pro Plan also has weight-management formulas targeted to small and large breeds.

Price at time of publish: $50

Life Stage: Adult | Available Flavors: Chicken and rice, shredded blend chicken and rice | Nutritional Specs: (Shredded chicken and rice) 27% min crude protein, 9% min crude fat, 12% max moisture

Best Pouches

Portland Pet Food Company Meal Pouch

Portland Pet Food Company Meal Pouch

Amazon

What We Like
  • Five different recipes

  • Human-grade ingredients

  • No preservatives, byproducts, or additives

  • Ready to serve; no adding water or thawing first

What We Don't Like
  • Pouches aren’t resealable

There’s no thawing or adding water with these handy pouches of tasty fresh food. Just tear open a pouch from Portland Pet Food Company, and you might consider digging in yourself. There are five different recipes made with human-grade, recognizable, and natural ingredients like chicken, turkey, salmon, eggs, yams, and kale. The food is both sourced and made in the United States with no artificial preservatives, byproducts, or additives.

You can serve this as a full meal or as a topper on top of your dog’s regular kibble. The pouches need to be refrigerated after opening and will keep for up to five days. The pouches are easy to open, but unfortunately, they aren’t resealable.

Price at time of publish: $28 (4-pack)

Life Stage: All | Available Flavors: Beef and rice, chicken and yams, turkey and yams, pork and potato, salmon and rice | Nutritional Specs: (Turkey and yams) 8.0% min crude protein, 9.0% min crude fat, 74% max moisture

Final Verdict

Hill’s Science Diet is a good choice for dry food. It’s a long-time favorite of veterinarians, available in many formulas and flavors. If you prefer canned, Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe comes in many flavors, and a protein is always the main ingredient.

What to Look for in Dog Food

AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement 

Check to see if the food has an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement to indicate that the food is nutritionally complete and balanced for your dog's specific life stage. 

“Foods that contain an AAFCO statement have been verified through laboratory testing and in some cases, feeding trials to confirm they are complete and balanced for a particular life stage of a dog,” says Dr. Erin Katribe, DVM, MS, medical director and veterinarian for Best Friends Animal Society

Life Stage 

Nutrients and calorie needs are different for each stage of a dog’s life—puppy, adult, and senior.

“The caloric requirements of puppies are much higher than adult dogs, and if not fed a diet that’s calorie-dense enough, they may lack the energy necessary for growth and development,” Dr. Katribe says. “In contrast, older dogs tend to have slower metabolisms, and senior diets have nutrient profiles that are adjusted to prevent or slow the onset of chronic diseases that we commonly see in older pets.”

In general, dogs should be fed puppy food until they’re a year old, adult food until they're seven years old, and senior food after that, says veterinarian Kristin Wuellner, an employee of Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

Dr. Wuellner says feeding a puppy age-appropriate food is important because puppies are active and growing, so pound for pound, they need more calories and nutrients than an adult dog. "The biology of mature dogs changes around seven years of age, and certain nutrients are needed to support healthy functioning of organs, bones, and muscles,” Dr. Wuellner says. “As dogs enter their golden years, their metabolism often slows down significantly, so they typically eat fewer calories than when they were younger, yet still need the full complement of essential nutrients.”

Size or Specific Breeds

Some foods are targeted toward small or large breeds. Others are targeted toward very specific breeds such as Labrador retrievers or Chihuahuas. Does your dog need something that detailed? It depends, says Dr. Katribe.

“The importance of these is variable; for example, it may be important for some small-breed dogs to eat smaller kibble if they struggle with larger food sizes,” Dr. Katribe says. “Other factors may be less vital, but there may still be important benefits, such as the inclusion of supplements that have been shown to impact the development of osteoarthritis in older dogs.”

It is crucial for large- and giant-breed puppies to eat a diet designed for them, Dr. Katribe says. “It’s important that their diet has the correct calcium and calorie content to support bone development but not allow them to grow too quickly, which can also lead to problems,” Dr. Katribe says.

Grain-Free or Not?

Grain-free diets are very popular but not needed for most dogs, says Dr. Wuellner.

“Grain-free dog food is only necessary if your pet has been diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance to grains via an elimination diet trial. This type of allergy is rare in dogs,” Dr. Wuellner says. “The most common grains we see in dog food include barley, corn, oats, rice, wheat, rye, and sorghum, and they all play a role in providing your pet with the nutrients they need. For example, barley is seen as a superfood for dogs, oats are known to benefit heart health, and corn provides vitamin E and linoleic acid.”

In addition, recent research suggests a possible link between some grain-free diets and heart disease in dogs. Researchers aren’t exactly sure of the connection, but it seems to be related to a deficiency in the amino acid taurine. It could be that there isn’t enough taurine in the diets or that it isn’t absorbed as well. 

“For this reason, until we understand more about this mechanism, feeding only grain-free is not recommended,” Dr. Katribe says.

Dry vs. Wet Dog Food

If given the option, your dog might vote for wet food, but that’s not always the best choice for every pet. Dry food can have an advantage over wet food, because when your dog chews it, the mechanics help clean teeth.

Wet foods have a higher percentage of water, which can help when your goal is weight loss for your pet, says Dr. Katribe. Your dog will feel fuller after eating a meal with more water. Wet food can also be helpful when a dog is recovering from an illness, because it’s more appealing and it may be more likely to eat it. It’s also good when your dog might have dental pain.

FAQ
  • How much should I feed my dog?

    Every bag or can of dog food will have feeding recommendations based on your dog’s age and weight, but that’s just a starting point. Just like humans, metabolism can vary from dog to dog, Dr. Katribe points out, so the amount should be adjusted based on weight gain or loss. Your veterinarian can help you figure out your dog’s ideal weight. 

    “For animals with slower metabolisms or limited activity, bag guidelines are often too high; for a very active dog, though, they may be too low,” Dr. Katribe says. “A key way to judge your dog’s weight is that you should be able to feel their ribs when applying slight pressure to the sides of their chest, but not see those ribs through the skin.”

  • Does dog food expire?

    You might notice that dog food has a “best by” date, which is the window in which a food is the most nutritious for your pet. It can vary from months to years, depending on the manufacturer and type of food. It doesn’t mean that the food has expired after that time, but it’s not as healthy.

    How you store the food, however, can impact spoilage and contamination. “When storing dry kibble, it is best practice to keep it in an airtight container and not remove it from the original bag,” says Dr. Wuellner.

  • Is plant-based dog food safe for dogs?

    Dogs can be kept on a plant-based or vegetarian diet as long as it is nutritionally complete and balanced, says Dr. Katribe.

     “Because these formulations are newer, and it can be more challenging to ensure nutritional requirements for dogs are met with only plant-based ingredients than when meat is included, it’s important to not only check the label for completeness statements, but also consider contacting the company to ensure the diet was formulated by someone with professional training in canine nutrition and food science,” Dr. Katribe suggests. “As these diets are generally newer, there may be new developments as we learn more about long-term effects and as more research is performed.”

  • Should you switch dog foods regularly?

    Don’t worry about your dog getting bored with their food. “Our dogs’ gastrointestinal tracts get very accustomed to a single type of food when we primarily feed one thing every day,” says Dr. Katribe. “Switching diets isn’t necessary if there isn’t an issue that needs to be addressed." In fact, Dr. Katribe says that if the transition is done too quickly, it can actually cause digestive upset (e.g., diarrhea, vomiting).

    If you want to keep things interesting, give your dogs treats in small quantities. You can do that in food puzzles or treat balls to make things mentally stimulating as well.

    You should, however, consider changing food based on your pet’s life stage and any health considerations when nutritional needs change, says Dr. Wuellner.

    “If a pet owner is considering switching up their diet, it’s vital to do it gradually,” Dr. Wuellner says. “Slowly incorporate the new food into a pet’s diet, mixing it with the older food at first, to lower the possibility of upsetting a pet’s stomach. Always talk to your vet before making any changes.”

Why Trust The Spruce Pets?

We interviewed several certified veterinarians, including Dr. Erin Katribe, DVM, MS, medical director and veterinarian for Best Friends Animal Society, and Dr. Kristin Wuellner, an employee of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, about what to look for and consider when choosing a dog food. We then researched dozens of dog food brands to find the best for this roundup.

This article was researched and written by Mary Jo DiLonardo, who has covered animals and pets for several decades. DiLonardo has fostered about 60 dogs and puppies and is always searching for the healthiest and most effective products, foods, and treats for them. She has also cleaned up after all of them!

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zicker, Steven C., et al. “Evaluation of cognitive learning, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions in healthy puppies fed foods fortified with DOCOSAHEXAENOIC acid–Rich fish oil from 8 to 52 weeks of age.Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, vol. 241, no. 5, 2012, pp. 583–594., doi:10.2460/javma.241.5.583

  2. Bensignor, Emmanuel, et al. “Efficacy of an essential fatty acid-enriched diet in managing canine atopic dermatitis: A randomized, single-blinded, cross-over study.Vet Dermatol. 2008 Jun;19(3):156-6. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3164.2008.00670.x

  3. Kelly, G S. “The role of glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfates in the treatment of degenerative joint disease.” Altern Med Rev. 1998 Feb;3(1):27-39. 

  4. Clinical Nutrition Team. “What every pet owner should know about food allergies.” Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. 

  5. Kaplan, Joanna L., et al. Taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy in golden retrievers fed commercial diets.PLOS ONE, vol. 13, no. 12, 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0209112

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