Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Be thoughtful when it comes to purchasing natural dog food. “There is no regulation when it comes to using the definition, and all foods that call themselves ‘natural’ are not necessarily created equal,” points out Jamie Richardson, the medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary, a NYC-based practice. Still, if you are eager for a dog food that’s responsibly formulated, and free from potentially sketchy ingredients—such as pesticides, artificial preservatives, and genetically modified ingredients—there are options available.
Before purchasing, always make sure there is a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) on the food’s container, says Dr. Richardson. “[That means the] food is formulated to be nutritionally complete for your pet and meets minimum standards,” she says.
Here, our picks for the best natural dog foods available now:
Best Overall: Organix Organic Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Adult Canned Dog Food
Castor & Pollux Organix is recommended at Dr. Richardon’s practice, due to its GMO-free ingredient list. It’s full of USDA-certified organic ingredients: chicken, brown rice, fruits, and vegetables. It’s made in small batches, and never includes corn, wheat, soy, artificial colors, or preservatives.
Owners should be thrilled with the healthy ingredient list, and the overall high quality of this food. After all, if you’re serving yourself organic, fresh ingredients, why would you do anything different for your dog?
An important note: This food is high in calories, so best avoided if your dog has a weight problem.
Best Dry: Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free Original Recipe Dry Dog Food
Dr. Richardson recommends this brand as one made with good quality, nutrient-dense ingredients, such as meat and vegetables (kale, spinach, and more). Plus, it’s fortified with vitamins and minerals that are key for your dog’s health. All the ingredients are natural, and the food is free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, per the manufacturer.
It's also tasty—even picky pets gobble it down, which owners love because of the junk- and filler-free ingredient list.
Best for Large Breeds: DIAMOND NATURALS Large Breed Adult Chicken & Rice Formula Dry Dog Food
What’s the best natural food for your large dog? Consider Diamond Naturals. Made in the USA, this dry food has cage-free chicken, whole grain brown rice, and fruits and vegetables. (Honestly, the ingredient list sounds tasty for anyone—not just dogs.)
It’s full of nutrient-rich ingredients tailored for a large-breed dog, and does not contain artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives—nor does it have any filler ingredients. This food is also high in glucosamine, a nutrient that’s key for joint health, particularly as dogs mature.
Best for Small Breeds: Merrick Healthy Grains Dry Dog Food
Smaller dogs need food that comes in smaller pieces, so they can comfortably chew and swallow it. But it’s not just size that matters—small breed dogs have different nutritional needs, as well. To serve those needs, Merrick is one of the brands that Dr. Richardson recommends when it comes to natural dog foods.
Merrick proudly lists the first five ingredients on the front of the packaging—a tip-off that you're getting good-quality ingredients. Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, are included as well to help with digestion.
Best Budget: Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Premium Dry Dog Food Real Chicken & Veggies Recipe
Looking for a natural dog food that won’t break the bank? Nutrish has real USA-raised meat—not filler—as the number one ingredient. Also included in the formula are prebiotics—the kind of food that feeds the good bacteria in your pet's gut—for digestion. The brand prides itself on its “wholesome” ingredients, and explains what purpose the top ingredients serve in your pet's nutrition. Not on that list? Artificial flavors and artificial preservatives.
Best Dehydrated: Sundays Food for Dogs
Want something truly different? “In a sector of its own, Sundays Food for Dogs is a great dehydrated food brand,” says Dr. Richardson. Here’s how dehydrated food works: After it’s made, the food is air dried. This preserves all the nutrients, while killing off germs. It's a good option for pet owners who are intrigued by the idea of raw food diets, but are worried about potential bacteria in raw meat.
Everything in the food is 100 percent human-grade. That means it’s also safe for humans to eat (no gross fillers or meat byproducts included). It’s also formulated without common allergens (like chicken or wheat) and with ingredients that support digestion (like pumpkin).
Because it’s dehydrated, the food doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge or freezer, and it also doesn’t need to be heated up or cleaned up carefully after your dog eats.
Best Fresh Food: JustFoodForDogs Daily Diets Fish & Sweet Potato Frozen Dog Food
If you’re looking for fresh food, this is one that Dr. Richardson recommends. Here’s why she approves of Just Food for Dogs: It’s “nutritionally well-balanced, adher[es] to strict quality controls, and developed under the care of veterinary nutritionists.”
The food is cooked in California, frozen, then shipped. All of the ingredients in Just Food recipes are suitable for human consumption. The meal is low calorie, and the manufacturer notes it’s a good fit for dogs with skin-related allergies.
Best Raw: Instinct Frozen Raw Bites Grain-Free Cage-Free Chicken Recipe Dog Food
Looking to provide your dog with a primal experience that mimics life in the wild? Then you may be interested in providing raw nutrition. This Instinct raw food is chock full of animal meat protein and even the non-meat ingredients (fruits and vegetables) are GMO-free. The food is minimally processed and free from fillers, and doesn’t contain artificial colors or preservatives.
So that your dog can safely consume raw food and take advantage of the nutrients, the ingredients are frozen then cold-pressured, according to the manufacturer. Unlike some frozen food, this one is easy to serve (it doesn’t turn into one giant brick in the freezer) and easy for dogs to scarf down.
For the best natural dog food on the market, we recommend Castor & Pollux Organix Canned Dog Food (available at Amazon), due to its USDA-certified organic ingredients and lack of artificial flavors or preservatives. If you're looking for a dry food to feed you dog instead, we recommend Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free Original Recipe Dry Dog Food (available at Petco).
What to Look for in Natural Dog Food
What “Natural” Means
The term “natural” on dog food label simply means that the ingredients in the food are “derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing,” according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Natural dog foods are not necessarily organic (if they are, it will be stated on the label).
Choose a natural dog food formula that is intended for your dog’s life stage. Foods labeled as “maintenance” are for adult dogs over 1 year of age. Foods labeled “growth” or “growth and reproduction” are for puppies under 1 year old and pregnant or nursing females. Foods labeled “all life stages” provide nutrition appropriate for any dog of any age, from puppy through adult.
Choose a natural dog food that has a statement on the label that says the food is completed and balanced according to the nutritional levels established by the Association of American Feed Officials (AAFCO) for that life stage.
Type of Food
Natural dog food comes in many different forms, including dry kibble, canned, freeze dried, refrigerated, and fresh frozen. Choose the formula that your dog likes best and is most convenient and cost-effective for you.
Is natural dog food better for dogs?
According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, the term “natural” simply means that the ingredient is “derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing.” Natural ingredients cannot be “produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic.”
That said, natural dog foods are not automatically better than dog foods that are not labeled as natural. The most important indicator of a healthy dog food is a statement on the label that says the food is complete and balanced for a particular life stage (maintenance for adults, growth for puppies, or all life stages, for any age dog).
Does natural dog food need to be refrigerated?
Natural dog food comes in many different forms, including dry kibble, canned, freeze dried, refrigerated and fresh frozen. Dry kibble and freeze-dried food does not need to be refrigerated, even after opening the bag, though it should be stored in an airtight container. Canned food should be refrigerated after opening the can. Refrigerated food should be refrigerated before and after opening the package. Fresh frozen food should be thawed in the refrigerator and leftovers should be refrigerated.
Is natural dog food grain free?
Natural dog food is not the same thing as grain-free dog food. “Natural” simply means that the ingredients come from plant, animal or mined sources without chemical processing. Some natural dog foods are also grain free, which is clearly stated on the label, and some grain-free dog foods are not natural.