Decisions are tough when you’re choosing a new food for your dog. Of course you’ll want to cover the basics, but going with a top quality natural dog food can help your dog avoid illnesses, age gracefully and even live a longer, healthier life.
“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.
We evaluated natural dog foods for products that are responsibly formulated: free of pesticides, artificial preservatives, and genetically modified ingredients.
Our favorite is the Farmer’s Dog Custom Fresh Food because its customized diet is made specifically for your dog’s needs, with top quality, USDA-certified human-grade meats and fresh vegetables. Their excellent customer service makes it an easy choice.
The Farmer’s Dog Custom Fresh Dog Food
USDA-certified human-grade meats
Stellar customer service
Must provide email and phone number to obtain price quote
To earn the Best Overall spot, a healthy dog food must be nutritionally balanced, made with top quality ingredients that are not genetically modified and free of artificial additives and preservatives. Most importantly, it must also have a proven track record with dogs and their owners.
The Farmer's Dog is an AAFCO-compliant, lightly cooked, custom diet designed specifically for your dog’s age, current and desired weight, breed and current health condition. They can even tailor diets to specific needs—we spoke with a former veterinary technician who selected a Farmer's Dog diet to mitigate side effects from Addison’s disease–a rare disorder of the adrenal glands.
To get started, you fill out a short questionnaire online and then they package and ship two weeks’ worth of frozen USDA-certified human-grade meats and healthy vegetables and fats. It is pre-portioned for easy feeding. The food itself is prepared fresh and the light cooking makes the food safer than fully raw foods. The proteins are also slightly more digestible while leaving the vitamins and nutrients intact.
We tested a custom diet for a 48 pound, 4-year-old pit bull mix named Kuma, including three different food types—USDA-Certified turkey, beef and beef liver, and chicken and chicken liver blends. Each mix also includes healthy, recognizable plant-based foods like chickpeas, lentils, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, sunflower seeds and fish oils. The cost was just over $6 per day without the 50 percent discount on the first order. It’s relatively easy to make changes as your dog’s age, weight and health evolve.
Packed with antioxidants and healthy fats that proactively prevent cognitive decline as dogs age, this premium-quality diet is full of omega-3 fatty acids that improve brain function.
Although this healthy dog food brand is more expensive than average, you’ll feel good about how the Farmer’s Dog cares about your dog and the environment down to the last detail. This healthy dog food is free of meals and preservatives and comes in recyclable cardboard boxes. Each food pack is made from BPA-free plastics that are non-toxic. Additionally, the food storage containers and insulation are biodegradable and compostable at home.
Price at time of publish: $6/day
Protein Source: USDA-Certified turkey, beef, chicken | Other Key Ingredients: Chickpeas, lentils, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, fish oils | Available Flavors: Turkey, beef and beef liver, chicken and chicken liver
Wellness Complete Health Dry Dog Food
Made in the USA
Family owned company
No meat byproducts, fillers, or artificial preservatives
Nutritionally balanced, their ingredients are sourced from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Belgium. Their recipes boast antioxidants like blueberries, spinach flaxseed, and vitamin E, plus taurine for a healthy heart, and probiotics for efficient digestion. Omega fatty acids also benefits your dog's coat. Our dog loved the lamb and barley which is known to be good for dogs that may be allergic to other protein sources.
In addition to its adult dry food line, Wellness Complete Health is also available in formulations for small and large breeds, puppies and seniors, and for those that need to lose weight.
Price at time of publish: $70
Protein Source: Chicken, whitefish, lamb | Other Key Ingredients: Barley, peas, carrots, apples | Available Flavors: Deboned Chicken & Oatmeal, Whitefish & Sweet Potato, Lamb and Barley
Best for Large Breeds
DIAMOND NATURALS Large Breed Adult Chicken & Rice Formula Dry Dog Food
Made in the USA
Cage-free chicken or pasture-raised lamb
Rare diarrhea during food transition
Made in the United States, this dry food is made from either cage-free chicken or pasture-raised lamb and whole grain brown rice blended with a variety of superfood fruits and vegetables like blueberries, oranges, kale, chia seeds and pumpkin. There’s also papaya for healthy digestion and Yucca Schidigera extract the reduces the odor of their poops. Several strains of probiotics round out the recipes. Honestly, the ingredient list sounds tasty and healthy for anyone—not just dogs.
Tailored for a large-breed dog, it’s high in protein and nutrient-dense without fillers or artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Naturally high in chondroitin and glucosamine–key for long-term joint health–you’ll feel good knowing your large breed dog will age gracefully.
Price at time of publish: $44
Protein Source: Chicken or lamb | Other Key Ingredients: Barley, oatmeal, egg, pumpkin, spinach, kale | Available Flavors: Chicken and Rice, Lamb Meal and Rice, Lamb and Rice (puppy)
Best for Small Breeds
Merrick Healthy Grains Dry Dog Food
Real meat is the first ingredient
High levels of omega fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin
Based in Texas, USA
30 years in the industry
Some picky eaters don’t like it
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. Merrick is one of the brands that Dr. Richardson recommends when it comes to natural dog foods.
Merrick 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. You won’t find corn, wheat or soy so this is a great choice for little dogs prone to skin problems. It is also free of potatoes, peas and lentils (see Why We No Longer Recommend Grain-Free Dog Foods below).
Price at time of publish: $48
Protein Source: Chicken | Other Key Ingredients: Brown rice, barley, turkey meal | Available Flavors: Chicken
Rachael Ray Nutrish Adult Dry Dog Food
Visible improvements in coat and digression
Donates to animals in need
Some humans and dogs don’t like the smell
A little oily
Nutrish is a fantastic budget option that uses real chicken meat, not animal byproducts. 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.
You can feel good about your purchase, too, because a portion of sales are donated to The Rachael Ray Foundation, which helps animals in need.
Price at time of publish: $22
Protein Source: Chicken, turkey, beef or salmon | Other Key Ingredients: Soybean meal, peas, corn, barley, carrots | Available Flavors: Chicken & Veggies, Beef, Pea & Brown Rice, Salmon, Veggies & Brown Rice, Turkey, Brown Rice & Venison
Sundays Food for Dogs
Beef is USDA-Certified
No meals, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
Pumpkin and ginger for good digestion
Want something truly different? 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.
Price at time of publish: $129 | Protein Source: Chicken or beef | Other Key Ingredients: Quinoa, egg, kale, fish and sunflower oils | Available Flavors: Chicken or beef
Best Fresh Food
PetPlate Fresh Cooked Dog Food
Omega fatty acids from salmon oil
Your dog will feel and look like royalty on this fresh frozen food. The veterinarian-designed recipes are made custom to your dog’s stats for age, size, breed, activity level, current and desired weight and more. Each is made with human-grade ingredients in a USDA-Certified kitchen. It’s cooked lightly for safety and then flash frozen for delivery to your door.
Individual portions are delivered in BPA-free. Microwave-safe, recyclable containers so you can thaw and serve them warm or cold. They offer a full meal plan and a topper only plan with flexibility to change plans, recipes and delivery frequency as your dog’s needs change.
Price at time of publish: $4/day
Protein Source: Beef, turkey, chicken, lamb, pork and venison | Other Key Ingredients: Barley, sweet potatoes, brown rice, green beans, carrots, apples | Available Flavors: Barkin’ Beef, Tail Waggin’ Turkey, Chompin’ Chicken, Lip Lickin’ Lamb, Power Packed Pork, Lean & Mean Venison
Darwin's Natural Selections Dog Food
Free-range, cage-free, or pasture-raised meats
No fillers, hormones or preservatives
Mimics ancestral diet
Difficult to see all ingredients up front
There are both pros and cons to feeding your dog a raw food diet. Switching to a partially or fully raw food diet can eliminate many mild, yet persistent health problems.
One of the best natural raw dog foods, Darwin’s Natural Selections Raw Dog Food Service is well rated and committed to using only ethically-raised and grain-free ingredients. Depending on the size and age of your dog, you can expect to spend around $20-$25 per week for a small dog breed. Their food is made from minimally processed, human-grade meats and organic vegetables. You won’t find any antibiotics, steroids, preservatives or artificial hormones in this wholesome, healthy dog food.
Darwin’s offers poultry flavors your dog will love but also carries lamb for those with sensitivities to poultry. Their website offers a pet food volume calculator. When you sign up, you can take a quiz to develop a custom feeding plan specific to you and your dog’s needs.
Those new to raw food diets can also call in for a free consultation about their menu and how to transition your pet safely to a raw diet.
You choose the frequency and size of shipments and you can cancel or make changes at any time. Darwin’s also offers Intelligent Design Veterinary Formulas that require a prescription from a veterinarian. These are for dogs with specific health issues such as food allergies and kidney disease.
Price at time of publish: $25
Protein Source: Chicken, duck, turkey, beef and lamb | Other Key Ingredients: Organic vegetables | Available Flavors: Chicken, duck, turkey, beef and lamb
Our best overall pick is The Farmer’s Dog Custom Fresh Food. The custom diet built around USDA-Certified human-grade meats means your dog’s food will be ideal for their age, weight and health. Their top notch customer service means you can make changes to get it right even as your dog’s health changes. For those that prefer a dry food, try Wellness Complete Health Dry Dog Food that is made in the United States by a family-owned company without meat byproducts.
Why We No Longer Recommend Grain-Free Dog Foods
Since 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating reports of a possible link between grain-free diets (high in peas, lentils, other legume seeds and/or potatoes in various forms) and a canine heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). As of December 2022, the FDA announced that enough data does not yet exist to confirm a causa link, but that they would continue to monitor scientific research on the subject by academics, veterinarians and those in the pet food industry.
What to Look for in Natural Dog Food
What “Natural” Means
The term “natural” on dog food labels 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).
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.
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.
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 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 do not need to be refrigerated, even after opening the bag, though they 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.
Why Trust the Spruce Pets
The Spruce Pets exhaustively researches and recommends a broad range of products. We also tap a network of experts and testers to help you make smarter purchases.
This piece was written by Lorraine Wilde, who evaluated the cost, ingredients and quality of each dog food, as well as customer and expert reviews and each company’s business ethics. Lorraine has had at least two dog and two cat companions for the past 35 years and she expects only the best for them.