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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.
Tip: 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).