Feeding your dog shouldn’t be difficult, but unfortunately, it’s not as easy as one would hope. With all the recent recalls and health scares, navigating the dog food aisle at your local grocery store can feel like tiptoeing through a minefield.
Everyone has an opinion, and every company will tell you that their food is best. But who can really tell?
Reviews.com has been helping pet parents find their way through the process of choosing a good food for years. As more companies enter the market and more options become available, they analyze the choices over and over again to make sure they’re giving the best advice they can. In 2015 they analyzed 2,200 different dog food formulas, and only 119 passed the test. It might seem like they have tough standards, but we shouldn’t settle for less where our dogs are concerned!
Choosing 2019’s recommendations must have been a tall task to tackle for the Reviews.com team. They checked out 3,009 and different formulas, and by the time they were done, they had 593 that made the cut, and five favorites – one for each of the tested categories.
Don’t want to read through the process? Click here to skip to the results.
3,009: Total number of dog foods considered by the team
The Reviews.com team got started by collecting every adult dog food sold in the U.S. (If you don’t see yours listed, they admit that some may have “slipped through the cracks.”)
“It took us about a month to compile our list. But we wanted to be sure we considered every formula pet owners are likely to run into, whether they’re browsing for dog food online, at the grocery store or at a specialty retailer.”
Of those, 40 without an ingredients list available, or a working website were immediately cut, leaving 2,969.
Related: The Best Dog Foods of the Year, According to iHeartDogs
The first to go were the foods that listed any toxic ingredients. Many of the foods disqualified for toxic ingredients had items from the alum family listed – onion and garlic added for taste. Though a bite of a burger containing garlic or onion may not make your dog immediately sick, a large amount can be harmful – not something you’d want to give your dog for every meal. 178 foods were cut – including some recipes from brands you’ve heard of, like Blue Buffalo and Purina Beneful.
Low-Quality Meats and Meals
The Reviews.com teams notes that though meat-meals may not sound all that great, the FDA says that these meals can often be packed with protein and other beneficial nutrients, but they chose to exclude some meals for good reason.
If the type of meat was not defined, it had to go – some meat meals have been shown to contain restaurant grease, diseased livestock, or expired supermarket meat. Items like “duck meal” and “salmon meal” passed the test. And because ingredients are listed by volume, they also disqualified recipes that did not have a whole protein listed as their first ingredient.
“While we didn’t want to eliminate every single formula that had any type of meal anywhere (this would’ve left only a small number of extremely pricey formulas), we did feel that a truly high-quality dog food shouldn’t take shortcuts on its main ingredient. So we cut formulas without a named, whole animal protein, like chicken or venison, in the first ingredient slot.”
Formulas Relying Heavily On Plant-Based Proteins
Though some believe that a plant-based diet can be beneficial for dogs, it’s not what the Reviews.com team was looking for. Dogs can and often do enjoy vegetables (mine especially loves cucumbers and sweet potatoes) and all the remaining formulas contained some plant-based ingredients. However, they felt that higher-quality foods would have more of it’s protein come from a meat-based source, so any recipe with a plant-based meal as it’s second ingredient was also gone.
Potentially Harmful Artificial Additives
You might be surprised (or not) to learn that the FDA allows small doses of some additives that could be toxic to dogs in their food. Reviews.com points out that propelene glycol, which is added for moisture, can cause irritation or organ toxicity in large doses. Others they disqualified contained additives that are thought to cause hyperactivity, allergic reactions, cancer, and irritation.
None of these foods contain these ingredients in harmful amounts, but may cause concern when you’re feeding them to your dog a little at a time, multiple times a day, every day, for years.
“Healthy dogs won’t fall ill from occasionally eating foods with artificial additives. But if a dog eats those additives every day of his life, they could cumulatively result in negative health effects.”
Anything Containing “Natural Flavor”
Sounds tasty, right? Well, they explain…
“When we asked Pelletier about this, he clarified that while concentrated flavors themselves aren’t necessarily a bad thing, the lack of transparency that goes into processing them should provoke concern: ‘Natural flavoring isn’t a great ingredient. According to current labeling rules, dog food companies are allowed to consider these natural flavors proprietary, and are not required to disclose exactly what is used to make the flavoring nor what chemical processes are involved.’
Again, this ingredient is unlikely to kill your dog, but if you’re going to be feeding your best friend the same few brands his whole life, we think it’s best that he’s not continually ingesting any ingredient shrouded in mystery.”
We think this is a good call.
Food Containing “Gravy” or Extra Water
Gravy is another ingredient that sounds pretty delicious, but that the Reviews.com team chose to cut out of their final recommendations.
Water isn’t at all harmful for your dog, but it can dilute the nutritional content of his food to the point that it is no longer considered a complete meal. In fact, the FDA has a limit to the amount of moisture a wet food can contain – 78%, which seems pretty generous. Still, companies can get around the limit via a loophole that allows recipes containing words like “stew” and “gravy” to exceed it. Any food that had more than 78% moisture content was cut, and unlike the FDA, Reviews.com did not give a pass to foods containing the words “gravy,” “stew,” or “sauce.”
Feeding your dog the exact same thing every day of their life can seem like kind of a downer. They say variety is the spice of life, and the Reviews.com team took the people who think so into consideration. They wanted to make sure that they could make a recommendation for a whole line without making it to complicated for the common dog-food-shopper.
As an example – one brand’s line had five flavors, one which passed the test but four others in different flavors with similar packaging that failed to make the cut.
“We could see ourselves grabbing a new flavor at the grocery store without realizing there was a difference.”
To make sure we don’t just see a name we know without making the distinction between failure flavors and the winners, they decided to cut varieties that couldn’t offer the same quality across the same line. (This does not immediately disqualify brands with multiple labels.)
The final remaining foods: 593 out of 3,009.
Review.com’s Top Choices:
Before we list Review.com’s top choices, it’s important to remember what we’re getting here. The foods that made the cut will:
- have the ingredients listed, and a website available for you to browse
- be made ONLY from ingredients that are safe for dogs
- contain a significant amount of protein that comes from a named meat
- have some plant-based ingredients, but will not rely on plants for the majority of it’s protein content
- not contain artificial additives that may be harmful if fed to your pup over time
- not have any not-so-natural “natural flavor”
- no excessive moisture that could dilute the nutritional content of the food
- be consistently high-quality within the same line, from flavor to flavor
The team chose one favorite that performed above others in each of five categories. Those categories and their “winners” are:
Best Dry Dog Food: Fromm Classic
To beat out over 3,000 other options to come out on top is an amazing feat, but to do it twice in two different categories (see below) is really incredible! You won’t find Fromm’s food in your big-box pet supply store. They believe in keeping real relationships with their retailers, and supporting smaller, neighborhood stores. You can find a store that carries Fromm’s food using their retailer search, but if your search comes up empty, you can still order it online from GoFromm.com, which delivers within the 48 contiguous states.
Best Wet Dog Food: Chicken Soup For The Soul
Chicken Soup For The Soul believes that all pets deserve good, healthy food. Their standards are high for everything they create, and that’s why their wet dog food came out on top! Choosing their wet food for your pup not gives him good food, it gives shelter pups good food too! For every can you buy, Chicken Soup for the Soul donates FOUR MEALS to shelters, rescues, and food banks so that all pups can have access to nutritious food! They donate about 1 million meals a year through their Fill a Bowl, Feed a Soul initiative. Click here to find a local or online retailer.
Best Dog Food Delivery Service: NomNomNow
We here at iHeartDogs LOVE NomNomNow – some of us more than others! (Have you seen our co-founder eat their dog food yet?) What I like most about it is that you can look at their food and tell exactly what’s in it, because it’s all ingredients that you would find in your own healthy meals. They don’t just make food for dogs – they make food for YOUR dog, based on his age, size, and weight goals. If you want the healthiest, freshest possible food, and you want it delivered to your door, click here to give NomNomNow a try!
Best Puppy Food: Fromm Gold
This is Fromm Family’s second winner. Like we said: to hold two out of five spots from an original 3,009 is mindblowingly impressive! If you’re looking for a good dry food for your dog, Fromm’s should be at the top of your list. Their gold line is made with carefully chosen proteins, and enhanced with probiotics. The Puppy Gold is the right size for little mouths, and is even recommended for pregnant or nursing canine moms. Find it at neighborhood specialty stores, or online at GoFromm.com.
Best Grain Free Food: Holistic Health Extension
All of Health Extension’s foods are created in small batches to give the creators more control of the quality. It’s easier to ensure that their high standards are met when the food is cooked a little at a time instead of in bulk. And it works – they have never had a recall. Their grain-free food is made with animal protein, fruits, vegetables, and absolutely no corn, soy, wheat, or gluten. Click here to find a retail store near you. It’s also available from Amazon with Prime shipping.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Should You Transition a Dog to New Food?
If you want to switch your dog to new food, you should do it gradually to avoid upsetting their stomach. Here’s an example of how to do it:
- Days 1 and 2: 80% old food, 20% new food
- Days 3 and 4: 60% old food, 40% new food
- Days 5 and 6: 40% old food, 60% new food
- Days 7 and 8: 20% old food, 80% new food
- Day 9: 100% new food
If you know your dog handles new food well, you may be able to do a shorter transition, but it’s better to be safe than sorry with your dog’s digestive health.
Is Fresh Dog Food the Best Option?
In many cases, fresh dog food is the best option because it uses natural, easy-to-digest ingredients. However, it’s also more expensive than other options and doesn’t last as long, so it’s up to you to decide which factors you value most.
Why is Good Dog Food So Expensive?
Good dog food is often more expensive because it has higher quality ingredients and lots of real animal meat. While it’s not always the case, more expensive dog food is often better quality.
Why Isn’t My Dog Eating Their Food?
There are lots of reasons dogs don’t eat food, such as stress, pickiness, or digestive issues. However, if your dog is refusing to eat food that they normally love, talk to your vet to make sure there’s not an underlying health problem.
Why is Some Dog Food Grain-Free?
Grains can be difficult for some dogs to digest, so grain-free food is designed for dogs with allergies or sensitivities to grains. Most dogs don’t need grain-free food to thrive.
Want to pick the best food for your dog? See our list of 9 Best Dry Dog Foods.
Featured Photo: @nom_nom_now/Instagram