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Last updated on Sep 06, 2019

The Best Dry Dog Food

The best kibble for your canine ​
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The best dry dog food doesn’t cut corners. It’s high in protein, low in carbs, and made with high-quality meats that keep your dog drooling every time you open the bag. We spent two months researching ingredients, reaching out to over 40 vets and vet nutritionists, and putting over 1,600 dog food formulas through the wringer to find the very best that’s out there.

The Best Dry Dog Food

Our 11 Favorite Dry Dog Food Brands & Lines

  1. Fromm Classic
  2. Fromm Gold
  3. Holistic Health Extension
  4. Horizon Amicus
  5. Horizon Legacy
  6. Nutri Life Gold
  7. Nutri Life Grain Free
  8. Orijen Tundra
  9. Signature Pet Products: Leonard Powell Signature
  10. Tender & True
  11. Ziwi Peak

Our Picks for the Best Dry Dog Food

Dog Food Number of Formulas Main Protein Sources Price per Pound
Fromm Classic
2
Chicken, Fish
$1.13–$1.20
Fromm Gold
8
Duck, Beef, Turkey Liver, Whitefish
$1.52–$2.39
Holistic Health Extension
12
Chicken, Lamb, Venison, Buffalo, Duck, Salmon
$1.70–$2.67
Horizon Amicus
2
Turkey
$3.00
Horizon Legacy
2
Chicken, Salmon
$2.55–$2.80
Nutri Life Gold
2
Duck
$1.47–$1.65
Nutri Life Grain Free
2
Chicken, Whitefish
$1.65–$1.75
Orijen Tundra
5
Chicken, Mackerel, Beef, Goat
$3.16–$4.49
Signature Pet Products: Leonard Powell Signature
6
Chicken, Pork, Bison, Duck, Lamb
$2.04–$4.17
Tender & True
5
Chicken, Turkey, Whitefish
$2.83–$3.90
Ziwi Peak
5
Mackerel, Beef, Venison, Lamb, Tripe
$13.25–$23.19

Runners-Up for Best Dry Dog Food

Born Free: All of its formulas passed our cuts, but It’s only available at specialty pet food stores in the Midwest. Approved formulas: any. Comes in 26-pound bags, and costs $2.20/pound.
Dynamite: Only offers one dry dog food formula, called Super Premium Dog Food available directly from its website. It comes in a huge 40-pound bag and is priced affordably at $1.50/pound.
Only Natural Pet: Only available on its website. Approved formulas: MaxMeat Air-Dried. It comes in small 7.5-pound bags, and is one of our priciest picks at $10–11.33/pound.
Redpaw X-Series: Only available on its website. Approved lines: X-Series. Comes in 12-pound and 26-pound bags, and ranges from $1.84-$2.19/pound.
Timberwolf: Currently unavailable due to stocking issues, but typically found at specialty pet stores. Approved formulas: all.

How We Found the Best Dry Dog Food

We began with 1,610 formulas.

Our goal was to examine every dry dog food formula available in the US. To make it onto the list, each product needed to have an ingredient list (why feed your pup mystery gunk?) and a working website. This left us with 1,610 dry dog food formulas to comb through.

We cut toxic ingredients, like grapes and garlic.

Some human-friendly foods are toxic to dogs. Among the most notorious are chocolate, avocados, grapes, garlic, and onion. It seemed absurd that any known toxic ingredients would be in dog food, but five formulas contained grape products, and nearly 100 contained garlic.

And what’s so bad about grapes and garlic? Grapes (and raisins) have been shown to cause acute kidney failure in dogs. Because they can be toxic in any form, we cut the 5 formulas with grape products. Along with leeks, scallions, chives, and shallots, garlic and onion are members of the Allium plant genus, which is toxic to both cats and dogs. They can all make dogs very sick if eaten in large quantities, but can also cause serious issues, such as anemia, if eaten in small amounts over time. The only possible plus to garlic and onion is their extra punch of flavor to a bland-tasting formula — but we don’t see the sense in risking your dog’s health for a bit of extra flavor, so we cut the offending formulas.

We also found 20 formulas that contained avocado flesh or oil. But since it’s avocado pit that’s toxic, not the avocado flesh or oil, we didn’t cut them. The AvoDerm formulas in our top picks have avocado oil, but this will not harm your dog.

We screened out iffy “meats” and “meals.”

With a limitless budget, we’d no doubt let our dogs eat fresh turkey, halibut, and bison to their heart’s content for the rest of their lives. But the fact is, whole meats are pricey. Many manufacturers use meat meal as a supplement to produce their formulas at a lower cost while still being nutritionally complete.

Though it might sound unappetizing, meal isn’t inherently bad. It’s basically “concentrated” meat, created in a process called rendering — extremely high temperature and pressure separate fat from dried protein, leaving behind the high-protein meal. As a result of this process, the FDA notes that meal can contain higher concentrations of protein, nutrients, and minerals than whole meats.

But we have some issues with meal. Manufacturers aren’t legally required to be transparent about their rendering process. Since processing at high temperature and pressure can also destroy natural enzymes and proteins, this means the nutritional quality of meat meal may be inconsistent between manufacturers, or even batches.

When it appears on a label, meat meal is basically a mystery. According to AAFCO guidelines, “meat meal” is sourced “from mammals other than cattle, pigs, sheep or goats without further description,” which means you can’t be sure exactly what’s in it. In fact, this can include some pretty gross stuff like restaurant grease, diseased livestock, and expired supermarket meat. So we made some cuts.

First, we cut formulas that included any kind of unnamed meat.

These show up on ingredient lists as “meat meal,” “meat and bone meal,” “byproduct meal,” or sometimes even just “meat.” But we passed brands that used named meat meal, like “venison meal” or “salmon meal.” This ensures you know what you’re feeding your dog — and keeps leftover restaurant grease and roadkill out of their stomach.

Second, we cut anything without a named whole protein (think “Chicken”, “Venison”, or “Salmon”) as the first ingredient.

According to the FDA, ingredients are listed in order of weight, with the heaviest ingredients listed first. We didn’t want to cut everything with meal listed anywhere in the ingredient list (which would’ve only left a handful of extremely pricey options), but we did feel that a truly high-quality dog food shouldn’t take shortcuts on its main, starring ingredient.

We rejected formulas with too many fillers.

Ingredients like corn, grain, and rice, while frequently found in dog food formulas, are controversial among pet parents. But plant-based ingredients aren’t inherently bad: “Dogs are somewhat omnivorous so their food does not need to be 100% meat-based,” Dr. Gary Richter of Montclair Veterinary Hospital told us. “That said, the protein source in the food should be 100% meat-based. While dogs are equipped to handle a certain amount of carbohydrates in their diet, they should not be a majority ingredient.”

If the majority of a formula is plant-based, it’s likely a sign of a lower-quality formula. Since we’d already required our top picks to have a whole protein like chicken or salmon at the top of the list, we followed by cutting any formulas with non-meat fillers, like corn starch and potatoes, as the second ingredient. The best dog food should be front-loaded with named, meat-based proteins, not carbs.

We cut questionable artificial additives.

Artificial additives, such as preservatives, colors, and flavors, are very common in dog food formulas, and healthy dogs won’t get sick from occasionally eating them. But eating those additives every day for years can take a toll on their health. “It’s like pointing a ship — if you’re a few degrees off you’ll end up miles away from your destination,” explains Steve Pelletier, Vice President of Food at PetNet. “Not a big deal for one or two feedings, but it’d be bad over the course of three or four years.”

Given that there are plenty of better options out there, we figure it’s best not to risk it. Instead of artificial preservatives, our top picks used natural preservatives such as rosemary, vitamin C, and mixed tocopherols.

We also took a closer look at “natural flavor”, which we expected to be just that — flavor naturally resulting from meat being cooked. But that’s not necessarily the case: the FDA explains that natural flavors, when listed as an ingredient, are actually processed “digests” — mystery materials treated with heat, enzymes, and acids to form concentrated natural flavors.

Pelletier noted that while concentrated flavor itself isn’t always a bad thing, the lack of transparency is concerning: “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 canine pal the same few brands his whole life, we think it’s best that he’s not continually ingesting any ingredients shrouded in mystery. Packed with high-quality protein, these foods should be enticing all on their own, without the need for any artificial flavors or colors.

Guide to the best dog food ingredients

We looked at how consistent quality was within each line.

At this point we had over 100 safe, high-quality formulas, but we wanted to go a few steps further and make sure that our top picks also excelled from a purchasing perspective. Given that formulas within a line tend to be packaged similarly, it’s easy to confuse a so-so formula for an excellent one. We wanted to be sure that the lines we were buying from would be reliably high-quality all the way through, so you don’t need to scrutinize ingredient lists every time you pick up your regular case of dog chow. The best brands would offer product lines (whether “Grain-Free”, “Organics”, or “Limited Ingredient”) that contained safe, high-quality formulas.

We checked out how easy (or not) it was to buy the food.

Finally, we made sure that all of our remaining picks were easy to find and purchase. Some, like TimberWolf, are only sold in specialty pet shops in the Pacific Northwest. Others, like Dynamite, could only be purchased directly from the manufacturer’s site. We’ve included these harder-to-find brands below, but our favorites were all-around winners not only for their top-notch formulas, but also because they’re available at accessible retailers like Chewy, PetCo, and Amazon.

Dog Food: A Feeding Guide

Labels Infographic for Dog Food

Did You Know?

Dry doesn’t always mean more protein.

Every dog food comes with a guaranteed analysis label, which lists the formula’s minimum percentage of protein and fat, and maximum percentage of fiber and moisture. The guaranteed analysis doesn’t list carbs — but you can figure it out by adding up all the percentages listed, and subtracting from 100.

If you’re just skimming through guaranteed analyses on different dog foods, you may be struck at how different the numbers are between dry and wet dog foods: most wet dog foods average between 8-17% protein, while dry dog foods have a whopping range of 30-50% protein. Wet food almost always has a lower listed protein percentage, but when you factor in the extra space taken up by water, wet food actually tends to have more protein. If you want to calculate the differences yourself, we show you how to do it in our review of the best dog food.

Don’t buy too much food at once.

Expiration dates on dry food bags indicate how long the food will last if unopened. Even if the expiration date is a year into the future, once you open the bag, the food will only last between 4-6 weeks. To make sure your dog’s dry food stays fresh, avoid buying more than he can eat in a month or so, and seal up the food by clamping or tying the bag shut when it’s not feeding time.

When, and how often, should you feed your dog?

Dog food labels include feeding suggestions that recommend serving sizes per day depending on your dog’s current weight. Feed your dog about two times each day at 8-12 hour intervals, making sure not to overfeed him. Dogs that need to eat more than the average adult dogs — such as puppies, nursing mothers, very active dogs, dogs in very cold environments, and dogs recovering from surgery or illness — may benefit from free feeding or more frequent meals. Don’t leave dry food out for more than 24 hours, and wash bowls used for dry food at least once per week.