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What is the best and healthiest dog food? This should be a simple question, but the endless selection of dog food brands and products make finding the answer incredibly complex. Choosing a high quality and natural dog food for your pup should not be so difficult!
To make your life easier, we compiled a list of the healthiest and most popular organic, all natural, and grain-free premium dog foods. Each dog food recipe on this list is made with high quality ingredients, formulated to meet dogs’ nutritional needs, and ranked 5 stars by dog owners. A large number of the dog food brands that follow are also organic, non-GMO and/or gluten-free (we always highlight when recipes meet these criteria).
It is rare to find dog food that is 100% USDA Organic, grain-free, AND incredibly well-received by customers and dogs alike. Customers rave about this particular ORGANIX small breed recipe, rating the dry dog food a solid 4.5 stars on Amazon. The recipe is made with organic free-range chicken as the #1 ingredient and boosted with probiotics and prebiotic fiber.
KEY FEATURES of Organix Grain Free Organic Small Breed Recipe:
Wellness' Core Grain Free Dry Dog Food is an extremely popular and well-rated dry dog food. The first three ingredient of this high quality and protein-rich recipe are deboned turkey, turkey meal, and chicken meal. Unlike other lower quality dog food brands, this Wellness grain-free recipe contains no corn or soy - lower quality, cheaper fillers often used by dog food companies to meet protein requirements.
KEY FEATURES of Wellness Core Grain Free Dry Dog Food Turkey and Chicken:
Instinct Be Natural's Dry Dog Food Salmon & Brown Rice Recipe is a very high quality recipe for dogs that are *not* on a grain-free diet. The first three ingredients are wild-caught salmon, salmon meal, and brown rice, and the recipe is boosted with high quality whole grains, fruits & vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes, apples, and blueberries.
KEY FEATURES of Instinct Be Natural's Dry Dog Food Salmon Recipe:
Mike and I are personal fans of Blue Buffalo's Wilderness High Protein Grain Free Dog Food. Django has always loved and done well on this particular salmon recipe which includes high quality protein sources like debond salmon (the first ingredient in this recipe), chicken meal, and menhaden fish meal. In addition to being a wonderful source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, this recipe is boosted with healthy fruits and veggies including peas, blueberries, and cranberries.
KEY FEATURES of Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain Free Dog Food:
The Honest Kitchen's Dehydrated Free Range Chicken & Whole Grain Dry Dog Food is a fantastic option for dog owners looking for a high quality, non-GMO, and largely organic recipe. The dog food's main ingredient, free range chicken, is dehydrated to maximize the protein's natural vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. The dehydrated and finely diced ingredients are promote easier digestion and nutrition absorption. Because this is a dehydrated dog food, water must be added before serving.
Castor & Pollux's Pristine collection offers a very high quality selection of grain-free recipes. Choose from Grass-Fed Lamb and Lentil, Free-Rage Chicken Turkey & Lentil, Grass-Fed Beef & Chickpea, and Wild-Caught Salmon & Chickpea. Each recipe is high in quality animal protein, uses responsibly sourced ingredients, and made in the USA.
KEY FEATURES of Pristine Grain Free Wild-Caught, Free-Range & Grass-Fed Dog Foods:
Mike and I are huge fans of Open Farm's Grain-Free Turkey & Chicken dog food and have given this particular recipe to Django many times. Although every dog food on our list is high quality and well-received by dog owners, Open Farm stands above the rest on a few levels. For one, all Open Farm meat is humanely raised without the use of antibiotics and growth hormones (many brands on our list cannot say the same). Second, Open Farm uses non-GMO fruits and vegetables (another claim many dog food brands on this list cannot make). With Open Farm you're ultimately getting higher quality ingredients for a slightly higher price point. Highly recommend.
KEY FEATURES of Open Farm's Grain-Free Turkey & Chicken Dog Food:
Blue Buffalo's Life Protection Formula is another favorite in our household. This is also an excellent dog food option if you are looking to save a few dollars on a high quality dog food. Both Blue Buffalo's 'Small Breed' and regular 'Adult Breed' formulas are made with quality animal protein, whole grains, and wholesome fruits and vegetables (peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, blueberries). Django has always done well on the 'Small Breed' dog food and we continue to feed it to him to this day.
KEY FEATURES of Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Dry Dog Food:
Blue Buffalo's Freedom dry dog food is the grain-free version of their Life Protection formula (reviewed just above). This is an excellent option if you are looking for quality grain-free dog food that doesn't break the bank. The formula is made with quality animal protein (deboned chicken is the first ingredient) and wholesome fruits and vegetables (peas, potatoes, blueberries, cranberries, parsley).
KEY FEATURES of Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain-Free Dry Dog Food:
Taste of the Wild's High Prairie Grain Free Premium Dry Dog Food is a high quality, high protein option for adult dogs. The first five ingredients in this grain-free recipe are buffalo, lamb meal, chicken meal, sweet potatoes and peas. High grade animal protein, real vegetables and fruits, and added fatty acids provide balanced and complete nutrition for your pup.
KEY FEATURES of Taste of The Wild High Prairie Grain Free Premium Dry Dog Food:
Purina's Beyond Grain Free Dry Dog Food is a very well-rated, healthy dry dog food offering quality animal protein sources (chicken, chicken meal, and dried egg). All meat is sourced in the USA or Canada. The recipe has outstanding customer reviews on Amazon.
KEY FEATURES of Purina Beyond Grain Free Dry Dog Food:
The grain-free and protein-rich "I and love and you” recipe by Naked Essentials offers high quality animal protein and nutrient-rich lentils, chickpeas and sweet potatoes instead of grains. No corn, wheat, rice or soy is used in any of the popular and highly rated "I and love and you”: Lamb + Bison, Salmon + Trout, and Chicken + Duck.
KEY FEATURES of Naked Essentials Grain Free Dry Dog Food:
Nutro's Wholesome Essentials Adult Dry Dog Food is a very high quality and well-rated dry dog food. Unlike some other dog foods on this list, Nutro uses only non-GMO ingredients. No chicken by-product meal, corn, wheat, or soy protein are ever used.
KEY FEATURES of Nutro Wholesome Essentials Adult Dry Dog Food:
Rachael Ray's Nutrish Natural Dry Dog Food is one of the most popular beef dry dog food recipes out there. The recipe offers quality animal protein sources including U.S. farm-raised beef (the #1 ingredient) and beef meal. Quality carbohydrates provide essential vitamins and wholesome fiber, while real fruits and vegetables are included for balanced nutrition.
KEY FEATURES of Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Dog Food:
Organix is known for their USDA organic and high quality dog food (scroll to #1 at the top of this article to see their #1 USDA organic dry dog food). The main ingredient in this recipe is organic, free-range chicken. Health-conscious dog owners favor using this organic canned dog food as a topper (i.e. combining it with a high quality dry dog food at meal time).
KEY FEATURES of Organix Castor & Pollux Organic Canned Dog Food:
Newman's Own Organic Chicken & Liver Canned Dog Food is a USDA certified organic and grain-free wet dog food offering complete and balanced nutrition. This particular recipe features organic chicken as the first ingredient and has no wheat, corn, artificial colors, or flavor enhancers.
KEY FEATURES of Newman's Own Organic Chicken & Liver Canned Dog Food:
Castor & Pollux's Pristine collection offers a very high quality selection of grain-free wet dog foods that pair nicely with Castor & Pollux's well-rated and popular Pristine grain-free dry dog food. Each recipe is high in quality animal protein, uses responsibly sourced ingredients, and made in the USA. Choose from Free-Rage Chicken, Free-Range Turkey, and Grass-Fed Lamb wet dog food recipes.
KEY FEATURES of Castor & Pollux Pristine Wet Dog Food:
Fresh and frozen dog foods like Pet Plate and The Farmer's Dog have grown in popularity over the past few years. Rather than feed their dog the same mass-produced dry food over and over, many dog food owners are now adding these freshly made, nutrition-dense meals to their dog's dinner bowl. Mike and I have tried many of the fresh and frozen dog food brands and recommend our favorites below.
What is the one downside of fresh and frozen dog foods? The cost. Like meal delivery services for humans, you are paying up for fresh, high quality ingredients that are packaged conveniently and delivered straight to your door in record time.
If you are looking to save a few dollars, a great way to combat the cost of fresh and frozen dog foods are to use them as a 'topper' on top of a high quality dry dog food. Mike and I often do this at home with Django to significantly extend the lifespan of each box. The best part? Django doesn't seem to notice - he's just happy to be getting fresh, homemade dog food in his dinner bowl!
The first time Django ate Pet Plate, he actually carried his dinner bowl out of the kitchen and into the living room so he could continue licking it. He had never done that before, and Mike and I took it as a VERY good sign.
There are a couple things Mike and I really respect about Pet Plate. Most importantly, the quality and nutritional value of Pet Plate ingredients stands out. Pet Plate's chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb are all high quality sources of protein from USDA-registered suppliers. All fruits and vegetables are flash-frozen, preserving higher nutritional value relative to dry dog food recipes. The second factor making Pet Plate a favorite in our household is convenience. Every Pet Plate box comes delivered to your door with pre-packaged frozen meal containers. Mike and I keep all the meals in our freezer until the day before we are ready to serve them to Django.
KEY FEATURES of Pet Plate:
Mike and I began feeding Django The Farmer's Dog recently after hearing endless positive praise about the dog food from our friends. We've had a great experience with the brand thus far, and Django seems to love The Farmer's Dog as much as he loves his Pet Plate.
Similar to Pet Plate, The Farmer's Dog delivers high quality, nutrition-dense, ready-to-eat frozen dog food meals. All three recipes offered (turkey, beef, and pork) are made in the USA with USDA-certified and human grade meats. High quality animal protein is always the first ingredient, and each recipe is complemented by nutrition-dense legumes, carbs and vegetables such as chickpeas, sweet potatoes, broccoli and carrots.
If you are looking for a more in-depth review of The Farmer's Dog, here is a more detailed account of our experience with the fresh dog food brand.
KEY FEATURES of The Farmer's Dog:
So which do we prefer... Pet Plate or The Farmer's Dog? In terms of ingredient quality and nutritional value, both brands fire on all cylinders. All animal proteins are high quality, USDA-certified, and human-grade. Every meal is made fresh, flash frozen, and delivered to your door within days of cooking. The ordering process is also similar across both brands. Both Pet Plate or The Farmer's Dog have intuitive online portals that make ordering a breeze.
Where the brands differ most is packaging and price. Regarding packaging, Mike and I like how The Farmer's Dog's thin pre-portioned sleeves take up very little room in our freezer and are incredibly easy to defrost. With that said, it can get messy when you cut open the sleeve and start squeezing out the food. There is no way to re-seal the sleeves either, which is a bit annoying. We usually open a sleeve and immediately squeeze the food into a sealable tupperware container so it stays fresh.
Unlike The Farmer's Dog meal sleeves which contain at most 1-2 days of food, Pet Plate meals come in bulkier plastic containers. Although we often run out of space in our freezer as a result, Mike and I do appreciate that the containers are resealable and obviously easy to use.
Mike and I are price-conscious shoppers, and this is where The Farmer's Dog has Pet Plate beat. Although weekly meal plan pricing will depend on your dog's size, it's clear that The Farmer's Dog is more affordable than Pet Plate. For Django, a 14lb long-haired dachshund, one week of Pet Plate currently costs us $40.09 while The Farmer's Dog costs us $29.78 per week. Given the brands' similarities in ingredient quality and convenience, and The Farmer's Dog's 35% cost saving is significant.
DON'T FORGET - Both Pet Plate and The Farmer's Dog offer substantial discounts on your first box (links above). Make sure to take advantage of these deals when ordering.
High quality and healthy dog foods use wholesome, natural ingredients and are processed to preserve the nutritional content of those ingredients. When considering a new dog food, start by simply reading the first few ingredients listed on the package. These ingredients are a good indicator of overall product quality.
The most important ingredient for dogs is high quality animal protein, so make sure a specified animal protein is listed first on the package, i.e. chicken, turkey, or lamb. Specified meat meal, i.e. chicken or lamb meal, is also quality protein and may be the first or second ingredient.
You should also read the ‘Guaranteed Analysis’ label. All dog food brands are required to list this breakdown of protein, fat, moisture, and fiber content. Dry dog food should offer a minimum of 18% protein for adults and 22% for puppies.
Next, see what sources of fat are used. Look for specifically-named animal fats like chicken fat and salmon oil. Healthy fats and oils such as omega-3 and -6 fatty acids in particular promote a healthy, shiny dog coat. You may see a plant-based fat as well, but make sure it is not the only source of fat.
Lastly, review the dog food’s carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential for energy - they are the body’s main source of fuel - and digestion. Look for whole grains like rice, oats, barley, potatoes, sweet potatoes and peas. These are healthy carbohydrates high in fiber. Avoid grain fragments and flours (i.e. rice flour) which lose most of their nutritional value during processing. Ingredients like rice flour and corn gluten are common ingredients in low-quality dog food brands and are used as cheap, incomplete protein sources.
Animal-based protein is the most important part of a dog’s diet. It is also the most expensive ingredient for dog food brands to source. The dog food you select should have one or two specifically-named meats at the top of the ingredient list (i.e. chicken, beef, turkey, duck).
In many cases, meat or fish meal (i.e. chicken meal; lamb meal; salmon meal) is used as the first or second source of protein. Meat meal is concentrated protein powder made by overcooking and essentially dehydrating (aka “rendering”) meat. Some forms of meat meal are good sources of protein. These include chicken meal, beef meal, lamb meal, duck meal, and venison meal. Steer clear of “by-product” meals and meals that do not specify which animal or fish it is made from. Examples are “animal meal”, “meat meal”, “animal by-product meal”, “fish meal”, and “meat and bone meal”. These types of meal are often made up of animal waste materials: heads, hooves, bones, etc.
Lower quality dog food makers will skimp on (or completely exclude) high quality animal protein sources and opt for subpar alternatives like “animal digest”, “animal by-products”, “animal fat”, unspecified meat meals, and even corn. Yep, you read that correctly… Many low quality dog food brands use corn and corn gluten meal to fulfill the required ‘protein’ content in their dog food.
There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to organic vs. natural dog food. And rightly so! Many dog food brands market themselves as “all natural” or having “100% natural” ingredients. This “natural” dog food must be incredibly healthy, right? Not so fast…
Dog food can only be labeled “organic” if every ingredient meets strict standards enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Natural”, on the other hand, is a vague term with no true definition enforced by the USDA. The phrases “natural”, “all natural”, and “100% natural ingredients” are widely used by dog food brands to suggest their food is unprocessed and made without artificial ingredients. This, however, is not always the case. What is more, “natural” does not apply to the way meat, eggs, and dairy are produced. In other words, “all natural” meat can come from cows or chickens that were given growth hormones, antibiotics, and forced to live in unsuitable, cramped quarters.
Organic meat, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones; the animals eat organic feed and must spend time outdoors without enough space to live comfortably. Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and ionized radiation.
Foods cannot be labeled “USDA Organic” unless (1) a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to ensure the farmer is meeting all required standards of the USDA, and (2) the contents of the food are at least 95% organic.
To confuse you further, some dog food brands market themselves with a "Made with Organic ***" label, i.e. “Made with Organic Corn”. This does not mean they are “USDA Organic” but rather contain organic forms of that one ingredient.
It depends. Some dog food brands that market themselves as “natural” are healthy options for your pet. Many of these dog foods are made with high quality ingredients and strictly avoid the use of preservatives, chemicals, and artificial ingredients. When we talk about "natural" dog foods here in this article, these are the products we are referring to. Unfortunately, there are many low quality dog food brands that market themselves as “natural” without adhering to any standards.
Because the term “natural” has no enforced definition, your best bet is to read the full ingredient list before purchasing any new dog food.
Not necessarily! While feeding your dog a 100% organic diet sounds ideal, it’s not always practical. Organic dog foods are often very expensive! Mike and I aim to feed Django an incredibly healthy diet, but we frankly can’t afford to follow the 100% organic route. Rather, we choose the highest quality and healthiest dog food brands we can find. We also frequently supplement Django’s dog food with high quality, human-grade sources of protein like organic egg, wild alaskan canned salmon, and fresh boiled chicken.
There is a lot of confusion around grain-free dog food. Is grain good for dogs? Bad? Does it cause heart disease? We’re here to set the record straight.
Grain-free dog food has grown in popularity over the past few years. Suddenly pet store shelves are overflowing with “grain-free chicken and egg” and “grain-free beef and lentil” dog food recipes.
Why the sudden surge in grain-free dog food? It started with humans…
These days, a gluten-free diet seems to be the most popular health trend in the United States. Dog food manufacturers saw that humans were increasingly choosing grain-free diets and figured dog owners would want a similar diet for their canine companions. This implies that humans believe (1) dogs are allergic to grains and/or (2) grain is bad for dogs. Neither of these are necessarily true.
Although dogs can have grain allergies, most do not. In fact, domesticated dogs have evolved over the centuries to properly digest grains and other starches like potatoes and rice. This means that the majority of dogs digest and receive nutritional benefits from grains. Assuming your dog does not have a grain allergy and you are already feeding him or her high quality food, there is no proven benefit to giving your dog grain-free food.
What about the recent headlines suggesting there is a link between grain-free dog food and heart disease?
There has recently been an increase in heart disease in dogs, and preliminary studies suggest diet may be a contributing factor. Specifically, it is thought that certain boutique dog food brands with exotic ingredients (i.e. kangaroo, fava bean, tapioca) do not provide proper nutritional levels and are ultimately leading to taurine deficiency in dogs. Taurine is an important amino acid, and a deficiency in taurine promotes heart disease.
What does this mean for you and how you select dog food?
First, refrain from buying dog food just because it looks fancy and claims to be "the best choice" for your pup. Unfortunately any dog food brand can make such unsubstantiated claims. The best approach is to understand what makes a healthy dog food and properly review the dog food's ingredients and nutritional label before pulling out your wallet. The FDA published a great resource on pet food labels.
Second, speak to your veterinarian. Your vet can analyze your dog’s diet and nutrition needs better than anyone. He or she will be able to confirm whether a grain-free diet is the best option for your dog. And if you have any questions about a particular dog food brand or recipe, take a screenshot of the nutritional label and show it to your vet before buying it.
Want to tell us your experience with one of these products? Have a dog food recommendation that we missed? Leave a comment below!
After living in NYC for many years, Mike and I (Steph) moved to Oregon in mid 2016 with our dog Django. October rolled around, and Mike and I began to understand why Portlanders call rain the "Portland mist". It seemed to drizzle and rain continuously. Unfortunately, this meant that by the end of every hike, Django would be cold and soaked with a mud-caked underbelly.
Our rainy adventures in the Pacific Northwest inspired us to design two performance dog coats built to withstand cold, rain, mud, and snow: DJANGO's Reversible Puffer Dog Coat and City Slicker All Season Dog Jacket.