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The Best Organic, All Natural, and Grain-Free Dog Foods (2022 Reviews)

February 12, 2019 19 Comments

The Best Organic, All Natural, and Grain-Free Dog Foods (2022 Reviews)

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links. If you purchase an item, we may receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products we know and love, and all opinions expressed here are our own.

Updated February 2022

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).

     - Wet and Canned
     - Fresh and Frozen
          - Discount Code: 50% Off The Farmer's Dog coupon code
          - Discount Code: 50% Off Pet Plate coupon code

DJANGO's Top 5 Dog Foods of 2022

#1 Organix Castor & Pollux Grain Free Organic Small Breed Recipe


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:

  • #1 ingredient is organic free-range chicken
  • Made with probiotics and prebiotic fiber to support healthy digestion
  • Made with nutrient-rich superfoods including organic flaxseed, organic blueberries, and organic coconut oil
  • No chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, artificial preservatives, added growth hormones or antibiotics
  • USDA Organic and cooked in an organically certified USA kitchen
#2 Wellness Core Grain Free Dry Dog Food - Original Turkey & Chicken Recipe

Wellness Core Grain Free Dry Dog Food - Original Turkey & Chicken 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:

  • #1 ingredient is deboned turkey
  • Protein-focused recipe
  • Enhanced with antioxidents, omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and probiotics to support healthy digestion
  • No wheat, corn, soy, meat by-products, or artificial colors, flavors and preservatives
  • Made in the USA
#3 Instinct Be Natural Dry Dog Food by Nature's Variety - Salmon & Brown Rice

Instinct Be Natural Real Salmon & Brown Rice Recipe Natural Dry Dog Food by Nature's Variety

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:

  • #1 ingredient is wild-caught salmon
  • Made with high quality animal proteins and wholesome grains including brown rice, oatmeal and barley
  • Rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to promote a shiny coat and healthy skin
  • No chicken or poultry by-product meal, corn, wheat, soy, brewer's rice, artificial colors or preservatives
  • Made in the USA
#4 Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain Free Dry Dog Food - Salmon Recipe

Mike and I are personal fans of Blue Buffalo's Wilderness High Protein Grain Free Dog FoodDjango 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:

  • #1 ingredient is deboned salmon
  • Rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to promote a shiny coat and healthy skin
  • Enhanced with antioxidents, glucosamine, probiotics, and essential vitamins and minerals
  • No Chicken (or poultry) by-product meals, corn, wheat or soy
  • No artificial flavors or preservatives
#5 The Honest Kitchen Dehydrated Organic Dog Food - Free Range Chicken & Whole Grain Recipe

 The Best Organic, Natural, and Grain Free Dog Foods - Honest Kitchen Human Grade Dehydrated Organic Grain Chicken 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.

KEY FEATURES of The Honest Kitchen Dehydrated Free Range Chicken & Whole Grain Dry Dog Food:

  • #1 ingredient is dehydrated free range chicken
  • Largely organic recipe
  • Made with natural, human-grade ingredients
  • No GMO ingredients, by-products, or preservatives
  • Made in the USA in a human grade food processing facility


Organic, All Natural, and Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Castor & Pollux Pristine Grain Free Wild-Caught, Free-Range & Grass-Fed Protein Dry Dog Foods

The best organic and grain-free dog foods

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:

  • #1 ingredient is meat or poultry that is responsibly raised without antibiotics or hormones, or fish that is wild caught
  • No grain, corn, soy, wheat or gluten ingredients
  • Fruits and vegetables are grown responsibly without synthetic fertilizers or chemical pesticides
  • No artificial preservatives, flavors or colors
  • Cooked in the USA
Open Farm Grain-Free Turkey & Chicken Dog Food

The Best Organic and Natural Dog Foods: Open Farm Grain Free Turkey and Chicken Dry Dog Food

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:

  • First 2 ingredients are humane turkey and chicken, free from antibiotics
  • Non-GMO fruits and vegetables
  • No artificial flavors or preservatives
  • High in nourishing fish and coconut oils
  • Source of prebiotic fibres to support healthy digestion
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Dry Dog Food - Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe

best dog food brands - blue buffalo

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:

  • #1 ingredient is deboned chicken
  • Made with whole grains (brown rice, barley, oatmeal), vegetables, and fruits
  • No chicken or poultry by-product meals
  • No corn, wheat or soy
  • No artificial flavors or preservatives
Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain Free Natural Adult Dry Dog Food

Product Review - Blue Buffalo Grain Free Freedom 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:

  • #1 ingredient is deboned chicken
  • Balanced omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to promote a shiny coat and healthy skin
  • No chicken or poultry by-product meals
  • No corn, wheat or soy
  • No artificial flavors or preservatives
Taste of The Wild High Prairie Grain Free Premium Dry Dog Food with Roasted Bison and Venizon

Taste of the Wild Grain Free High Protein Real Meat Recipe High Prairie Premium 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:

  • #1 ingredient is buffalo
  • Proprietary probiotics support digestion and immune health
  • Dried chicory root added to promote healthy probiotic bacteria
  • No grain, corn, wheat, or fillers
  • No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives
Purina Beyond Grain Free Dry Dog Food - White Meat & Chicken Egg Recipe

Purina Beyond Grain Free White Meat Chicken & Egg Recipe Adult 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:

  • #1 ingredient is white meat chicken
  • No corn, wheat, or soy
  • No poultry by-product meal
  • No added artificial colors flavors or preservatives
  • Made in the USA
“I and love and you” Naked Essentials Grain Free Dry Dog Food

 "I and love and you" Naked Essentials Lamb & Bison, 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 + BisonSalmon + Trout, and Chicken + Duck.

KEY FEATURES of Naked Essentials Grain Free Dry Dog Food:

  • #1 ingredient is farm-raised lamb
  • No by-product meals, wheat, corn, soy, rice, artificial preservatives, flavors or colors
  • Prebiotics and probiotics to support digestive and immune health
  • Omega-3 and omega-6 flaxseeds & fish oils support fur coat healthy and encourage healthy skin
  • No corn, wheat, rice or soy
Nutro Wholesome Essentials Adult Dry Dog Food - Chicken, Brown Rice & Sweet Potato

Nutro Wholesome Essentials Adult Dry Dog Food Small Bites Farm-Raised Chicken, Brown Rice & Sweet Potato Recipe

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:

  • #1 ingredient is chicken
  • Made with non-GMO ingredients
  • Crafted with essential antioxidants, such as Vitamin E, for a healthy immune system
  • No corn, wheat, or soy protein
  • No artificial preservatives
Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Dog Food - Real Beef & Brown Rice Recipe

Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Dog Food, Real Beef & Brown Rice

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:

  • #1 ingredient is U.S. farm-raised beef
  • Natural prebiotics support healthy digestion
  • No artificial flavors or preservatives
  • No poultry by-product meal, filler, wheat, or wheat gluten ingredients
  • Added vitamins & minerals to provide balanced nutrition

Wet and Canned

Organix Castor & Pollux Organic Canned Dog Food

Best Dog Foods - Product Review - Castor & Pollux Organix Organic Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Wet 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:

  • #1 ingredient Is organic, free-range chicken
  • Superfood blend including organic flaxseed, organic blueberries, and organic coconut flour
  • No artificial preservatives, added growth hormones or antibiotics
  • No chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers
  • Cooked in an organically certified USA kitchen
Newman's Own Organic Chicken & Liver Canned Dog Food

Best Dog Foods - Product Review - Newman's Own Organic Canned Wet 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:

  • #1 ingredient is USDA organic chicken
  • USDA certified organic
  • Grain free (no wheat or corn)
  • No added antibiotics or chemical additives
  • Made in this USA
Castor & Pollux Pristine Free-Range and Grass-Fed Protein Wet Dog Food

Best Dog Food - Product Reviews - Castor & Pollux Pristine Wet 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:

  • #1 ingredient is chicken, organic turkey, or lamb (depending on the recipe)
  • Responsibly sourced, grain-free ingredients
  • No corn, wheat, or soy
  • No artificial flavors or preservatives
  • Cooked in the USA

Fresh and Frozen Dog Food

Fresh dog foods like The Farmer's DogPet Plate, and A Pup Above and have grown in popularity over the past few years. Rather than feed their dog the same mass-produced and highly processed 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 fresh dog food brands and recommend our favorites below.

What is the one downside of fresh dog food? 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 Farmer's Dog

DJANGO Product Review: The Farmer's Dog

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.

Here is a more detailed overview of The Farmer's Dog and a review of the fresh dog food brand based on our own personal experience feeding the food to our dog, Django:

DJANGO'S Farmer's Dog Food Review | Our Experience with the Fresh Dog Food Subscription Service

KEY FEATURES of The Farmer's Dog:

  • #1 ingredient is high quality animal protein
  • All meats are USDA-certified and human-grade (The Farmer's Dog actually tests its dog food meals on humans)
  • Food is delivered within days of cooking
  • No preservatives and formulated to AAFCO Standards
  • Pre-made and pre-portioned meal packs, which provide 1-2 days worth of meals, are exceptionally easy to defrost and take up little room in the freezer
A Pup Above
Our long-haired dachshund Django receiving his latest shipment of A Pup Above!

A Pup Above is a fresh dog food company that sends nutrient-packed meals straight to your door. It uses a sous-vide cooking method that locks in juices, protein, vitamins, and minerals. To sous vide cook its food, A Pup Above mixes together non-GMO veggies and all-natural meat. It then vacuum the food them into BPA-free packages and cooks them in 180°F water for more than 2 hours.

A Pup Above is also fully transparent when it comes to its ingredients and sourcing. Each 1 lb bag of A Pup Above has a lot number you can type into A Pup Above’s site to trace the origins and description of each ingredient (i.e., certified-human, no hormones/antibiotics added, non-GMO, and/or pesticide-free). This transparency is incredibly refreshing and unique to the broader dog food industry—most dog food brands never reveal food safety protocols and analyses, and many even try to hide the true sources of their ingredients.


Use discount code DJANGO25 to get 25% OFF your dog's first A Pup Above meal delivery when you subscribe. Simply enter the code at checkout, and the discount will be applied to your first subscription!

DJANGO's A Pup Above Fresh Dog Food Review | Our Personal Experience With the Sous-Vide Dog Food Subscription Service

KEY FEATURES of A Pup Above:

  • #1 ingredient is high quality, free-range, and certified-humane animal protein
  • Non-GMO and pesticide-free vegetables
  • A Pup Above’s sous-vide cooking method lets it pack in 72% more protein on average than its competitors
  • Full transparency when it comes to ingredients and sourcing
  • Packaging is 100% recyclable
  • Made in a manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas, USA
Pet Plate

Django absolutely loves his ready-to-eat Pet Plate meals

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.

DJANGO's Pet Plate Dog Food Review | Our Experience With this Fresh Dog Food Subscription Service

KEY FEATURES of Pet Plate:

  • #1 ingredient is high quality animal protein
  • All meats are USDA-certified and human-grade
  • Flash-frozen preparation preserves nutritional value of fruits and vegetables
  • Fresh, ready-to-eat, and convenient
  • Kettle-cooked and made in the USA in USDA facilities
Pet Plate vs. The Farmer's Dog: Which Do We Prefer?

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 - The Farmer's Dog, A Pup Above, and Pet Plate offer substantial discounts on your first box (links and discount codes above). Make sure to take advantage of these deals when ordering.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I identify the highest quality dog foods?

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.

Learn More: The Best and Worst Ingredients in Dog Food

What is the best protein source in dog food?

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.

Organic vs. Natural: What is the difference?

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.

What does “organic” actually mean?

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.

So are “natural” dog foods good or bad?

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.

Should I just purchase organic 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.

What about grain-free dog food? Is grain bad for dogs?

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.

Additional resources

Want to tell us your experience with one of these products? Have a dog food recommendation that we missed? Leave a comment below!

19 Responses


March 10, 2022

FYI The Honest Kitchen has Taurine (at least in the grain free fruit and veggie base mix) included for those concerned about grain free diets and FdA reports about heart disease

Sarah Mullins
Sarah Mullins

February 01, 2022

Thanks for the excellent article


February 10, 2021

@EVELYN It’s nice to hear from you! Given your chihuahua’s chronic health condition, please consult your veterinarian about the best dog food options for his or her health. While we recommend high quality dry dog foods and fresh dog foods like The Farmer’s Dog (our personal fresh dog food favorite) on Django Dog Blog, we are not veterinarians or canine health experts. We’d never want to recommend one food for your chihuahua if there’s another one better formulated for dogs with heart disease. Only a veterinarian can best advise you what is best for your little one given his medical condition. Best to you both <3


February 10, 2021

My dog is 12yrs old chihuahua with heart disease weighs 8lbs which food to choose


February 10, 2021

@SARA Thanks for the comment! So glad your pup loves Honest Kitchen.

Regarding healthy water options, Mike and I (Steph) give Django filtered water (the same water we ourselves drink) and also make sure to regularly wash Django’s water bowl with hot soapy water. We have both Brita and PUR water filters in our home. I honestly couldn’t tell you which is better (reviews seem split on which removes more waters contaminants). Either way, I think using a quality water filter is the simplest and most cost effective way of providing your pup with clean water. Happy to hear your view on this as well!


February 10, 2021

Honest Kitchen is the best, my dog looooooves this brand. You’d think it was fast food haha.
Love these articles, I’m always looking for ways to improve myself and my dogs health – I just actually bought my pooch a water filter fountain thingy ( and so far so good. Any chance you can do a review healthy water options?


February 10, 2021

@PETER Done! We recently published an article covering the best organic, all-natural, and grain-free dog treats. You can find the DJANGO Dog Blog post here:

There’s also a direct link to the article above under “Additional Resources”. Thanks so much for your booster recommendation!


February 10, 2021

If you can also cover healthy dog treats, would be wonderful. Great article. We tried several brands but our dog is a picky eater. We found that a chicken booster from Dogdeli does a trick. If anyone has a picky dog, should definitely try their booster.

February 10, 2021

hey awesome post thanks for sharing

Canine Concepts
Canine Concepts

February 10, 2021

Hi , thank you for sharing this . Indeed it’s a very useful article. Check it here for more organic and healthy food for your dog.


February 10, 2021

@TIANA Thank you! We’re glad you found this useful :)


February 10, 2021

Very interesting article! Thank for sharing it with your readers ;)


February 10, 2021

@SHARI STODDARD Hi Shari! Yes, the fresh and frozen dog food meals like Pet Plate, My Ollie, NomNomNow and The Farmer’s Dog are definitely more expensive than most packaged dry dog food meals. One solution is to use Pet Plate as a topper on your dog’s dry food. This extends the lifespan of each Pet Plate delivery and really brings down the cost per meal. Mike and I actually do this regularly — we’ll give Django half Pet Plate and half dry food for breakfast and dinner. Django doesn’t seem to mind when we do this either! If he gets any Pet Plate in his dinner bowl he’s a very happy little guy :) Steph


February 10, 2021

@CHRISTINE We haven’t come across Zignature but we will absolutely check them out. Thank you so much for the recommendation!

Shari Stoddard
Shari Stoddard

February 10, 2021

My dogs LOVED Pet Plate, but I could not afford it on senior disability. Would like to try Ollie, but $ is an issue right now. Have not heard any comments about Ollie yet.


February 10, 2021

Did you all look at any of the foods by Zignature? We put our wire hair on this brand after we found out she had some food allergies/sensitivities, as a positive side effect she has a beautiful coat and has maintained a healthy weight. My mom’s long hairs love it too!

Jenn H.
Jenn H.

February 10, 2021

My doggies already eat your #1 and #5 on your top food list Django ♡♡♡♡


February 10, 2021

They are finding a lot of dogs on the grain free diet are more prone to cancer and they think it is due to tourine deficiency. If the dog has a gluten allergy then that is fine although raw is better. I feed Proplan and my dogs do well. I give raw chicken on occasion.


February 10, 2021

The best kibbles I’ve come across are Fromm and Orijen. There’s also fresh dog food. Right now I’m using The Farmer’s Dog for Nora, and I can’t believe what a huge difference it makes over kibble. She’s lost weight, has more energy, and her dry skin is clearing up. Expensive though…

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