The best dry dog food 2023, according to veterinarians
When it comes to choosing between wet and dry dog food, you and your pup’s personal preferences play a big role. Both wet and dry food options can be good nutritional choices for your dog. However, they each come with pros and cons, said Dottie Laflamme, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, an independent consultant of animal nutrition. Dry dog food is convenient, cost effective and can benefit oral health when formulated for dental care. However, canned food provides significantly more moisture than dry food, so talk with your veterinarian if your dog has any conditions that might benefit from a moisture-rich diet.
While ingredient lists are informative, Laflamme said the quality of dog food is primarily determined by four factors: palatability as determined by your dog, a complete and balanced recipe, affordability and whether the food meets your veterinarian’s approval based on your dog’s nutritional needs.
To help narrow down the list of quality dry foods for your dog, we spoke with Laflamme and a professor of clinical veterinary sciences. They share valuable insights into choosing the most appropriate food for your dog, like how to identify a complete and balanced quality recipe. Plus, we’ve included the tried-and-true foods veterinarians feed their own canine companions.
SKIP AHEAD Best dry dog food to consider this year | How to shop for the best dry dog food
Our top picks
How we picked the best dry dog food
While comparing dozens of dry dog foods being offered on the market today, our experts recommended keeping the following factors in mind:
Breed size: To ensure your dog gets the nutrients they need, it’s important to purchase the appropriate food for their life stage and breed size, which can be categorized into three stages: growth, all life stages and adult maintenance.
AAFCO statement: If a dog food is labeled with a statement saying it meets the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommendations through formulation or food-trial testing, it means that it contains all the necessary nutrients for your dog’s dog’s life stage, ensuring a complete and balanced diet.
Nutritional guidance: A recipe created with the guidance of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist is more likely to provide the appropriate nutrients for your dog’s age and breed size, rather than relying on marketing tactics.
Price: Nutritious dog food can be found at any price point, so we considered a range of quality options at various price points.
Best dry dog food to consider this year
The following highly rated dry dog foods share two important considerations: They meet or exceed the nutritional recommendations set by AAFCO and are formulated with the oversight of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. These factors ensure that your dog is getting the right nutrients for their age and breed size. However, you should always check with your dog’s veterinarian first about your dog’s specific dietary needs in conjunction with age to get an expert read on any dietary needs or restrictions.
Best dry dog food for small-breed puppies: Hill’s
Hill’s Science Diet Puppy
Puppies require more calories per pound of body weight than adult dogs to fuel their growth and active lifestyles. AAFCO recommends that puppy food should include 22% protein and 8% fat, in addition to other important vitamins and nutrients for growth.
According to Laflamme, Hill’s is a trustworthy brand that delivers quality pet food to pet parents and their pups, and Hill’s Science Diet’s dog food for puppies is no exception. It’s packed with the nutrients your puppy needs for a healthy start to life, like calcium and phosphorus to help build strong bones and teeth, and the omega fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to support healthy brain and eye development. Plus, the formula contains antioxidants along with vitamins E and C to support your puppy’s developing immune system.
Best dry dog food for adult small breeds: Royal Canin
Royal Canin Small Breed Adult Dry Dog Food
Laflamme recommended Royal Canin for their peer-reviewed research, owned facilities and well-regarded reputation among pet parents and veterinarians. Shari Uyehara, Select’s manager of editorial operations, is a Royal Canin fan, too. Her breeder recommended Royal Canin Small Breed Adult Dry Dog Food, and her pup Loki, a 1-year-old cavalier King Charles spaniel, loves eating it.
It’s no wonder Loki enjoys this recipe. According to the brand, they increased palatability by sourcing ingredients that dogs crave, like chicken and chicken fat. The protein-packed recipe also means it can help maintain lean muscle mass that’s appropriate for small breeds.
Best dry dog food for large-breed puppies: Wellness
Wellness Complete Large Breed Puppy
When allowed to overeat, large-breed puppies tend to grow too quickly, Laflamme said. If a puppy grows too quickly, their bones might not be able to keep up. This puts them at risk of developing orthopedic or skeletal issues. “One of the best ways to prevent this from happening is by keeping your growing large breed puppy lean, limiting the amount of food they’re allowed to have and feeding them a diet specifically formulated for growing large breed puppies,” she said.
Large-breed formulas that meet AAFCO’s nutritional adequacy recommendations have all the protein and minerals your puppy needs, but with fewer calories. Wellness Complete Large Breed Puppy contains 367 calories per cup, which includes protein from deboned chicken and chicken meal as well as energy-rich carbohydrates like brown rice and oats. The formula incorporates glucosamine, which helps maintain joint health and is particularly beneficial for large-breed dogs.
Best dry dog food for adult large breeds: Merrick
Merrick Healthy Grains Large Breed
Most large-breed dogs are no longer considered puppies when they reach about two years of age. However, this can vary depending on the individual dog and when they stop growing. During this period, Laflamme recommended two options for transitioning your dog to a formula suitable for adult dogs: either switch to an all life stages food that provides nutrients for both puppies and adults, or switch to an adult formula which is not suitable for a growing puppy.
This adult formula from Merrick is made in small batches in Merrick’s Hereford, Texas, kitchen. It’s packed with omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which means it’s specially formulated with glucosamine and chondroitin to support healthy hips and joints. It also contains L-Carnitine, a supplement that helps to keep your gentle giant lean.
Best dry dog food for weight management: Purina
Purina ONE + Plus
The feeding instructions on the back of the kibble bag are merely a guide, Laflamme said. Your veterinarian is the best resource for determining the appropriate number of calories your dog should eat. Between veterinarian visits, Laflamme suggested monitoring your dog’s body condition using the nine-point scale based on observation and physical touch. Give your dog a “healthy hug”: standing above your dog, put your thumbs over the backbone and fingers over the ribs. Gently move your hands from front to back. If you can easily count and feel your dog’s ribs, they are likely a healthy weight.
If you and your veterinarian determine your dog is overweight, your veterinarian may suggest a reduction in calories or a weight management diet, such as the Purina ONE Weight Control formula. It’s the recipe Laflamme feeds her own dogs and is part of Purina’s budget line. Purina ONE is a quality choice for dogs who need help managing their weight. However, if pet owners want to add probiotics and more natural ingredients to their dog’s diet, a slightly pricier alternative is available from Purina, Purina Pro Plan Weight Management. While it may cost a bit more, Select’s associate updates editor Zoe Malin reports that her 100-pound yellow lab, Chance, remains healthy and happy eating this formula.
Best dry dog food for sensitive stomachs: Instinct
Instinct Original Grain-Free Recipe with Real Rabbit
Many pet food diets are touted as grain-free, meaning they don’t contain common carbohydrate grains, like wheat, rice and barley. According to our experts, unless your pup has a gluten intolerance, grain-free diets aren’t known to provide additional benefits when compared to other complete and balanced foods. Unlike their gray wolf ancestors, there’s evidence that domestic dogs are perfectly able to digest carbohydrates, explained Jonathan Stockman, DVM, DACVIM, assistant professor of clinical veterinary sciences at Long Island University College of Veterinary Medicine.
A novel protein or limited-ingredient diet may relieve your dog’s symptoms if they have a food intolerance or a true food allergy. This option from Instinct uses novel rabbit as its protein source and leaves out any ingredients that include corn, wheat and soy. Additionally, probiotics and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids soothe the digestive tract, skin and any lingering inflammation.
Best plant-based dry dog food: Wellness
Wellness CORE Digestive Health Plant & Egg Based Dry Dog
Today’s domestic pups descend from the gray wolf, but our little chihuahuas aren’t miniature wolves, Laflamme said. While dogs need protein for essential amino acids, they don’t require meat for amino acids like taurine. This makes dogs omnivores; they can get all the nutrients they need from plant or animal sources.
Rather than meat protein, Wellness dog food includes plant-based protein, like oats, peas and barley. It also includes beneficial omega fatty acids from marine microalgae oil rather than fish. Veterinary nutritionists at Wellness ensure a complete and balanced meal for your dog, whether your dog has food allergies, or you want to reduce your carbon footprint.
Best budget-friendly dry dog food: IAMS
IAMS Adult Minichunks
When it comes to dry dog food, there is often a wide range of options available to pet parents with varying price points. For those on a budget, dry dog food options may incorporate byproducts that help to keep the cost down. “Byproducts are ingredients that are not typically used for human consumption,” Stockman explained. It’s not because the ingredients aren’t nutritious, but it might include meat that isn’t visually appealing or internal organs that aren’t culturally accepted as a food source. Byproducts are a great source of vitamins and minerals for dogs, and from a sustainability standpoint, using byproducts also helps to reduce food waste, Stockman said.
Established in 1946 by animal nutritionist Paul Iams, IAMS has been a longtime trusted pet food brand conveniently found in local grocery stores. Their recipe offerings are diverse, and IAMS Adult Minichunks is a standout choice due to its high-quality protein sources, such as lamb, chicken and whole-grain barley. The recipe also contains a blend of fibers and prebiotics to promote a healthy digestive system.
How to shop for the best dry dog food
There’s a lot to consider when buying the best food for your dog, said our experts, adding that most of it comes down to you and your dog’s personal preferences as well as your dog’s life stage and breed size.
- AAFCO is a non-profit group that establishes nutritional guidelines for pet food based on life stages. Although AAFCO doesn’t approve or regulate pet food formulas, pet food companies that include an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement conduct thorough testing to ensure their food meets AAFCO nutritional standards for safety and quality.
- Growing puppies require food formulated for growth, which is labeled as growth or all life stages. Food labeled with an AAFCO statement for all life stages meets the minimum nutritional requirements for both puppies and adult dogs. Despite containing a higher level of protein, fats, and other nutrients essential for adult dogs, it can be fed to dogs at any life stage. Food for puppies must include a minimum of 22% protein and 8% fat, in addition to other important vitamins and nutrients, like DHA, calcium and phosphorus.
- Adult dogs require food formulated for maintenance, or they can eat food labeled as all life-stages. Maintenance dog food must include a minimum of 18% protein and 5% fat.
- To meet the unique growth patterns and health needs of small- and large-breed puppies and adult dogs, our experts suggested feeding according to breed size.
- A recipe developed with the guidance of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist ensures the recipe has been formulated with the necessary nutrients for your dog’s age and breed size.
- According to our experts, price doesn’t always equate with quality. Therefore, you should consider a range of quality options across various price points.
What is the best dry dog food vets recommend?
According to our experts, the best dry dog food is the one that is palatable to your dog and meets AAFCO’s nutritional guidelines for their life stage. It should also be affordable and approved by your veterinarian based on your dog’s nutritional needs. Meat doesn’t need to be the primary ingredient in food, as dogs are omnivorous and can get the necessary amino acids from plant-based sources. Unless your dog has an allergy or intolerance, grain-free dry food isn’t necessary.
Is dry food best for dogs?
Both complete and balanced wet and dry dog food formulas can be nutritious choices for your dog, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Dry food is a convenient and cost-effective option for pets, and certain dental diets approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council can also promote oral health. However, if your dog could benefit from a moisture-rich diet, canned food is a better option. Consult your veterinarian if your dog has any conditions such as renal disease that can benefit from a moisture-rich diet.
Is dry food healthy for puppies?
If labeled with the AAFCO statement for puppies (growth) or all life stages, dry dog food is a healthy option for your puppy. This statement means that the recipe meets or exceeds AAFCO’s recommended nutritional requirements for growth, which include an appropriate balance of protein (minimum 22%), fat (minimum 8%) and vital vitamins and minerals, such as DHA and calcium. Laflamme added that it’s crucial to choose a recipe based on your dog’s breed, as large- and small-breed puppies have distinct growth patterns and, as a result, differing calorie needs.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dottie Laflamme, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, is an independent consultant of animal nutrition. She formally work for Purina’s Research and Development team until her retirement in 2015.
- Jonathan Stockman, DVM, DACVIM, is an assistant professor of clinical veterinary sciences at Long Island University College of Veterinary Medicine. He is also a veterinary consultant for Petco but does not receive financial compensation to recommend any brands.
Why trust Select?
Janelle Leeson is a Portland-based freelance writer who holds a bachelor of science degree in biology. Her approach to pet-care writing and reporting is rooted in scientific principles that consider a pet’s biological need for play, proper nutrition and environmental enrichment.For this piece, Janelle interviewed two experts who specialize in veterinary nutrition. She also researched dozens of dry dog foods on the market that met criteria based on our experts’ insights. She included dry dog foods recommended by experts, along with those that are highly rated and meet expert shopping guidance.
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