If you feed your dog dry food, you’re not alone. Dry kibble is by far the most popular form of dog food in the world.
And because of that, there are endless options and brands to choose from. For you, the consumer, this offers a lot of positives but can also make the chore of choosing a new dog food very difficult.
To help you sort through the crowded world of dry dog diets, we’ll take a look at the benefits and faults of dry food, as well as the different types and qualities of food available. Then we’ll show you our top picks of the best dry dog foods on the market today.
The Benefits of Feeding a Dry Diet
There are more than a few reasons millions of people feed their dogs dry food as their main source of nutrition.
For one, it’s easy to buy in bulk. Canned food usually comes in pallets of 12oz cans that take up a lot of space. If you have a small dog, you’ll need room in the fridge to store any leftovers, and if you have a large dog, you’ll probably need to open multiple cans for every meal.
Frozen and freeze-dried diets may not be as bulky as wet food, but they are sold in much smaller quantities than dry food and feeding medium and large breed dogs means you’ll be purchasing multiple bags each month, if not more.
All those extra cans and bags of fresh food also come at a steep price compared to dry food. Even low-quality canned food will cost you more than a low-quality dry diet simply because of the cost of extra packaging.
Dry diets are also typically easier to store and feed than other types. You just need a bag clip and scoop and you’re in business.
Any other type of diet requires at least a little more work on your part, whether that’s breaking out the can opener, defrosting frozen patties, or mixing water with dehydrated powder.
When it comes to convenience and value to the owner, dry kibble will always be king.
The Down Side of Kibble
Unfortunately, dry food, in general, doesn’t always provide the same nutritional value to our dogs as other types of food.
Because dry food requires starch for processing, you can bet that there will be at least some low-nutrient carbs included in the recipe. More often than not, there are a LOT of carbs included.
That’s just one of the ways some companies keep the cost of dry kibble so low.
Speaking of processing, the heat and pressure used to turn a concoction of meat, fat, and starch into a small uniform piece of brown kibble have a significant effect on the nutrient profile of the food. And unfortunately for your pooch, that effect is a negative one, leading to lower nutrient levels and damaged amino acids.
But that doesn’t mean that you should overlook dry food altogether. After all, most owners have to find a compromise between feeding their dog the best possible diet for their health and happiness and finding a food that won’t bankrupt them or cost them all their free-time and storage space.
Choosing a high-quality dry diet made with the right ingredients is one way many owners achieve that compromise.
But, if you do want to explore some different types and forms of dog food, I would suggest you read our article on the best dog food to see what other options are available.
Different Dry Diet Designations
Before we look at the various ways to spot a less than quality dry food, let’s talk a little about the different designations dry food falls into.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in an industry so saturated with choices, marketers would find unique ways for their product to stand out. Some of these designations are important ones that you may want to consider for your dog, while others are empty words meant to drive up prices without adding quality.
By far, one of the fastest-growing designations in the dog food world is the grain-free diet. While this trend was born out of a good idea–trying to reduce the amount of unnecessary plant matter included in dog food–it has become an easy marketing ploy to overcharge unsuspecting customers.
Grain-free diets are made without grains like corn, wheat, and rice. Quality grain-free dry foods contain mostly meat ingredients with just enough starch to hold the recipe together during processing.
Lower quality grain-free diets, on the other hand, contain just as much potatoes, peas, tapioca, and legumes as a bargain brand does corn. These types of plant-sourced ingredients aren’t necessarily any better for your dog than ground grains, but they will cost you a lot more.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should necessarily avoid grain-free diets altogether. If your dog is allergic to or sensitive to grains, a grain-free diet is a must.
If not, you still want to choose the highest-quality diet with the most meat and least carbs for your budget. If you can find that, then the inclusion (or not) of grains makes little difference.
As more and more dogs develop allergies to common food ingredients, many companies have started producing lines of limited ingredient formulas. These foods usually contain only one or two meat ingredients, a few starches, and vitamins and minerals.
While all AAFCO approved limited ingredient diets are complete and balanced, even the quality ones rely heavily on synthetic vitamins and minerals because the whole-food ingredients are restricted.
If your dog has a food allergy and you can’t find a normal diet that does not include the ingredients they are sensitive to, a limited ingredient diet may be your only option. Make sure to choose one with quality meats to get the most out of the whole-food nutrients that are available.
If your dog does not have allergies, it is better to find a diet that contains multiple meats or rotate between flavors or brands so your dog is exposed to varying nutrient profiles.
Bags of dog food with claims of being all-natural is another growing trend in the industry. Foods labeled as being “natural” can’t legally contain any synthetic additives beyond what would naturally occur during processing, according to akc.org.
That means that you can be sure the food you’re buying doesn’t contain any questionable chemical preservatives, unnecessary food dyes, or other potentially harmful synthetic ingredients.
Since dogs tend to be more sensitive to these types of ingredients and since multiple studies have linked many chemical food additives to cancer and other adverse health effects, it’s not a bad idea to choose an all-natural food for your pet.
But do be aware that even food labeled as “all-natural” is allowed to contain synthetic vitamins and minerals. Nutrients made in a lab are less bioavailable for your dog’s system and don’t come packaged with naturally occurring enzymes and cofactors that are often necessary for the body to utilize them.
If this is a big concern for you, look for foods that contain only whole-food ingredients or extra power-packed superfoods in addition to plenty of fresh meat and organs.
Terms like “premium,” “quality,” and “holistic” are thrown around a lot on dog food labels. While they may conjure up thoughts of higher-quality food, the truth is these words are basically empty marketing terms.
There is no law or regulation dictating what foods can and can’t use these types of terms. While many of the best-rated dry dog foods contain descriptions like this, so do just as many low-quality bargain brands.
Organic is one labeling technique that is highly regulated. In order for a dog food to be considered fully organic, it must contain 95% or more organic ingredients.
But be aware that many companies will try to trick consumers by throwing this word into the title of the food or the description. A food labeled as “Organic Dog Food” is made with 95% organic ingredients while one labelled “Organic Chicken Recipe” may only include organic chicken while the remaining ingredients are not organic.
If you’re unsure of what exactly is organic about the food, check the ingredients list. Each ingredient that is organic will have the word “organic” printed before it.
While organic meats are raised without the use of added hormones or antibiotics and fed only organic feed, the term “organic” says nothing about the quality of the meat used or the way it was processed. Organic meats can still be made up of by-products and over-processed and organic carbs are still unlikely to provide may nutrients to your dog.
If buying organic is important to you, be aware that the word itself doesn’t define a food as being high quality. You will still need to examine the ingredients list and do more research to determine if you’ve found one of the best organic dry dog foods or just an overpriced gimmick.
Foods of all types can be further broken down into designations by breed, such as “large breed formula,” or age, such as “puppy recipe.”
AAFCO, the agency that regulates pet food, has certain nutritional standards that adult dog foods, all-life stages foods, puppy foods, and large breed puppy foods must meet to be labelled as such. Other labels, such as “small breed,” “large breed adult,” and “senior” have no specific definition and only need to meet the standards of a normal adult diet.
So, while getting a large breed puppy food for your great Dane pup is a must, getting a small breed food for your chihuahua might not actually be any different than a all-breed adult food. If the food you’re considering claims to be made for a specific type of dog, do further research to figure out if those claims make sense or if it is just a marketing ploy.
What to Avoid When Choosing a Dry Food
No matter what the marketing claims of a food are, they are only a small piece of the information you should consider when determining the quality of a dry diet.
Reading through the ingredients label, checking the guaranteed analysis, and looking for other clues listed on the packaging will help you get a better picture of if a food is right for your dog. Of course, with so many options out there, it is almost easier to spot a terrible food, than it is a quality one.
The first thing that should cross a food off your potential diets list, is poor quality meat. Dogs are built to get most of their nutrition from meat and fat.
In fact, if given enough quality organ meats, ground bone, and muscle meat in the right quantity, they have no need to consume hardly any plant matter at all. So it should be your first priority to find a dry food diet that contains nutrient-rich meat.
Always choose a food with a quality named meat ingredient listed first. Ingredients like “poultry meal” or “animal fat” are made from left-overs from the slaughterhouse floor and can’t be traced back to any one type of animal.
By-products, even when named, such as “chicken by-product meal,” are another ingredient to avoid. By-products may contain nutrient-rich organ meats not typically eaten by humans, but they can just as easily contain low-nutrient outcasts like feet and intestines.
Worse still are “digests.” These rendered slurries are made from a variety of sources including fresh road-kill, dead, dying, and diseased farm animals, and euthanized pets.
The best quality dry dog foods use named animal meats and meals. While meats such as “chicken” and “lamb” are fresher, meals such as “chicken meal” or “beef meal” are more nutrient-dense, though sometimes highly processed.
Too Many Plant Ingredients
While humans may need a heaping dose of whole grains, veggies, and fruits to stay healthy, dogs do not. And many dog foods utilize these cheaper plant ingredients to bulk up their formulas without adding much in the way of available nutrients.
Dogs’ teeth and stomachs were not made to digest plant cellulose and they struggle to extract nutrients from these plant-sourced foods.
Many dry dog food manufacturers will argue that the processing process makes it easier for dogs to utilize plant nutrients, but the fact is that dogs rely most on the nutrition provided by meat and fat. Not only do diets high in grain and starch not provide the right type of nutrition for dogs, but they also contain less meat.
There is also mounting evidence that too much fiber or starch in a dog’s diet can interfere with nutrient absorption. This problem is best highlighted in the most recent increase of taurine deficient DCM.
According to the Whole Dog Journal, it appears that certain elements of high starch and fiber diets, especially those containing legumes and potatoes, are contributing to taurine deficiency in dogs. Taurine is a readily available nutrient in meat, but when the ratio of meat to carbs is lower than it should be, dog’s can struggle to absorb, retain, and synthesize enough of the amino acid to stay healthy.
Look for foods that list multiple meats and meat meals in the first seven ingredients and be wary of any food that lists the same plant ingredient more than once, such as “peas, pea protein, and dried peas.” If weighed all together, that food would likely have more peas than any other ingredient listed.
Low in Protein or Too Low in Fat
Since dogs rely on nutrients extracted from protein and fat, it should come as no surprise that foods with too little of either ingredient should be avoided.
After you have read through the ingredients lists and found a food that contains quality meats and only a few added carbs, it’s time to look at the guaranteed analysis. Since dry dog food has little moisture, you can assume the percent listed is similar enough to the dry matter calculation that you don’t have to do the math.
Foods that contain less than 9% fat are considered “low fat” and should only be fed if your dog has a medical condition that restricts their ability to process fats or needs to lose weight. Most foods contain around 15%, while foods high in animal ingredients and puppy diets may contain closer to 25%.
Protein levels can vary widely between foods, but most commercial diets contain around 20%. Generally speaking, the higher the protein percentage, the more meat is included in the formula.
But do be aware that plant ingredients like peas and other legumes can raise the protein amount without adding much in terms of nutrients. If these ingredients are high on the list, you can assume that at least some of that total protein number is coming from low-quality sources.
Reviews of The Best Dry Dog Foods
#1. Instinct Be Natural Recipe Natural Dry Dog Food Formerly Prairie by Nature’s Variety
When it comes to the best natural dry dog food for the average pup, our first choice combines quality ingredients and a calorie-density perfect for most companion dogs, and a price point to fit most budgets. Instinct’s Be Natural Dry Food offers everything the typical dog needs.
This food comes in five flavors including a chicken puppy recipe. All flavors include two meat ingredients listed first and additional meat meals in the top seven ingredients.
Best of all, this food doesn’t try to disguise its recipe with tricks. All the plant ingredients, which include easy to digest grains like oatmeal and barley, are listed as single whole-foods and not split into multiple categories to lower their position on the list.
While this food does utilize synthetic vitamins and minerals, it also includes a number of nutrient-dense, whole-food ingredients like pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, and multiple freeze-dried organ meats.
The levels of macronutrients vary by flavor but all average about 25% protein and 14% fat. While these numbers are slightly lower than we would like to see, they do contribute to a lower calorie density that works well for most, less-active companion dogs.
Our biggest complaint about this food is that most flavors include peas high up on the ingredients list and this plant protein likely contributes some to the overall protein levels. However, given the low price point, this food is still a great option for owners looking for a quality diet with multiple meats that doesn’t cost a fortune.
#2. ORIJEN Dry Dog Food, Puppy
If you’re looking for the best dry dog food for puppies, you should consider our number two choice. Orijen’s Puppy formula is filled with whole-food ingredients and plenty of meat to help your puppy grow up strong and healthy.
What sets Orijen’s dog foods apart from many other natural brands is their exclusive use of whole-food ingredients including more than 20 listed animal ingredients like chicken, turkey, flounder, mackerel, and eggs. These nutrient-dense meats, along with superfoods like collard greens, spinach, juniper berries, and rosehips, add all the nutrients your growing pup needs.
But what really makes this the best dry puppy food is the high 38% protein and 20% fat to give your puppy the energy they need to explore their world and maintain a healthy weight.
Like our first choice food, this dry kibble includes an easy to read ingredients list without tricks or misleading foods. The bag even breaks down the amount of meats versus plant material, listing the animal-derived ingredients as 85% of the total.
This diet does include multiple legumes, but with all the meat they likely add little to the overall protein amount.
You can expect all this quality to cost you and this food runs at a premium.
#3. Crave Grain Free Adult Dry Dog Food With Protein
Our number three choice is perfect for owners looking for a protein-packed diet that won’t cost a fortune. Crave’s Grain-Free dry food uses multiple meat meals to boost the protein and nutrient content of this bargain food.
This diet is available in four flavors including chicken, beef, lamb/venison, and salmon/ocean fish. All flavors contain 34% protein and 17% fat, making this the best dry dog food for the money.
All recipes include the named meat ingredient and chicken meal as the first two ingredients with additional meats, like fish meal and pork meal, also listed high up.
Being a bargain brand, it’s not surprising that some of the protein also comes from legumes like chickpeas and split peas. This food also contains pea protein, a light, protein-packed powder that helps up the overall protein amount without adding much in terms of nutrition.
If you’re looking for the best dry dog food at PetSmart and other local retailers, this is one of the easiest to find and can even be found at most grocery stores.
#4. Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Grain Free Recipe Natural Dog Food & Toppers
If your dog suffers from a food allergy or has a sensitive stomach, feeding a limited ingredient diet can help relieve troubling symptoms like digestive upset and itchy skin. Instinct’s Limited Ingredient line includes quality ingredients in a truly limited form.
This food is available in four novel flavors including salmon, duck, turkey, and lamb. Each recipe contains the named meat and peas, tapioca, and vitamins and minerals.
While such a limited diet would not be appropriate for the typical dog, this diet can be a lifesaver if your dog has a long list of ingredients that cause problems. And with around 25% protein and 18% fat, this food will still provide your dog with sustained energy.
In addition to the synthetic vitamins and minerals, this food does contain some whole-food nutrient-dense ingredients like freeze-dried organs. Additionally, all flavors include a raw coating which not only boosts the nutritional profile but also makes this one of the best tasting dry dog foods on our list.
Like most limited ingredient diets, this one is a little pricey, but well worth it for the sensitive dog.
#5. Merrick Grain Free Healthy Weight Dry Dog Food Recipe
If you’re looking for the best diet dry dog food to help your four-legged-friend maintain their figure, Merrick’s Healthy Weight Diet may be the answer. This light food combines a low fat content with a high protein content to give your dog plenty of energy without overloading them on calories.
The first two ingredients in this food are deboned beef and chicken meal. The recipe also includes turkey meal and salmon oil.
Those meats help boost the protein percentage to 32%. But with a fat percentage of only 8%, this food maintains a calorie content that will help your dog lose weight.
Like many of the best dry dog food brands, this food contains some quality superfoods in addition to synthetic vitamins and minerals, including blueberries, apples, and flaxseed oil. Unfortunately, it also contains potatoes, peas, and potato protein which not only adds to the protein levels but also greatly increases the amount of starch.
What is the Best Dry Dog Food?
We looked at a huge variety of dog foods to try to answer the question of what is the best dry dog food on the market. In the end, we found a handful of quality diets, but only one that qualified as the very best dry dog food.
Instinct’s Be Natural food has a protein and fat content that is perfect for the average dog and uses quality ingredients that even the pickiest owners can get behind. And with quality meats and raw coating, you can trust your dog will get all the nutrition they need from this dry diet.
If you are looking for a dry kibble that’s perfect for your growing puppy or overweight dog, we’ve included great options for those dogs as well.
Considering that this food is priced at about mid-range, it is still a great choice for the pudgy pooch who needs to lose a few pounds.
Frequently Asked Questions
While dry dog food won’t spoil as fast as an open can of wet food or prepared freeze-dried food, it can still expire quickly if not stored properly. If you will go through a full bag of food within a few weeks of opening the bag, using a bag clip to keep airflow to a minimum is enough to keep the food fresh.
If, on the other hand, it will take a month or more to finish the bag, transferring it to an airtight container is a good idea. This is a good way to keep the food from going stale and preserving the nutrition in the food.
If you do use a separate container, make sure the container is completely clean and dry before filling it. Any moisture can cause dry food to mold, something that can lead to serious digestive upset for your dog.
Puppies require more calorie-dense nutrition than adult dogs because they are growing so fast. When choosing a dry food for your small or medium breed dog, a puppy specific formula is best, but a quality all life stages food can be a fine choice as well.
If you have a large breed puppy, you should choose a quality puppy food made specifically to meet the unique nutritional needs of a growing large breed pup. These pups can suffer from bone and joint problems if they grow too fast, so these diets help restrict growth while providing the right nutrition.
We did include our choice of the best puppy dry food above in our dry dog food reviews. Orijen also makes a large breed puppy food for dogs that will be over 70lbs at maturity.
If you’re wondering what’s the best dry dog food for dogs with dental issues or missing teeth, you may expect that a soft or moist food would be the answer. Unfortunately, these types of dog foods are notoriously poor quality and often include junk ingredients like corn syrup, soy oil, and flour.
Because dogs naturally gulp their food and rarely take the time to chew the kibble, many toothless dogs do just fine on a normal dry kibble diet, assuming the kibbles are small enough to swallow whole. If your dog suffers from dental pain, soaking the kibble in warm water for at least ten minutes before feeding it can help soften it up for your dog.
You may also want to consider switching your dog to a canned diet or soft freeze-dried or dehydrated diet, especially if they are struggling to eat or digest a kibble diet.
Summed Up: The Best Dry Dog Food
|Name||Instinct Be Natural||Orijen Puppy||Crave Grain-Free||Instinct Limited Ingredient||Merrick Healthy Weight|
|Features||Healthy meats and grains, affordable, average calorie-density||High protein, high fat, puppy specific nutrition, high in meat ingredients||High protein, affordable, grain-free, quality ingredients||Only one protein and carb, very limited ingredients, quality meats||Reduced calories, high protein, very low fat|