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The Ultimate Guide to 2021’s Best Dog Food

Writer, Proud Dog & Cat Mom | + posts

Randa is a writer & former assoc. digital content editor at the American Kennel Club. She's also mom to 1 Corgi & 2 orange cats.

Dogs show us they love us in so many ways: a wet-nosed kiss, a snuggle on the couch, or an endless game of fetch. As dog owners, we can show them how much we care in a number of different ways too. One of the most important ways? Choosing the right dog food.

Finding the right diet for your dog helps ensure they get the nutrients they need to stay healthy – and live a long and happy life. With all of the dog food brands on the market, however, picking the best one for your pup isn’t always simple, especially when dogs have different nutritional needs based on age, size, and health issues.

Here, we’ve compiled a list of the 20 best dog foods, why we like them, and where you can get them. Plus, we’ll tell you what to look for when trying to choose the right food for your favorite canine.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links at no additional cost to you. We may earn commissions from Amazon or other vendors through these links. As an Amazon Associate, Pumpkin earns commissions from qualifying purchases.

Our Dog Food Picks

Best Overall: Taste of the Wild Dry Dog Food (multiple recipes)

It’s hard to compare the nine different recipes that Taste of the Wild offers with their dry dog food — including one recipe for puppies and one for small breeds. Each of the other seven recipes, however, is formulated specifically for the nutritional needs of adult dogs.

With Taste of the Wild dry dog food, the first ingredient is always real meat, no matter which recipe you choose. The Wetland Canine Recipe, for example, includes duck, duck meal, chicken meal, sweet potatoes, and peas as the first five ingredients.

And, if your dog is particular about their preferred flavor of kibble, you have multiple combinations to choose from (e.g. roasted fowl, wild boar, smoked salmon, etc). You’re bound to find something they’ll love.


Best for Puppies: Wellness Complete Health Puppy

The Complete Health Puppy dry food from Wellness offers a balance of nutrients to support your puppy’s growth and development during this crucial life stage. This food starts with deboned chicken as its first ingredient and follows with chicken meal, oatmeal, ground barley, and peas.

Wellness’s Complete Health Puppy food also includes salmon, salmon oil, and tomatoes. Salmon is a natural source of vitamins, minerals, and omega fatty acids; salmon oil is a natural source of DHA, which supports brain and eye development; and tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C.

In addition to these ingredients, this puppy food provides calcium and phosphorus for bone growth, vitamin A and calcium for healthy teeth and eyes, and other omega fatty acids for healthy skin and a clean coat.

Plus, if you want to keep your puppy eating the same dog food brand as they grow older, Wellness offers a variety of options for adult dogs, including grain-free options, large breed options, small breed options, and more.


Best for Seniors: Purina Pro Plan Adult 7+ Bright Mind

Just like puppies need a diet that promotes their growth and development, senior dogs can benefit from a diet that supports their bodies and minds as they age. The Purina Pro Plan Adult 7+ Bright Mind Chicken and Rice Formula is a dry food designed specifically to promote alertness and mental sharpness in older dogs.

This food contains a proprietary blend of brain-supporting nutrients, including DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, B vitamins, and arginine. It also includes glucosamine, which is great for promoting joint health and mobility in senior dogs.

Chicken is the first ingredient in the Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind dry dog food, followed by poultry by-product meal, rice, and whole-grain corn. This Purina recipe also includes probiotics for digestive health, as well as vitamin A and omega-6 fatty acids that nourish the skin and coat.

And, though this is the standard Bright Mind formula, Purina does offer this senior dog food in other varieties, including wet food, large breed formula, and small breed formula.


Best Dry: Orijen Dry Dog Food

Made with 85% high-quality animal ingredients, two-thirds of which are fresh or raw poultry and fish, it’s hard to do better than Orijen’s Original recipe when it comes to dry dog food options. This is a high-protein dog food designed to “mirror the diet your dog would eat in nature.”

The Orijen Original recipe includes six different types of animal ingredients, including chicken, turkey, flounder, cage-free eggs, mackerel, and herring. The first ingredient in this formula is deboned chicken, followed by deboned turkey and Atlantic flounder. The food is also coated with freeze-dried liver for additional flavor for your dog.

Orijen’s Original dry dog food does not include any added animal meals, but its high-quality ingredients do offer a strong source of vitamins and minerals (as well as protein). This food provides omega fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus, glucosamine, and probiotics.


Best Wet: Merrick Grain-Free Wet Dog Food (multiple recipes)

Merrick’s Grain-Free wet dog food is available in an impressive 33 different recipes, including two designed exclusively for puppies. These recipes range from the standard “real chicken dinner” to the more fun and creative “sweater weather supper seasonal recipe.” Regardless of the recipe, however, all of these wet food options are grain-free and made with locally sourced, high-quality ingredients.

With the real chicken dinner recipe, for example, the food is 96% protein from animal sources, with chicken as the first ingredient. This wet food also contains chicken broth, chicken liver, salmon oil, and other ingredients to provide the vitamins and minerals dogs need.

Plus, this variety of Merrick’s Grain-Free wet dog food has no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or by-products.

Of course, the specific ingredient list will vary based on the recipe, but all of these grain-free Merrick wet food options are great as an add-on to kibble or as an alternative for dogs who don’t like or can’t eat dry food.


Best Grain-Free: American Journey Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

American Journey is a grain-free dog food that is a great option for canines with food sensitivities. This formula is high protein and free of corn, soy, and wheat – helping dogs with food sensitivities avoid fillers that might upset their stomach.

American Journey’s grain-free dog food is available in five recipes: salmon, chicken, lamb, beef, and duck – all mixed with sweet potato. So, no matter which protein you choose, this food contains:

  • Sweet potatoes as a source of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for quick energy
  • Blueberries for vitamins C and E, antioxidants, and fiber to support the immune system and urinary tract health
  • Kelp for natural minerals to promote immune health and help the skin and coat shine
  • Carrots for fiber, minerals, and a natural source of beta-carotene

Again, these high-quality fruits and veggies are combined with your protein of choice. This protein offers amino acids for muscle support, as well as salmon oil for omega fatty acids.

For dogs with greater food sensitivities, American Journey also offers a line of limited-ingredient dry dog food. It’s important to note, however, that this pet food brand is only available at Chewy.com and PetSmart.


Best Organic: Castor & Pollux ORGANIX Grain-Free Organic Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe

Castor & Pollux is one of the most well-known brands in organic pet foods. Their ORGANIX Grain-Free Organic Chicken and Sweet Potato Recipe is a dry dog food that is USDA organic – with ingredients that are produced without chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, artificial preservatives, added growth hormones or antibiotics.

This food contains no corn, wheat, or soy, and has organic chicken as its first ingredient. Castor & Pollux ORGANIX recipe contains a blend of superfoods – including organic flaxseed, blueberries, and coconut oil – as well as omega-6 fatty acids to promote a healthy skin and coat.

It also contains veggies like sweet potatoes and peas, plus a range of vitamins and minerals. It’s suitable for dogs of all life stages.


Best Canned: Canidae All Life Stages Multi-Protein Canned Formula

Canidae All Life Stages Canned Formula offers a recipe that can meet the nutritional needs of dogs young, old, and in between. This food contains chicken, lamb, and fish for optimal protein and is simmered in broth, making it an ideal wet food.

In addition to its protein ingredients, Canidae’s All Life Stages canned food also includes brown rice, barley, cranberries, and dried kelp. This food offers a range of vitamins, amino acids, and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. It has no fillers, corn, wheat, or soy.

Canidae’s All Life Stages is one of the best dog foods for multi-dog households that don’t want to worry about changing foods for dogs of different ages, breeds, or sizes.


Best Raw: Instinct Raw Bites

Instinct makes it simple for you to feed your dog raw food safely – they offer frozen recipes that you store in the freezer until it’s meal time. Their Instinct Raw Bites are available in three recipes – chicken, beef, or lamb – all of which are never cooked, 100% raw, and minimally processed.

Each recipe consists of 85% protein and 15% veggies, fruits, and other ingredients. Instinct Raw Bites never contain artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, and generally have limited ingredients. Plus, this raw food has no grain, corn, wheat, soy, or fillers.

Instead, Instinct Raw Bites contain natural oils, omega fatty acids, as well as whole-food ingredients that support digestion.


Best for Small Breeds: Nulo Freestyle Small Breed Dog Food

Nulo’s Freestyle Small Breed Dog Food is designed to meet the unique dietary needs of smaller dogs, accounting for their higher metabolism and increased energy levels. This food contains high quality protein from turkey, lamb, and salmon, as well as other ingredients such as red lentils, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, blueberries, tomatoes, carrots, and apples.

This Freestyle recipe is grain-free, with no white potatoes or tapioca, has no egg or chicken proteins, and is low in carbohydrates. Beyond its protein, fruits, and vegetables, this food supports the growth and activity level of small breed dogs with probiotics, amino acids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and vitamins C and E.

Nulo also formulates the Freestyle blend with a smaller kibble size to promote proper chewing in smaller dogs.


Best for Large Breeds: Wellness CORE Large Breed

Wellness’s CORE Large Breed recipe is crafted to support the dietary and nutritional needs of large breed dogs. This formula has higher levels of protein, glucosamine, and chondroitin to promote strong muscles and healthy joints. This recipe is also grain-free, with a larger kibble size to help encourage proper chewing.

The Wellness CORE Large Breed food contains deboned chicken as the first ingredient, followed by chicken meal, turkey meal, lentils, and peas. It also contains superfoods like spinach and flaxseed.

Of these ingredients, the chicken is a high-quality source of protein and fatty acids, the spinach is a great source of magnesium and iron, and the flaxseed is rich in omega-3. This recipe also offers probiotics to promote digestion, as well as optimal calorie levels to help your dog maintain a healthy weight.


Best Human Grade: Spot and Tango

Spot and Tango is a dog food subscription service that allows you to build a customized meal plan based on your dog’s needs. You have the option to choose from two formats – UnKibble and Fresh – both of which are made with 100% fresh, human-grade ingredients and contain no artificial preservatives, fillers, or additives.

Spot and Tango’s UnKibble comes in three different recipes, Duck and Salmon, Beef and Barley, and Chicken and Brown Rice. Unlike traditional kibble, UnKibble is not extruded (i.e. air-popped). Instead, it’s gently dried using Spot and Tango’s own process. Their recipes contain no meat meals and they’re GMO and hormone-free. Plus, their Duck and Salmon and Chicken and Brown Rice recipes are both gluten-free.

Their Fresh recipes are also available in three varieties: Turkey and Red Quinoa, Beef and Millet, and Lamb and Brown Rice. All three of these formulas are gluten-free, non-GMO, and have a limited ingredient list. They contain a range of natural ingredients, including fruits and veggies like spinach, carrots, cranberries and blueberries.

And, whether you choose the UnKibble or Fresh format, Spot and Tango’s recipes are formulated to meet the dietary needs of both puppies and adult dogs.


Best Fresh and All Natural: Ollie

Ollie is another dog food subscription service where you can customize your dog’s diet plan by providing information about them – like their age, weight, breed, and allergies. Ollie will help you pick the right recipes and ship the food to your door on a regular schedule, providing a feeding guide to help you ensure that your dog is getting the proper food portions.

Ollie’s food is made from unprocessed, all natural ingredients. The recipes are 100% human-grade with no preservatives, fillers, added hormones, or antibiotics. You can choose from four different fresh formulas – chicken, beef, turkey, or lamb – each of which is high in protein and contains superfoods like chia seeds, blueberries, cranberries, cod liver oil, spinach, or kale.

Additionally, for dogs with food sensitivities, the chicken recipe has a limited ingredient list, containing peas, carrots, and rice – making it gentle on sensitive stomachs and great for weight management. And, if you’re looking for grain-free, you can opt for either the beef or turkey recipes. 


Best Budget: Nutro Ultra Dry Dog Food

There’s no doubt that some dog food brands are more expensive than others, so if you’re looking for a great food that’s a little more budget friendly, Nutro’s Ultra is a top option. 

This recipe starts with real chicken as the first ingredient and follows with additional high-quality protein from lamb and salmon. Healthy carbohydrates come from whole brown rice and brewers rice, and the formula offers a blend of 15 superfoods, including coconut, chia, kale, and blueberries.

All of these ingredients offer a range of nutrients, vitamins, and amino acids that adult dogs need in a balanced diet. Plus, Nutro’s Ultra recipes have no chicken by-product meal, corn, wheat, or soy protein, as well as no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.

And, while this recipe is designed for adult dogs, Nutro offers their Ultra formulas for puppies, small breed dogs, large breed dogs, senior dogs, and more.


Best for Sensitive Stomachs: Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Dog Food

This Hill’s Science Diet formula supports dogs with sensitive stomachs, while also nourishing their skin and promoting a healthy coat. This recipe contains prebiotic fiber to support gut bacteria and a balanced microbiome, it has highly digestible ingredients for optimal nutrient absorption, and it includes vitamin E and omega-6 fatty acids for skin nourishment.

Hill’s Science Diet Sensitive Stomach contains natural ingredients, as well as added vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Its first ingredient is chicken, followed by brewers rice, chicken meal, and yellow peas. The recipe also contains brown rice, flaxseed, apples, carrots, and cranberries – and does not contain chicken by-product meal.


Best for Allergies: Canidae PURE Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

A limited-ingredient diet can be helpful for dogs with allergies, which is why Canidae’s PURE Grain-Free Dry Dog Food is a great option. This recipe only contains eight key ingredients, keeping it simple and healthy without additives – plus, it’s grain-free.

Canidae’s PURE Grain-Free recipe is available in six different proteins: salmon, lamb, duck, boar bison, or chicken. But regardless of the protein you choose, you’ll receive other healthy ingredients like sweet potatoes, peas, canola oil, and alfalfa.

Each recipe includes probiotics that support healthy digestion, as well as antioxidants that promote a healthy immune system and omega-6 and 3 fatty acids for a healthy skin and coat. Plus, there are no fillers like corn, wheat, or soy, and Canidae’s Pure line is available for all life stages and sizes (including puppies, adults, seniors, and small breeds).


Best for Urinary Health: Royal Canin Urinary SO Dry Dog Food

If your dog has urinary health concerns, Royal Canin offers a veterinary-exclusive dry dog food that supports urinary tract and bladder health. This food is designed to help dilute excess minerals that can cause urinary crystals and bladder stones. It also can help dissolve stones and prevent them from reoccurring.

Royal Canin’s Urinary SO food is enriched with antioxidants, has controlled levels of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, and promotes an optimal urinary pH. Its ingredient list starts with brewers rice and corn, but also contains chicken fat, chicken by-product meal, and fish oil, among other ingredients.

It’s important to note that this food does require veterinary approval, so you’ll need a prescription if you want to order it online from a retailer like Amazon or Chewy. 


Best for Weight Loss: Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Healthy Weight

For dogs that need a food designed for weight management, Blue Buffalo offers their healthy and holistic Life Protection formula. This recipe is formulated without extra calories from fat to help your dog maintain a healthy weight.

The Life Protection Formula for Healthy Weight starts with deboned chicken that supports muscle development and energy and follows with whole grains, fruits, and veggies. This recipe contains barley and brown rice for B-vitamins and minerals, as well as high-quality carbohydrates for energy and fiber. It also contains cranberries, blueberries, and carrots for vitamins and antioxidants.

In addition, Blue Buffalo’s Life Protection formula includes L-carnitine, an amino acid that helps support a healthy weight. This food has no chicken by-product meals, no artificial flavors or preservatives, and no corn, wheat, or soy. Plus, the kibble is specially formulated to retain the potency of its ingredients.


Best Vet Recommended: Hill’s Science Diet Adult Dry Dog Food

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Dry Food is made with high-quality, natural, and easy-to-digest ingredients. Its formula is designed to support the dietary needs of adult dogs and starts with protein like chicken or lamb meal. It also contains whole grains like barley or brown rice, as well as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

Regardless of the protein recipe you choose, this food is formulated to promote lean muscles, with natural fibers that support healthy digestion and omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E that support skin and coat health.

Although vets may recommend different foods based on your dog’s dietary needs, Hills claims that their food is the “#1 veterinarian recommended” brand. Hill’s Science Diet Adult Dry Food is only one of the formulas available – the company also offers wet food, puppy food, food for specific health needs, and more.


Best Subscription Service: The Farmer’s Dog

For another fresh dog food brand that offers the convenience of delivering meals to your door, you can check out The Farmer’s Dog. The Farmer’s Dog is a subscription service that personalizes meals for your dog and mails them to you on a regular schedule.

The Farmer’s Dog offers recipes that you keep in the refrigerator or freezer and then take out when it’s time to feed your dog. Their food is human-grade, with simple recipes made from real meat and veggies. Their recipes have no chicken (or other meat) meals, no natural or artificial preservatives, and are completely fresh. 

Each meal you receive is also pre-made and pre-portioned to your dog’s calorie needs based on the profile you create. Recipes come in flavors including chicken, turkey, and beef.


What to Look for When Choosing Dog Food

There are a number of factors to consider when comparing dog food brands and trying to choose the right diet for your pooch. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Nutrients: Unlike cats, dogs are not strictly carnivores, which means they can benefit from a range of high-quality ingredients, like grains, fruits, and vegetables, in addition to protein. These ingredients can also be excellent sources of minerals, vitamins, and fiber.

Dog food brand: The Canine Nutrition Expert Subcommittee of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established minimal nutritional requirements for dogs. When making their products, dog food manufacturers are expected to adhere to these requirements.

The AAFCO-approved nutritional guarantee on a dog food label will indicate that a product meets their requirements and is considered nutritionally complete and balanced.

Recipe and preference: As a dog owner, you may have a preference about feeding your dog fresh food vs. kibble, or even decide that you want to try a raw food diet. Your dog, on the other hand, may prefer a certain flavor – like venison or beef – but not like others, such as salmon.

Similarly, you may decide to feed your dog exclusively kibble, solely wet food, or a mix of both. Wet dog food can be helpful for senior dogs that have tooth sensitivities.

These are all considerations you’ll have to make as you compare dog food brands.

Health concerns: If your dog has health concerns – whether weight management, a sensitive stomach, allergies, or something else – you might want a food tailored to support that particular need. A variety of dog food brands offer products created specifically to support health issues, and these formulas are available in different flavors, formats, and price-ranges.

At the end of the day, you can always contact your veterinarian to discuss your dog’s diet. Your vet can help you understand your dog’s nutritional needs and work with you to find a food that meets them.

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