There's a great dog food for any dog, or any budget
Dog food buyers are faced with a dizzying array of choices, and a host of contradictory -- and sometimes controversial -- -- claims over what the best diet is for their dog. This can lead to a lot of questions as to which food is the safest and most nutritious choice for their four-footed companions. And, of course, it has to be appetizing enough that Fido won't turn up his nose at dinnertime.
There are three main types of dog food:
Dry dog food is convenient, and it costs the least per feeding (without water, it weighs less to ship and is a concentrated food source). Unlike cats, dogs will drink plenty of water to hydrate themselves, so dry food is perfectly acceptable. Just be careful: Most supermarket kibble consists mainly of corn and soy pellets -- not the meat that dogs evolved to eat, experts warn. High-meat, low- or no-grain kibbles are best. Experts say you should serve canned or fresh food, too, to make sure your dog gets enough moisture and protein. The cost of dry dog foods varies widely, from more than $3 per pound to as low as 88 cents per pound for good feeding choices.
Canned dog food is often high-meat and grain-free -- ideal for dogs, experts say. It's more expensive per feeding than dry dog kibble. Expect to pay about $2 to $2.50 or more for a can of high-quality dog food. Canned food must also be handled more like a human's fresh foods. "Unlike kibble, wet foods exposed to the environment can easily grow bacteria — and quickly become contaminated," notes Mike Sagman at DogFoodAdvisor.com. For that reason, he adds, canned food should not be left in a dog's bowl for more than an hour or two, and any unserved dog food must be refrigerated -- and even then discarded after a couple of days.
Dehydrated raw dog food gets closer to a dog's wild diet. Raw or lightly steamed meats and veggies are dried and ground up; you add water to make a moist dog food. Expect to pay about as much per feeding as top-quality canned food. Raw dog food is also sold frozen.
Which dog foods are best?
Pet-nutrition experts say that the best dog food is made from top-grade ingredients, especially meat and vegetables. While some high-quality whole grains are also acceptable, what you don't want is a lot of filler as the primary ingredient; these are items that have less nutritional benefit.
According to reviews, better-quality dog food results in a healthier coat, fewer digestive problems and firmer stools. Because your dog will absorb more nutrients from better-quality dog food, less will be passed as waste. You will also be able to feed less, closing the cost the cost gap between high quality food and cheap supermarket kibble.
Reading and understanding ingredient labels are the keys to finding top quality foods. We delve into what to look for in our section on dog food ingredients. Dog owners also have lots of resources to help them pick a safe, nutritious product. Sites and publications like PetsumerReport.com (and its companion blog, TruthAboutPetFood.com), DogFoodAdvisor.com, PetFoodRatings.org, DogFoodGuru.com, DogAware.com and others put dog foods under the microscope, scouring labels for red-flag ingredients, demanding safety information and tracking recalls. Owner reviews are helpful as well, especially when it comes to learning which foods are eagerly eaten, and which ones leave our four-footed companions cold -- though keep in mind that a food that's heartily wolfed down by one dog might be completely rejected by another. Don't forget that your feline friends need a top quality food too, and we cover those in our separate report on cat food.
To find the top dry, canned and dehydrated dog foods we consulted the websites and publications named above and many more, and read thousands of user reviews. Based on that information, we looked first at ingredient quality and the safety of the food -- paying special attention to recalls, the reasons behind them, and how forthcoming dog food makers are with their customers. While every dog owner might like to feed their dog the best food available, not all have the budget to do that, so we also look to value to find choices that are close to the best, but cost less. The result? We found good dog foods for every budget, from Costco kibble to pricey "human food" dog food.
Elsewhere in this report:
Dog Food Ingredients | Best Dry Dog Food | Best Canned Dog Food | Buying Guide | Our Sources