There's a great dog food for any dog, or any budget
The pet-food recalls of 2007 served as a wake-up call to millions of pet owners, as well as some -- but not all -- pet-food makers. Although the panic over food tainted with melamine has largely subsided, owners are still casting wary eyes on pet-food labels. More recent recalls have done little to soothe pet owners' frazzled nerves, nor have continuing rumors and speculation about foods that may sicken or even kill dogs.
Most, by now, are aware of the reports of lawsuits filed in early 2015 against Purina over its Beneful brand. This isn't the first time Purina Beneful (Est. $14 for a 15.5 lb. bag) has been swept up in controversy. However, our best research shows that any links between Beneful and dog illness are uncertain at best, and remain unproven at present. It's also worth noting that Beneful has never been involved in an FDA recall.
But if you are concerned about the quality of what you put in your dog's bowl, it doesn't matter. Beneful is one of a host of dog foods that trade low price and convenience for an ingredient list that the best experts say isn't very good. If budget is a top concern, you can do much better and not spend any more. One example is Kirkland Signature dog foods, which we discuss in our section on the best dry dog foods.
Fortunately, dog owners 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.
The result? We found good dog foods for every budget, from Costco kibble to pricey "human food" dog food. There are three main choices:
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 as much as $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 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.
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.
To find the top dog foods among all these types, we consulted the websites and publications named above and many more, including 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.