In the dry food category, we found a number of high-quality dog foods that earn great grades from pet-food advocates. Though we name Orijen Adult Dog as our Best Reviewed selection, any of the top-rated foods (see below) deserve consideration. In the end, cost, availability and how much your dog likes or does not like a particular food will likely tip the balance for you.
Leading off, Orijen Adult Dog (Est. $45 for a 15-lb. bag) is a grain-free dog food that draws kudos from top reviewers. This food is loaded with meat: Boneless chicken, chicken meal, chicken liver, whole herring and boneless turkey are the top five ingredients -- all delivered fresh daily to Orijen's Canadian factory, along with whole eggs, fruits and veggies. "Far more natural ... in a class above" other dog foods, DogFoodAnalysis.com editors say. PetFoodRatings.org reviewers agree: "There is absolutely nothing you can fault this food for," reviewers conclude.
Orijen's sister brand, Acana (they're made by the same Canadian company), is made with the same painstaking care and fresh Canadian foods -- but with a little less meat and a little more carbohydrate. Acana's less expensive flavors, such as Acana Classics Chicken and Burbank Potato (Est. $35 for a 15-lb. bag) , include grains -- a carb source that dogs didn't evolve to eat, some experts argue. Still, the steel-cut Alberta oats that go into Acana are considered a high-quality grain for dog food, and plenty of experts (and satisfied owners) recommend Acana wholeheartedly.
A couple of other dry dog food brands -- Evo and Wellness -- score nearly as high. Both are grain-free, with no artificial preservatives or questionable by-products. Evo Turkey & Chicken Formula (Est. $30 for a 13.2-lb. bag) leads off its ingredient list with turkey, chicken, turkey meal and chicken meal. Wellness Core Grain Free Original Formula (Est. $35 for a 12-lb. bag) looks pretty similar: deboned turkey, turkey meal, chicken meal. Potatoes come next, though (Wellness Core also adds peas), so these foods aren't as meaty as Orijen.
However, both brands have been recalled in recent years. (Orijen/Acana have never been recalled). In 2012, one Wellness dry dog food (not a Wellness Core variety) was recalled as part of the big Diamond Pet Foods salmonella recall. Wellness immediately stopped using Diamond to make any of its products. In 2013, all dry dog food made by Natura (Evo's parent company) was recalled -- again, due to possible salmonella contamination. Natura is owned by Procter & Gamble, which bought the company in 2010.
Bison is Taste of the Wild's first ingredient, with venison down the list (both great meat sources, although Mary Straus at DogAware.com recommends saving some exotic proteins in case your dog ever develops allergies to more common proteins or needs an elimination diet). Lamb meal and chicken meal come second and third, followed by sweet potatoes and peas.
This dog food is not as meat-rich as Orijen -- or as squeaky-clean safety-wise. Taste of the Wild dog food was recalled in the spring of 2012 over concerns regarding possible salmonella contamination. Still, experts say it's a stellar value if you want to feed grain-free.
Dr. Tim's Pursuit Active Dog Formula (Est. $29 for a 15-lb. bag) isn't grain-free, but experts say it's a good runner-up choice. Created by veterinarian Tim Hunt for his Alaskan Husky sled dogs, Dr. Tim's is made by a family-run Ohio company and uses North American ingredients, with no artificial preservatives. Each batch is tested for salmonella, and Dr. Tim's has never been recalled.
Dr. Tim's makes three versions: Momentum for very athletic dogs, Pursuit for active dogs and Kinesis for more sedentary dogs. All have chicken meal as their first ingredient, followed by brown rice flour, chicken fat, oat flour and dried beet pulp. To some critics, that sounds great -- but to others, it's too much grain. Some criticize the beet pulp as just low-cost filler (it's left over from sugar beet processing), while others say it aids digestion. Interestingly, Dr. Tim's Pursuit is lower-carb than the grain-free Taste of the Wild High Prairie.
Whether they include grains, any of the dry foods discussed above are a far better choice than most supermarket dry foods. One possible exception is Kirkland Signature dog food, which is sold exclusively at Costco. The ingredients list of Kirkland Signature Lamb, Rice & Vegetable formula (Est. $35 for a 40-lb. bag) , for example, falls short compared to the best choices, but the food doesn't cost nearly as much. "It isn't quite among the top tier foods, but if you were to put this on the shelves of most major pet stores and especially other 'big box' stores, it would be among the best foods available," say editors at PetFoodRatings.org. Others agree, with Mike Sagman of DogFoodAdvisor.com commenting that it is an "above-average kibble" that is "value-priced." Meat content is good, and while grains are used, they are mostly higher quality.
One negative is that Kirkland brand dog foods have not been immune from recall issues -- and certain batches of Kirkland Signature Lamb, Rice & Vegetable dog food were voluntarily recalled in the spring of 2012 because of possible salmonella contamination. In fairness, however, the same could also be said of some of the best-regarded foods -- and several of those were also caught up in the same recall. The bottom line: Regardless of which food they use, pet owners should keep an eye out in case safety issues arise. The FDA website is an excellent resource.