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 Formula 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 Formula (*Est. $40 per 15.4 lb. bag) is a grain-free dog food that draws kudos from top reviewers. The food contains tons of meat products, and chicken meal and turkey meal are among the top four ingredients (the others are deboned chicken and deboned salmon). "This is a far more natural food concept and combined with a complete lack of any low quality or controversial ingredients is the reason this food is placed in a class above the more conventional form dry dog foods," DogFoodAnalysis.com editors say. PetFoodRatings.net reviewers agree, praising the food for the high quality of its nonmeat ingredients. "There is absolutely nothing you can fault this food for," reviewers conclude.
Blue Buffalo Wilderness also rates highly with PetFoodRatings.net. DogFoodAdvisor.com concurs, despite some minor quibbles. The site gives Blue Buffalo Wilderness Duck Recipe (*Est. $30 per 11 lb. bag) its highest rating for its top-quality ingredients, high protein content, inclusion of probiotics and use of chelated minerals, which are easier to absorb. The top ingredients are deboned duck, chicken meal, potato starch, turkey meal, peas, chicken fat and potatoes.
Taste of the Wild High Prairie (*Est. $30 per 15 lb. bag) draws good ratings from a number of pet-food advocates, though not everyone gives it an unequivocal recommendation. One thing that's a bit unusual is the inclusion of "exotic" protein sources. The top ingredient is bison meat, and roasted bison and roasted venison appear farther down in the listings. Many note that these would be higher-cost protein sources than typically found in dog foods, but Mary Straus at DogAware.com says its use could pose a complication for dogs with food allergies. "Remember that it's a good idea to reserve at least some exotic proteins for future use in case needed for an elimination diet or to treat severe food allergies," she writes. As a precaution even though none had tested positive, certain batches of Taste of the Wild dog food were recalled in the spring of 2012 over concerns regarding possible salmonella contamination.
Wellness Core (*Est. $2.50 per 12.5 oz. can) is also well regarded. The top three ingredients are meats and meat meals, and carbohydrates are derived from non-grain sources. That leads PetFoodReviews.com to say "In general, it seems to be as close to a 'perfect' brand-name dog food that one can buy." DogAware.com reports that Wellness Core changed its ingredients list in June 2011, but the nutritional analysis remained constant and the company did a good job of letting customers know about the switch. Mary Straus adds that she didn't anticipate that the changes would be notable from a dog's point of view, and customer reviews continue to show a high degree of happiness with Wellness Core, even though it is an expensive dog kibble. One variety of Wellness dog food was recalled in 2012 over salmonella concerns, but Wellness Core was unaffected.
Rounding out the best-liked dog foods, Castor & Pollux Organix Adult Dog Food (*Est. $40 per 14.5 lb. bag) is not grain-free, but it uses higher-quality grains, such as brown rice. More notable, many of its ingredients are organic, earning it extra credit from some pet-food experts. DogFoodAdvisor.com, for example, grants it "favored status" as the use of organic ingredients means there is less chance of undesirable ingredients that might not be on the label, such as pesticides or synthetic growth hormones, making it into the food. DogAware.com likes the fact that the chicken and turkey used are free range. In April 2012, Castor & Pollux was purchased by Merrick Pet Care, another well-regarded maker of pet foods.
A couple of other dry dog foods score nearly as high. Innova Evo, including Innova Evo Turkey & Chicken Formula (*Est. $45 for a 13.2 lb. bag), from Natura Pet Products is notable for its high-quality content. DogFoodAnalysis.com calls Innova Evo an "outstanding" product. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that there are no grains; carbohydrate comes from potatoes. In addition, the four top ingredients are meat products (turkey, chicken, turkey meal, chicken meal). PetFoodRatings.net is equally complimentary. Some owners aren't as sure, however; among rave reviews at RateItAll.com and OnlyNaturalPet.com, we saw some comments about dogs who suffered stomach upset, possibly because of the high meat content.
Natura was purchased by Proctor & Gamble in 2010, which led some experts and owners to worry about the future of its foods given that some of Proctor & Gamble's other brands (Iams and Eukanuba) typically receive poor ratings because of their lower-quality ingredients. As of now, Innova Evo appears to be unchanged, but the advice from most quarters is to watch the ingredient list carefully going forward.
Natural Balance Original Ultra (*Est. $30 per 15 lb. bag) is a little less expensive than most of the top-rated dog foods, and many pet-food advocates consider it to be a pretty good value in light of its use of all-natural dog food ingredients, quality meats and lack of byproducts. Natural Balance Original Ultra does contain grains, but they are higher quality grains such as brown rice, oatmeal and barley. Other top ingredients are protein sources such as chicken, duck meal and lamb meal. Fish meals are preserved with Naturox, and the food is ethoxyquin-free.
Professional reviewers give Natural Balance generally good grades. One major positive is that the company has instituted a testing program for a number of possible food issues, and makes the results of each batch public available on its website. Natural Balance Original Ultra was not part of the spring 2012 recall over salmonella concerns, though some of the company's other dry dog foods were.
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 per 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," says PetFoodRatings.net. Others agree, with 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 for that.
Other supermarket and large pet store brands don't rate well with most experts. Purina Dog Chow Complete and Balanced (*Est. $18 per 20 lb. bag) is one example. Its top ingredient is whole grain corn, and things actually go downhill from there as the following ingredients are poultry byproduct meal, corn gluten meal, animal fat, meat and bone meal, brewers rice and soybean meal. Although we use Purina Dog Chow here as an example, its ingredients are typical of those found in many mainstream dry dog foods.
Some brands with a premium price that can be found in supermarkets and large pet stores don't fare that much better. Science Diet Adult Advanced Fitness Original (*Est. $30 for a 17.5 lb. bag) has an ingredient list that leads off with chicken, but follows that up with ground whole-grain corn, ground whole-grain sorghum, ground whole-grain wheat, chicken byproduct meal, soybean meal and corn gluten meal. Its nutritional profile is good enough to earn it a high grade at GoodGuide.com, but most pet-food reviewers hold it in lower regard. The bottom line is that although the ingredient list is better than typical supermarket foods, it's still not great, and the food is as or more expensive than some higher-quality choices.