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 Food (Est. $80 for a 26.6 pound bag) as our Best Reviewed selection, any of the top-rated foods that we discuss 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.
But on to our top pick. Orijen Adult Dog Food is a grain-free dog food that earns nothing but praise and the highest ratings from every respected expert reviewer. 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. "Orijen Dog Food receives the highest rating for ingredient quality and nutritional value, with a conspicuous lack of controversial or low nutrition ingredients," says PetFoodTalk.com. PetFoodRatings.org reviewers agree: "There is absolutely nothing you can fault this food for," reviewers conclude. Users are impressed as well. Orijen earns a 4.8-star rating at Chewy.com following nearly 600 reviews. Roughly 97 percent say that they recommend the dog food.
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 Chicken and Burbank Potato (Est. $60 for a 28.6-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 Chicken and Burbank Potato 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. $65 for a 28.6-lb. bag) leads off its ingredient list with turkey, chicken, chicken meal, salmon meal and menhaden meal. Wellness Core Grain Free Original Formula (Est. $60 for a 26-lb. bag) starts off with deboned turkey, turkey meal, and chicken meal, followed by peas and potatoes.
Neither Evo nor Wellness have been entirely free of concerns, but both brands continue to rate highly with experts and most owners. 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 now owned by Mars, Inc. which bought the brand from Procter & Gamble in 2014.
If you're looking for a high quality, grain-free dog food with a smaller price tag, Taste of the Wild High Prairie (Est. $50 for a 30-lb. bag) looks like an excellent choice. This dog food contains no grains, soy or artificial preservatives, and it has beneficial bacteria, fruits and veggies -- all kinds of stuff you usually only find in super-premium dog kibbles.
Buffalo meat is Taste of the Wild's first ingredient, with venison down the list (both great meat sources, although Mary Straus at DogAware.com recommends holding back on 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; most rate it either 4 stars or 5. Note that some other Taste of the Wild varieties have lower meat levels, and hence score a little lower in expert reviews. User reviews of Taste of the Wild High Prairie are abundant and very positive -- 4.6 stars at Amazon.com following more than 1,700 reviews.
Dr. Tim's Pursuit Active Dog Formula (Est. $60 for a 44-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. Mary Straus at DogAware.com notes that the protein meals used are low ash, meaning less bone and more meat.
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 (Est. $35 for a 40-lb. bag) formula, 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: Chiara Fucarino at PetFoodGuru.com says that "It's not one of the best brands on the market, but it's definitely one of the best in its price range." 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.