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Pet parents love their pups and want the best dog food they can afford that meets their dog's nutritional needs. As with the food you feed your family, a dog’s health and longevity rely heavily on what they eat. Unlike cats, dogs are not pure carnivores, and their health greatly benefits from a variety of nutrients.
Dogs at various stages of life and health may need different formulas, as well as dogs who are allergic to certain ingredients like gluten, so it can be challenging to find just the right food. Luckily, there are a range of diets out there, including those that are formulated for weight loss, a senior dog’s lower metabolism, and puppies' growth needs. There are even special diets for dogs with diabetes, GI problems, and other conditions. If you need guidance on how to find the pawfect food for your pup, your veterinarian can help you narrow down the choices and make recommendations.
To help you get started, we've checked the stats and found 5 of the Best Dog Foods for 2022 that offer all the things you want in a dog food, without all the things you don't. Read on to find out what the top foods of the year are, and what makes them rise above the pack. But first, let's explore what to look for in a quality dog food.
What to look for in the best dog foods
Sometimes, trying to choose the perfect dog food is like trying to hit a moving target. The truth is, there is no universal best. Reputable organizations such as the American Kennel Club, FDA, and others provide valuable information on their websites. Dog food made in the United States is highly regulated and tested for baseline nutritional requirements, and the best foods contain only high-quality ingredients processed in hygienic plants and are packaged properly to preserve the food’s integrity.
A high-quality dog food should contain all of the macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) that are necessary for good canine health, as well as micronutrients like minerals and vitamins that enhance the food's nutritive quality. These micronutrients are often found in fruits and vegetables.
When shopping for dog food, look for these things:
"Complete and balanced"
The best food for your dog should be "complete and balanced" as defined by the Association for American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). "Complete" food contains all of the essential nutrients your dog needs. "Balanced" means the ingredients are present in the right amounts. Check the food packaging for an AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement that ensures that complete and balanced ingredients are inside. If you purchase a 'topper' food, it will need to be supplemented.
Protein sources in high-quality dog food will be listed first because they make up most of the food by weight. They should be whole meat from animals such as beef, chicken, turkey lamb, fish, or bison, and listed as such on the ingredients list.
By-products are parts of a food animal that are left when the muscle has been removed. M'eat meal' is rendered parts of a food animal- Check AAFCO's guidelines on pet food ingredients for more. Both can be a nutritious addition to food, but both can also contain low-quality parts, or even contaminated parts of an animal.
How can you tell if the by-products and meat meal are safe by reading the label? First, look for the actual meat in the name, such as chicken meal and chicken by-product instead of poultry meal or poultry by-product, or beef meal and beef by-product instead of meat meal or meat by-product. When a company do not specify the meat used, it is likely because they vary the recipe, depending on which meat is cheapest at the time. If you see an ingredient listed as bone by-product, you'll definitely want to avoid it. And neither meal nor by-products should be listed first as the main source of protein in the food.
Whether grains, beans or potatoes, carbohydrates are essential to a dog's diet, but our pups need much less than we do to stay heathy. In the past, grains were often used as a filler for dog foods to get more out of less, but industry standards have, changed creating a healthier ratio of carbs to proteins and fats in most commercial foods. Most dogs do NOT need to avoid grains.
Despite the controversy over grains, which started with the 2007 recalls of pet food made with melamine contaminated wheat gluten and sparked a grain-free revolution, grains remain a good source of carbs and a healthy addition to your dog's balanced diet.
Fat is one of the macronutrients that every dog needs and it provides lots of energy; more than proteins and carbs. In fact, fats produce 9 calories of energy per gram, as opposed to only 4 calories each for proteins and carbs. Fats are also critical in the absorption of certain vitamins like A, D, E, and K. It is one of the ingredients in the myelin sheath that protects nerves and is important for healthy skin and a glossy coat.
The ratio of fats to carbs and protein in the diet should be about 25% or less except in cases of dogs that are high energy, growing rapidly, or too thin. Some high-quality dog foods contain high portions fats, but they're likely to be healthy fats like seed and fish oils. Too much animal fat, especially lard, can cause unhealthy weight gain and pancreatitis.
These numbers provide information on relative quantities of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and water in your dog’s food. Given as percentages of the total weight, the analysis doesn’t guarantee the quality of the food. A ratio of fats to proteins is included so pet parents know how fatty the protein products are. A good ratio of fats to proteins is 35% to 60%, depending on a dog’s age, size, and activity level. Certain dogs like puppies, pregnant females, and seniors may require a higher or lower fat to protein ratio to meet their nutritional needs.
What to avoid in dog foods
Macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) along with vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients are necessary in dog food. However, there are ingredients found in some dog foods that should be avoided, such as unspecified meal or by-products. Other things to avoid in your dog's food include:
Fillers are non-food ingredients that bulk up the food without supplying quality nutrients. Some authorities include a few nutritious ingredients in their lists of fillers, such as beet pulp and grains, but to be healthy, they should be in low quantities.
Fillers that should be avoided include white flour, which loses its nutrients during processing and can raise blood sugar rapidly and cause diabetes, corn syrup that can contribute to diabetes and high blood sugar, and vegetable oil. Commonly derived from corn and soybeans, vegetable oil can contain too much Omega-6 fatty acids that can trigger inflammation, cause joint pain and widespread arthritis. Oils that contain healthy fats like olive or avocado oil are better for your doggo.
Nitrates and nitrites are artificial preservatives that keep dog food fresh for longer periods of time. They appear regularly in human food like deli meat, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs. Their presence is a good reason not to feed these cured foods to your fur baby. Nitrates/nitrites are linked to certain cancers and blood disorders in dogs.
Another harmful artificial preservative is BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole). Added to fats and oils, BHA is a proven carcinogen to humans and dogs, affecting their kidneys and liver, and irritating their skin and eyes.
On the surface, salmon would seem to be a healthful ingredient in canine diets, and it is if it’s caught wild. However, salmon that is raised on farms can be less nutritious. It can also carry fat-soluble toxins, mercury, and pollutants. The environment of a salmon farm, with so many fish, crowded into a relatively small-penned area, will produce fish that are ingesting waste and other harmful substances that can cause cancer and other illnesses in dogs. Salmon may appear on a dog food label as “salmon meal” or “salmon oil.” Unless it’s specified that it's wild-caught, it should be avoided.
Rendered (cooked) fat is sometimes added to pet food to increase flavor. Not only is it unnecessary, but it can also be harmful if its source isn’t healthy. Rendered fat can harbor mold and bacteria like Salmonella. Toxins often found in foods containing rendered fat include mercury and other heavy metals, often found in higher concentrations that can be deadly. If the label says, "rendered fat" instead of, for example, "rendered chicken fat," it may be best to avoid it.
Artificial food coloring and flavoring
The truth is dogs don’t care what color their food is. More palatable-appearing food is only meant for humans purchasing the food. The most common food dyes, such as Blue 2, Red 40, and Yellow 5 or 6 are linked to severe allergic reactions and the production of too much stomach acid.
The use of artificial flavoring is equally detrimental. Unlike natural flavoring found in meat, vegetables, and fruits, artificial flavors are made of chemicals mixed together to taste like something. They have no nutrient value and can cause a variety of allergic reactions and other conditions.
5 high-quality foods for dogs
With so many dog foods on the shelf, and many carrying labels such as premium, high protein, low fat, balanced nutrition, or grain-free, navigating the dog food aisles can be quite overwhelming! Here are our top dog food choices for 2022 to help you get started!
Wellness Complete Health Wet and Dry Dog Food
Wellness Complete Health Dog Food is available in several formulations, including puppy, senior, large breed, and small breed. It’s at the top of our list because it contains natural ingredients like deboned meat, select grains, and healthful vegetables. The guaranteed analysis of Wellness dry dog food of 27% protein, 13% fat, and 52% carbs suggests balanced nutrition, including a healthy fat-to-protein ratio of 50%.
Deboned Chicken and Oatmeal is one of 13 flavors available, along with Whitefish and Sweet Potato, Lamb and Barley, and Turkey and Oatmeal. Consumers rate this food highly, noting its taste appeal and the improvement in their pet’s health and appearance. While some acknowledge the price is high, they are willing to invest the money for their dog. This food is highly recommended by vets.
Average cost: $21 - $62
Orijen Dry Pet Food
An award-winning pet food, Orijen Dry Pet Food is based on dogs’ established biological needs, and they feature several distinct recipes to suit all dogs, from puppies to seniors and pooches with special dietary needs. Orijen’s Original is formulated for all life stages, while other recipes feature 85% animal ingredients, or several varieties of fish, for specific needs.
This food is tolerated well, and includes ingredients like meat, fruits, and vegetables, mimicking the diets of dogs found in the wild. High-quality organ and cartilage protein is included. No preservatives or fillers are used, and no artificial colors or flavors are added.
Consumer reviews for Orijen are overwhelmingly positive, citing the food’s appeal to their dogs along with its nutrient makeup. Negative reviews center on the relatively high prices, and a few mention minor GI upsets. These can generally be avoided by slowly transitioning your pet onto the food over several days.
The price of Orijen Dry Dog Food will vary depending on where it’s purchased, the formula chosen, and the size of the bag.
Average cost: $25.99 - $96.99
Nature’s Logic Canine Chicken Meal Feast
This food’s nutrient profile makes it one of the few dry brands that meet AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines. Its Guaranteed Analysis cites 40% protein, 17% fat, and 36% carbs, with a fat-to-protein ratio of 42%. Proteins come from fresh or raw nutrient-rich poultry, utilizing clean, high-nourishment animal organs.
Consumer reviews report healthy skin and coat and owners appreciate the option of a no-grain formula. This food is also highly recommended by veterinarians. Negative comments focused on price, as with many other high-quality foods.
Average cost: $21.99 - $114.99
Taste of the Wild Wet Dog Food
Another dry and wet dog food produced with the wild dog's nature in mind, Taste of the Wild Dog Food is a more affordable option for pet parents who want to treat their doggos to healthy food without breaking the bank. It contains high-quality protein sources such as buffalo, lamb, and chicken meals, along with healthy carbs like sweet potatoes and fruits.
Suitable for all ages, Taste of the Wild provides essential antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals from fruits and vegetables. Puppies can eat the life stages formula, and their portions are about twice the size of adult dogs. Analysis of the macronutrients in Taste of the Wild indicates it contains 36% protein, 20% fat, and 36% carbs, with a fat-to-protein ratio of about 56%.
Pet parent reviews reveal that switching their dog to Taste of the Wild anecdotally resolved long-standing digestive and skin sensitivity problems. This is likely reflective of a dog's previous food containing ingredients they were sensitive or allergic to. Other satisfied customers praised the food’s taste and ingredients.
Average cost: $22 - $60
Whole Earth Dog Food
Whole Earth Dog Food features a variety of recipes for dogs that meet the nutritional requirements for puppy, adult, small breed, and therapeutic diets. All of Whole Earth’s formulas are grain-free, which is paw-fect for dogs with grain allergies and sensitivities to grain products.
Protein sources include poultry, fish, and red meat, along with carbs like sweet potatoes and apples. High quality chicken meal is included, along with all essential vitamins and minerals. Fish contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and a dogs’ digestive health benefits from high fiber carbs.
Reviews by consumers of Whole Earth Dog Food mention its low-allergy, high protein nutrition recipes, and state that their dogs enjoy it. Price is a negative factor for some, especially incremental increases in cost.
Average cost: $10 - $40
5 tips for choosing the right food for your dog
#1. Always check in with your veterinary professional before starting or switching diets.
Your vet knows your dog inside and out, and while you may have found what you consider the perfect food, they’ll be aware of its pros and cons for your pup. They will also be happy to recommend food based on your dog’s medical needs.
#2. Know what your dog needs in their stage of life.
Whether you've got a puppy, an adult pooch or an elderly dog, there's a formula out there that meets their nutritional needs at every stage, so be sure you've got the right bag in your hand to support them at every age.
#3. Carefully read the nutrition facts and list of ingredients before purchasing dog food.
Armed with the facts, you’ll be able to narrow down the field of dog foods to a few, then judge them based on other factors like price and availability. Most dog food websites display their ingredients and nutrition facts if you’re not up to reading the fine print on the food bags.
#4. Back up manufacturers’ information with veterinary or academic websites when possible.
Although many sites, especially those written by vets and canine nutritionists, can give you a place to start, the most reputable sources are veterinary schools like those at Cornell, Tufts, and the University of Pennsylvania. The Merck Veterinary Manual online provides a wealth of information on canine nutrition, as well. These organizations’ facts are based on objective research and often provide small details missing from less scientific sites.
#5. If you have questions about a dog food’s ingredients, visit industry regulation sites.
The good news is that you have scores of dog foods to choose from in the marketplace, but the other side of that coin is that the numbers of brands and formulas can make choosing among them hard. Armed with a little knowledge about what goes into a pet food can make the choice easier.
Got more questions? Chat with a vet today for answers on nutrition and what your dog needs to stay healthy.