Many dog owners ask: “what is the best dog food?” By asking this you assume that a small breed puppy would have the same nutrition requirements as a large breed senior dog.

The real question should be: “What is the best food to feed MY dog

This dog food buying guide will help you to find the best food for your dog’s needs.

But if you’re in rush, these are my top picks:

Does it really matter what dog food?

It may seem like dog food is just, well, dog food. They are not all the same and not created for the same type of dogs. The quality of animal food products varies greatly from one brand to another; some brands have stronger advertisements and some are hardly known for most dog owners. It can be quite hard to determine what the best type of dog food is for your furry friend.

There are many high-quality dog food options available on the market, but there are also those that cut corners by bulking up their products with cheap unhealthy fillers and artificial additives. These foods are not regulated in the same way as human foods are, so if you want to find a healthy and quality product, you'll have to do some digging.

The quality of your dog's diet is directly related to its health, so you need to do your research to find what’s best for your dog. Since every dog is unique, you need to understand your dog's nutritional requirements and have some knowledge of how to read a pet food label.

If you’re thinking about changing your dog’s diet, it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian before doing so.

What to look for in dog food?

First, you should read the ingredient list just as you’d do with human food. This gives you an idea of the general composition and focus of the dog food. The list typically contains a lot of ingredients and the first three to five are the most critical to understand the basic composition of the product. This will help you determine if the formula is vegetable-based with products like corn and rice or meat-based with chicken, fish, or lamb. While each dog is different, they generally do best on a protein-rich, meat-based diet.

Next, analyze what type of meat is within. Look for brands that specifically name the type of meat product. The label should say specifically, beef, chicken, or lamb. Dog foods stating only meat, bone meal, or meat by-products could come from any animal; similarly, “poultry meal” signals any kind of bird.

It’s worth studying the whole list of ingredients, as this will also highlight some of what you want to avoid. Avoid dog food that includes dyes (dogs don’t worry too much about the color of their food), sugar and high salt (typically used as preservatives), and other solvents. You may find solvent and preservative ingredients that you have never heard about, so you might want to check what those are. The main ones to avoid are propylene glycol, BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin.

Individual ingredients are important; however, you want to make sure that the food contains the right combination of the nutrients your dog needs to be healthy.

To ensure you’re buying high-quality food, look for the nutrition adequacy statement, it’s considered as one of the most important aspects of a dog food label.

How do I know what dog food is best for my dog?

The field of dog food is immensely wide and so are your options. You have food for puppies and senior dogs, dry food and wet food, grain-free food, food for small dogs, food for large dogs, dog food for allergies, and dog food for sensitive stomachs.

This short guide hopefully helps you to understand why certain dogs need different food and how to make it easier to navigate through these options to find the best dog food for your pet.

Is puppy dog food necessary?

Puppies are at the age when they develop their bone structure. Therefore, choosing the best food for your puppy is one of the most important decisions you can make. Adult dog food contains too much calcium which negatively influences the bone development of the growing puppy and it can lead to developing hip and elbow dysplasia.

What is better dry or wet dog food?

Dry dog food (or kibble) is typically a better investment, as you get more nutrition and less water compare to wet or canned dog food. One other benefit of dry food is that the friction of chewing it can help keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy.

However, you can use your imagination. If you go with dry food, try topping it with a bit of canned food, some remaining food from home, or other toppers.

Is grain-free dog food better?

In general, the best grain-free dog foods contain more protein than their competitors because the grain is replaced by potatoes and legumes that are rich in protein. However, plant protein can be deficient in certain essential amino acids and they can upset the delicate amino acid balance of the food.

Important alert: There’s recently been worry over grain-free dog food: the FDA is investigating a potential link between grain-free diet and heart disease in dogs. Due to this, many dog owners are looking for dog foods that contain grain.

How is senior dog food different?

An older dog needs more protein in its diet than a younger one. That’s because seniors need to replace wasting muscle mass as they age. However, if your older dog is healthy and eating a quality, protein-rich, balanced diet, there’s no real reason to switch to a senior dog food.

A dog food rich in meat-based protein will not strain a healthy, older dog’s kidneys. However, if your dog has already been diagnosed with kidney disease, be sure to ask your vet about prescribing an appropriate diet.

What do you feed a dog with food allergies?

There are foods designed with fewer ingredients so they can help to pin down the specific ingredient to which your dog may be allergic.

In more serious cases veterinarians can prescribe hypoallergenic dog foods. These are usually made to help your dog ingest the food, so they’re less likely to experience an allergic reaction.

What food is easy on a dog's stomach?

Some digestive problems can be controlled with a simple change in diet, others can be caused by something more serious. Gastrointestinal dog foods are special-purpose diets made for dogs suffering from digestive problems. It’s like limited ingredient food and they also include ingredients specifically designed to support digestion.

Do small dogs need small dog food?

The best small breed dog foods are designed to provide balanced nutrition for dogs whose ideal adult weight is under 20 pounds. That’s because small dogs tend to benefit from food optimized for their higher rate of metabolism and their smaller physical size.

However, a recent study found that every size dog preferred large kibble over small or medium-sized pieces, so you don’t need to restrict your dog food selection to small kibble sizes.

What is different about large breed dog food?

Choosing the best large breed dog food can make an enormous difference in the health of your dog, especially puppies. Dog foods designed for large dogs focus on bone development that’s necessary to support their weight. Feeding your dog with the wrong type of food could lead to permanent bone damage, including a crippling form of hip dysplasia.

What is the cheapest but best dog food?

It’s generally not a good idea to go for the cheapest dog food, but with research and a lot of experiments, it’s possible to find a good dog food that’s 30% cheaper than the expensive alternative.

Is organic dog food better?

With the USDA organic label, your dog food is certified to be free of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides, and preservatives. Per the certification, its ingredients can’t be genetically engineered, grown in chemical fertilizer, or irradiated.

Top dog food by category

Best Overall

Nature’s Logic Dry Dog Food with Grain

  • First three ingredients: Chicken meal, Millet, Chicken fat
  • Type: With Grain (millet)
  • Other recipes: Beef, Duck & Salmon, Pork, Lamb, Sardine, Turkey
  • Breed size: All breed sizes
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

This food is manufactured in the USA. It is 100% all-natural, free of common allergens, and has a high protein at 43%. Very detailed recipes are shown on the package so you can confidently use the product. Probiotics and digestive enzymes are added after cooking to help maintain proper digestion. Millet is used instead of potatoes or tapioca for a low-sugar content.

It contains 1.93% calcium and phosphorus sit’s suitable for larger dogs.

The recipe contains 36% protein, 15% fat, and 5% crude fibers.

Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Nature’s Logic Canine Chicken Meal Feast provides complete and balanced nutrition for All Life Stages.

Best for Puppy

Orijen Puppy Food

  • First three ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Deboned Turkey, Founder
  • Type: Grain-Free
  • Breed size: All breed sizes
  • Lifestage: Puppy
  • Buy from: Chewy

This food is manufactured in the USA. The food is packed with protein from ingredients that your puppy is supposed to eat. It contains 85% poultry and fish ingredients, which are naturally rich in essential protein, vitamins, and minerals. This Orijen formula takes the dominant part of the animal protein from fresh poultry (chicken and turkey) and fish.

The recipe contains 38% protein, 20% fat, and 6% crude fibers.

Best Dry

Canidae Grain-Free Pure Dry Dog Food

  • First three ingredients: Salmon, Salmon Meal, Menhaden Fish Meal
  • Type: Grain-Free
  • Other recipes: Puppy, Senior, Limited ingredient (bison, lamb, duck), Healthy Weight
  • Breed size: All breed sizes
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

This food is manufactured in the USA. Made with 8 real food ingredients for complete and balanced nutrition, this food is free of grain, soy, wheat, corn, and other fillers for dogs with sensitive stomachs. This Canidae Grain-Free product derives most of its meat protein from fresh salmon, as well as other menhaden fish meals.

The recipe contains 32% protein, 18% fat, and 4% crude fibers.

Best Wet

Instinct Original Wet Dog Food

  • First three ingredients: Beef, Beef Liver, Beef Broth
  • Type: Grain-Free
  • Other recipes: Chicken
  • Breed size: All breed sizes
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

This food is manufactured in the USA. Made with 95% beef and beef liver; 5% vegetables, fruits, and other wholesome ingredients; and 0% grain. Free of grain, potato, corn, wheat, soy, by-product meal, artificial colors, or preservatives.

The recipe contains 11.5% protein, 7.5% fat, and 3% crude fibers.

Best Grain Free

Farmina N&D Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

  • First three ingredients: Lamb, Dehydrated Lamb, Whole Spelt
  • Type: Grain-Free
  • Other recipes: Chicken
  • Breed size: All breed sizes
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

The number one ingredient in this high protein, limited carbohydrate, and low fiber all life stage dog food is lamb. 90% of the protein is from quality animal sources. It's a low glycaemic formula so it's a great option for pets that need food that won't spike blood sugar. This dog food contains no whole peas, legumes, meals, or by-products.

The recipe contains 28.0% protein, 18.0% fat, and 2.9% crude fibers.

Best for Senior Dog

Wellness Core Senior Dog Food

  • First three ingredients: Deboned Turkey, Chicken Meal, Lentils
  • Type: Grain-Free
  • Breed size: All breed sizes
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

This natural, grain-free dry food for senior dogs is specially formulated to promote whole-body health with antioxidants, probiotics, and taurine. Encourages a shiny coat with omega fatty acids. Specially formulated to promote whole-body health.

The recipe contains 32.0% protein, 12.0% fat, and 6.25% crude fibers.

Best for Allergies

Royal Canin Veterinary Diets Hydrolyzed Protein Adult HP

  • First three ingredients: Brewers Rice, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Chicken Fat
  • Type: With Grain (brewers rice)
  • Breed size: All breed sizes
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

Diet formulated specifically for dogs with food sensitivities, skin, coat, and digestive issues. Helps to reduce skin and GI reactions that may result from common proteins in dog foods. Fibers and prebiotics support healthy digestion.

The recipe contains 19.5% protein, 17.5% fat, and 3.1% crude fibers.

Veterinary Authorization is required.

Best for Sensitive Stomach

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Gastrointestinal Dry Dog Food

  • First three ingredients: Brewers Rice, Chicken By-Product Meal, Wheat
  • Type: With Grain (brewers rice, wheat, barley)
  • Breed size: All breed sizes
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

A prescription diet specifically formulated to support healthy digestion in your dog. Low-fat content is ideal for dogs who have trouble digesting fat. Highly digestible proteins and prebiotics support digestive health and optimal stool quality. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil and a blend of fibers support GI health. Antioxidants support a healthy immune system.

The recipe contains 20.0% protein, 5.5% fat, and 3.9% crude fibers.

Veterinary Authorization is required.

Best for Small Dogs

Nulo Freestyle Small Breed Dog Food

  • First three ingredients: Deboned Salmon, Turkey Meal, Menhaden Fish Meal
  • Type: Grain-Free
  • Breed size: Extra small and small
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

This dog food is made in the USA. Small Breed dogs have special nutritional needs and this health-conscious Small Breed recipe is formulated to support a small breed dog’s higher metabolism. With 84% of protein coming from real meat like salmon, turkey, and lamb, your small dog will get the nutrition they deserve. It is also low in carbohydrates.

The recipe contains 31.0% protein, 17.0% fat, and 4.0% fibers.

Best for Large Dogs

Wellness Core Grain-Free Large Breed Dog Food

  • First three ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal
  • Type: Grain-Free
  • Breed size: Large and giant breeds
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

Wellness Core Large Breed formula is a grain-free, high protein recipe with substantial kibble size to promote proper chewing time in larger mouths. Increased amounts of glucosamine and chondroitin support bone and joint health in larger-sized dogs. Designed to promote lean body mass, muscle tone, and a healthy coat and skin.

The recipe contains 34.0% protein, 12.0% fat, and 6.0% fibers.

Best with Grain

Dr. Tim's Dog Food

  • First three ingredients: Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, Pearled Barley
  • Type: With Grain (rice, oats)
  • Breed size: All breed sizes
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

This food is sourced in the United States and is made in Nebraska. Packed with 79% animal protein, this recipe encourages a healthy, playful lifestyle. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil help to promote healthy skin and a lustrous coat, while EPA and DHA work to support cognitive function. Metabolically balanced kibble meets the specific needs of a sedentary to a moderately active dog. Features patented BC30 probiotic to boost your pup's digestive health.

The recipe contains 26.0% protein, 16.0% fat, and 6.0% fibers.

Best Cheap

Simply Nourish Source Dry Dog Food

  • First three ingredients: Deboned Salmon, Salmon Meal, Chicken Meal
  • Type: With Grain (rice, oats)
  • Breed size: All breed sizes
  • Lifestage: Adult
  • Buy from: Chewy

Made in the USA, this adult high-protein dry dog food has a natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy joints. It also includes flaxseed for a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. A grain-free meal made with tapioca starch for healthy, complex carbohydrates that will keep your pal full for hours. Includes real vegetables and fruits for a complete and balanced meal your dog deserves. Contains added vitamins and minerals to support your dog’s overall health and well-being.

The recipe contains 34.0% protein, 14.0% fat, and 6.0% fibers.