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Deciding whether to feed your pup the best dry dog food or wet food often comes down to personal preference and your pet’s individual needs. Kibble is generally less expensive than canned food, convenient to store, and simple to serve, making it a popular choice among dog owners.
Of course, you might opt for wet food over kibble if your dog has certain health issues. For example, dogs with severe dental disease or very few teeth may struggle with dry food, says Dr. Rhiannon Koehler, a veterinarian for the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City. She adds that dry food may not be a good choice for dogs with medical conditions like chronic kidney disease since they need a high-moisture diet and dry food has very little moisture.
If you decide to feed your pup kibble, you might wonder how to choose the best dog food brand and recipe. We’ve gathered our top picks for the best dry dog food based on ingredients, nutritional standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), and calorie content. We also spoke with two veterinarians to gain their expert insight on dog nutrition.
Merrick, Nature’s Logic, and Wellness make high-quality dry foods with plenty of healthy extras.
All dogs can enjoy dry food. The AAFCO sets nutritional standards for protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals percentages in dog food according to two life stages. The first life stage, growth and reproduction, includes puppies and pregnant or nursing dogs. The second life stage, maintenance, applies to adult dogs.
For this category, we considered the best dry dog food for maintenance and all life stages. As the name suggests, food for all life stages meets the nutritional requirements for dogs of any age and must have a minimum of 22% protein and 8% fat. Maintenance foods must have at least 18% protein and 5% fat. The foods we selected may have higher price tags, but well-regarded brands make them.
Lamb and lamb meal are the main protein sources, and carbohydrates include oatmeal, ground barley, and ground brown rice. Healthy extras like menhaden fish meal provide omega fatty acids, while glucosamine and chondroitin support joint health. This food is appropriate for moderately active, normal-weight dogs with 24% protein, 12% fat, and 4% fiber. Each cup contains 417 kcal.
Beef and pork meal lead the ingredients list, and there are a variety of carbohydrates, including brown rice, barley, oatmeal, quinoa, carrots, and apples. Health extras include omega fatty acids (salmon), glucosamine, and chondroitin. With 26% protein, 15% fat, and 3.5% fiber, this is a good option for moderately active, normal-weight dogs. Each cup contains 386 kcal.
Blue Buffalo, Natural Balance, and Rachael Ray Nutrish make some of the best affordable kibble.
Chewy; Natural Balance; Insider
Dry dog foods come in a wide range of prices. These prices depend, in part, on ingredient quality. For example, some pricier dry dog foods may contain whole meat and other premium ingredients, while budget dry dog foods may contain inexpensive meat meal.
That doesn’t mean you have to cross budget foods off your list, though. “Dogs can still get optimal nutrition from budget foods, as long as the food brand is reputable and has researched its foods,” says Dr. Lindsey Bullen, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at Friendship Hospital for Animals. Reputable brands tend to be well-established in the pet food industry, and they rigorously test their food to check its safety and quality and ensure it meets AAFCO nutritional standards.
Our budget picks for the best dry dog food meet the nutritional needs of adult dogs or all life stages.
Beef and chicken meal are the first two protein sources in this dry dog food. Other standout ingredients include brown rice, pea protein, and brewers rice. Menhaden fish oil provides omega fatty acids. With 26% protein, 14% fat, and 4% fiber, we recommend this food for moderately active, normal-weight dogs. One cup contains 352 kcal.
The main protein sources in this recipe are deboned chicken and chicken meal. Standout carbohydrates include brown rice, barley, oatmeal, peas, sweet potatoes, carrots, and cranberries. Healthy extras include omega fatty acids and glucosamine. We recommend it for moderately active, normal-weight dogs, with 24% protein, 14% fat, and 5% fiber. One cup is 378 kcal.
Best for small dogs
Wellness, Farmina, and Nulo make specially formulated food for smaller dogs.
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Small dogs aren’t just miniature versions of their larger counterparts, so they need food specially formulated for their unique bodies. “Small breed dogs generally require more calories per pound than larger dogs, and they may benefit from smaller kibble that is easier to chew,” says Koehler.
Although small dogs need calorie-dense food, it’s important not to overfeed your small dog to reduce the risk of obesity. Your vet can offer more guidance on how much to feed your dog each day. Our top picks for the best dog food for small dogs meet AAFCO standards for complete and balanced nutrition, are made especially for small dogs, and contain healthy extras like probiotics and omega fatty acids.
Lamb leads the ingredients for this food, along with healthy carbohydrates consisting of whole spelt and whole oats. Extras include herring and herring oil for omega fatty acids and glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. With 28% protein, 18% fat, and 2.9% fiber, this food is ideal for high-energy small breed dogs. Each cup contains 462 kcal.
Deboned chicken and chicken and salmon meal are the main protein sources. Carbohydrates include oatmeal, ground brown rice, and barley. Healthy extras like flaxseed and salmon oil provide omega fatty acids and glucosamine and chondroitin support joint health. With 28% protein, 16% fat, 4% fiber, and 408 kcal per cup, we recommend this food for moderately active small breed dogs.
Best for large dogs
Wellness, Nutro, and Merrick make some of our favorite dry foods for larger breeds.
Large dogs need food made just for them, too. “Special nutritional requirements for large and giant breed dogs, such as lower energy density and an appropriate calcium-to-phosphorus ratio level, are most important in the puppy stage,” Koehler says. For large breed puppies who experience rapid growth, these nutritional requirements help protect against developmental orthopedic diseases like hip dysplasia.
Generally, large breed formulas contain glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support since larger breeds are more likely to develop diseases like osteoarthritis due to their size. The food also comes in a larger kibble size. Large kibble encourages chewing and slows down eating, which can help keep dogs from swallowing too much air and developing bloat. This life-threatening condition primarily affects large breeds and can happen when dogs gulp down their food too quickly. The best dry dog food picks below are specially formulated for large breed adult dogs.
Deboned chicken and chicken meal are the main protein sources in this large breed dog food. Standout carbohydrates include ground brown rice, barley, peas, and oats. Glucosamine, chondroitin, omega fatty acids, and probiotics are healthy extras. With 26% protein, 12% fat, 5% fiber, and 340 kcal per cup, this food is ideal for moderately active large breed dogs.
This food features deboned chicken and chicken meal as its main protein sources, along with carbohydrates like brown rice, oatmeal, barley, and quinoa. Healthy extras include salmon oil and glucosamine and chondroitin. With 25% protein, 14% fat, and 3.5% fiber, this food is ideal for active large breed dogs. Each cup contains 377 kcal.
Best for sensitive stomachs
Dogs with sensitive stomachs may benefit from these dry foods from Hill’s, Wellness, and Purina.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition; Wellness Pet Company; Nestlé Purina; Tyler Le/Insider
Some dogs can snatch days-old forbidden snacks from the trash can with no lasting consequences, but not all dogs have a stomach of steel. Food allergies and dietary imbalances are just a few things that may contribute to a sensitive stomach and lead to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and gas.
If your dog has trouble digesting certain foods, a dog food designed for sensitive stomachs may be worth a try. Koehler says food allergies in dogs can be successfully managed with either prescription novel protein diets or over-the-counter diets. Over-the-counter diets for sensitive stomachs contain a novel protein or are labeled “sensitive skin and stomach.”
“Foods for sensitive stomachs are highly digestible,” she says. They’re typically low in fat to help digestion and high in fiber to help prevent loose stools. They may also contain probiotics to promote a healthy gut. The foods we selected for this category meet AAFCO standards for adult maintenance and are formulated especially for sensitive stomachs.
The first few ingredients in this food are highly digestible ingredients like salmon, rice, barley, canola meal, and oatmeal. Sunflower oil and fish oil provide omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, while added probiotics help support immune and digestive health. This food contains 26% protein, 16% fat, and 4% fiber, with 449 kcal/cup.
This food’s first ingredient is whitefish. Menhaden fish meal, the next ingredient, provides glucosamine. The third ingredient, herring meal, is a good source of chondroitin. Other top ingredients include brown rice, barley, beet pulp, flaxseed, pumpkin, and brewers dried yeast. It also has added probiotics to promote healthy digestion. The food contains 30% protein, 12% fat, and 4% fiber, with 394 kcal per cup.
Best for puppies
For high-quality puppy food, look to Merrick, Wellness, and Purina.
Chewy; Wellness Pet Company; Nestlé Purina; Insider
Both puppy food and all life stages food meet AAFCO standards for growth and reproduction, but puppy food is the best choice for dogs who haven’t reached their full growth. “Puppies are growing and need to develop their muscles, bones, and brains. They need higher levels of many nutrients, including protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and several minerals, such as calcium,” Bullen says. Puppy food is formulated to contain higher levels of these nutrients.
Puppies can eat either dry or wet food or a combination. Wet food may help ease the transition from nursing to solid food, but many puppies also do well eating smaller-sized puppy kibble. Our recommendations for the best puppy food are formulated for growing dogs, so they contain healthy extras, such as omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin to support growth and development.
Deboned turkey, chicken meal, and salmon meal are the main proteins in this food that has undergone feeding trials. The list of carbohydrates includes oatmeal, barley, brown rice, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, blueberries, and apples. This puppy food also contains probiotics and omega fatty acids from salmon meal, menhaden fish meal, and salmon oil. The nutritional breakdown is 28% protein, 19% fat, 4.25% fiber, and 489 kcal per cup.
Chicken is the main protein source in this food for large breed puppies. Standout carbohydrates include rice, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, and whole grain wheat. Healthy extras consist of omega fatty acids from fish oil plus glucosamine. The food contains 30% protein, 18% fat, 4.75% fiber, and 430 kcal per cup.
Best for senior dogs
Nutro, Merrick, and Purina make foods for seniors that contain healthy extras to support joint health and reduce inflammation.
When it comes to dogs, the definition of “senior” can vary based on breed size. Large breeds are considered seniors at ages 8 to 9, while small breeds are considered seniors at ages 8 to 11, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “Senior dogs can do well on an adult maintenance diet, unless they have age-related medical conditions that require dietary changes,” Bullen says. For example, senior dogs with chronic kidney disease need lower levels of phosphorus, sodium, and sometimes potassium in their diet, according to Bullen.
Senior dog foods have fewer calories, but they contain more high-quality protein to maintain muscle mass. They also contain more omega-3 fatty acids to support brain health. Our top choices for the best senior dog food are protein-rich and contain healthy extras like glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health.
Chicken and poultry byproduct meals are the main protein sources in this food that’s undergone feeding trials. It includes rice, corn, wheat, barley, omega fatty acids, and glucosamine. With 29% protein, 14% fat, 3% fiber, and 423 kcal per cup, we recommend it for active normal-weight dogs.
This food counts chicken, chicken meal, and turkey meal as its main protein sources. Carbohydrates include brown rice, oatmeal, barley, quinoa, apples, and carrots. Omega fatty acids from salmon oil, glucosamine, and chondroitin are healthy extras. We recommend it for moderately active normal-weight dogs. It contains 27% protein, 15% fat, 3.5% fiber, and 381 kcal per cup.
We recommend recipes from Merrick and Nulo for nutritious grain-free food.
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Grain-free dog foods contain non-grain carbohydrates like peas and lentils. Despite their increasing popularity and heavy marketing, grain-free foods are rarely necessary. “Most food allergies in dogs are because of a protein source, such as beef or chicken,” Koehler says.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to investigate a potential connection between grain-free foods and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. Experts have yet to find a conclusive link, though some believe the legumes, particularly peas, in many grain-free dog foods may play a part. So, if you’re considering switching your dog to a grain-free diet, it’s a good idea to talk to your vet first.
The top selections for this category contain non-grain carbohydrates and meet AAFCO standards for complete and balanced nutrition. They also contain healthy extras like omega fatty acids.
Deboned duck, chicken meal, and turkey meal are the main protein sources in this grain-free food. Carbohydrates include sweet potatoes, potatoes, and peas. Healthy extras consist of omega fatty acids from whitefish meal and glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. With 34% protein, 17% fat, and 3.5% fiber and 389 kcal per cup, this food is suitable for moderately active, normal-weight dogs.
Low-fat foods from Nutro, Rachael Ray Nutrish, and Wellness are great options for dogs who need to lose weight.
Fat is good for the body, whether that body is dog or human. However, excess dietary fat leads to health problems, like overweight and obesity, which affects over 50% of dogs in the United States, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. According to Bullen, dogs at risk of pancreatitis and those who are slightly overweight may benefit from a low-fat diet. Dogs who are morbidly obese may benefit from a low-fat diet tailored for weight loss, Bullen says.
According to Bullen, low-fat dry dog foods have less than 13% fat, but some dogs may need an ultra-low-fat diet with less than 10% to 11% fat, depending on their health status. Our low-fat choices for the best dry dog food contain less than 13% fat and have healthy extras like glucosamine and chondroitin. Our guide to the best dog food for weight loss includes more excellent options.
Chicken and chicken meal are the main protein sources in this low-fat weight-management food, and standout carbohydrates include whole grain brown rice, sorghum, barley, and oats. Health extras consist of glucosamine and chondroitin. With 26% protein, 9% fat, 4% fiber, and 325 kcal per cup, this food is ideal for overweight dogs needing to lose weight.
This low-fat food has deboned chicken and chicken meal as its top ingredients, followed by carbohydrates like oatmeal, ground brown rice, and ground barley. Healthy extras include glucosamine and chondroitin. With 24% protein, 10% fat, and 4% fiber, this food is recommended for maintaining a healthy weight in active dogs. Each cup contains 405 kcal.
These foods from Natural Balance, Merrick, and Wellness may benefit dogs with food sensitivities.
Natural Balance; Chewy; Tyler Le/Insider
While there’s no strict definition of the term “limited ingredient,” limited-ingredient dog foods do, as a general rule, contain fewer ingredients than regular dog foods. They also typically contain a novel protein since animal proteins are a common source of food allergies in dogs. Examples of novel proteins include lamb, duck, venison, and kangaroo.
Dogs with food-responsive atopic dermatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or food sensitivities can benefit from limited-ingredient foods, according to Bullen. “These diseases can range from mild to severe, so check with your veterinarian before switching to this type of food,” Bullen says. Our top picks for this category have a limited list of ingredients and contain novel proteins.
Potato is the top ingredient in this food, with chicken meal as an added protein source. Carbohydrates include brown rice, brewers rice, and rice bran. Healthy extras include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This food contains 23% protein, 12% fat, and 4.5% fiber, with 322 kcal per cup.
This limited-ingredient food has duck as the top ingredient and novel protein. Other ingredients include oatmeal, peas, ground rice, and ground flaxseed. It also has prebiotics and probiotics as healthy extras. The food contains 25.6% protein, 13% fat, and 4.2% fiber, with 450 kcal per cup.
Blue Buffalo, Merrick, and Nutro make the best fiber-rich kibble for dogs.
Fiber in dog food comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. “Soluble fiber, such as psyllium husk, absorbs water in the digestive tract and becomes gel-like. Insoluble fiber, such as cellulose, draws water into the digestive tract,” Bullen says. Depending on a dog’s digestive health, they may need one type of fiber over another. Water absorbed in the digestive tract can make stool more formed, which can help with diarrhea. On the other hand, dogs with constipation may benefit more from insoluble fiber since more water in the digestive tract can make stool bulkier and help it pass more easily.
The fiber content in dry dog foods is listed as crude fiber, a fibrous residue that remains after a food’s chemical processing. Dry dog foods typically contain between 1 and 10% fiber, with fiber percentages between 6% and 10% generally considered “high fiber.” However, Bullen says different nutritionists may have slightly different ranges for fiber content.
Vets may recommend a high-fiber diet for dogs with mild constipation and diabetes, as well as dogs who are overweight. Just keep in mind that too much fiber can cause digestive problems, so it’s best to check with your vet before switching your dog to a high-fiber food. Our high-fiber recommendations for the best dry dog food contain at least 6% fiber and have healthy extras, like omega fatty acids and probiotics.
Chicken and chicken meal appear at the top of the ingredients list. Standout carbohydrates include rice bran, split peas, whole grain brown rice, and whole grain barley. With 27% protein, 9% fat, and 10% fiber, we recommend this food for dogs that need help with weight loss and weight maintenance. Each cup contains 231 kcal.
Deboned chicken and chicken meal top the ingredient list of this food, along with brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa. Healthy extras include vitamin E, L-carnitine, omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin. With 26% protein, 9% fat, and 10% fiber, this food is ideal for moderately active dogs with constipation or that need help maintaining a healthy weight. Each cup contains 385 kcal.
What to look for in dry dog food
When shopping for dry dog food, considering these criteria can help you choose a brand that meets your dog’s needs:
- AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement: This statement ensures the food provides complete and balanced nutrition for a dog’s life stage. Always look for this label when choosing food for your dog.
- Guaranteed analysis: The guaranteed analysis lists the minimum and maximum percentages of key nutrients — protein, fat, fiber — along with percentages of vitamins and minerals. The exact percentages are usually not listed on a dry matter basis, but you can get this information by calling the food’s manufacturer.
- Ingredients list: “Ingredients are listed from most to least, according to weight,” Bullen says. Whole meat typically appears first in dry dog foods because of its heaviness from water weight. Meat meals, which don’t contain water, often fall further down the list. Meat byproducts may also appear in the ingredients. These are processed to remove harmful pathogens. “Every single ingredient should have a nutritive function,” Bullen says.
- Healthy extras: Healthy extras refer to ingredients that promote specific aspects of a dog’s health. For example, glucosamine and chondroitin support joint health, while probiotics promote healthy digestion. “Prebiotics, which are often fibers like chicory fiber, can promote a healthy gut microbiome,” Koehler says.
- Calorie content: Excess calories contribute to obesity, so the calorie content of the food matters. “Calorie content varies a lot in dry dog food, so work with your veterinarian to determine how many calories your dog should eat each day,” Koehler says. You can also use this calorie calculator to estimate your dog’s daily caloric needs. Calorie content is listed as kcal (kilocalories)/cup on dog food labels.
- Feeding trials: Feeding trials show that a pet food company has gone the extra mile to test their food. Any food that has undergone additional testing will have a statement like this on its label: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [product] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [life stage].”
- Expert formulations: The WSAVA Global Nutrition Guidelines recommend selecting pet food from a brand that has a dedicated nutrition expert on staff. Our experts agree that dog food brands should employ a full-time board-certified veterinary nutritionist and perhaps a PhD-level animal nutritionist. The brands in this guide employ dog nutrition experts to formulate their foods.
- Next-level ingredients: Next-level ingredients, like cage-free chicken and wild-caught fish, may sound appealing. However, Bullen says these ingredients aren’t nutritionally necessary, and they don’t automatically improve the quality of the food. Whether you choose to feed your dog a food with these ingredients comes down to personal preference.
How we selected the best dry dog food
To select foods for this guide, we spoke with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and a small animal veterinarian in private practice. Although they chose not to provide specific product recommendations, they prefer brands that employ a full-time board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
Dr. Rhiannon Koehler is a small animal veterinarian at the Greater Humane Society of Kansas City. She is also a freelance medical writer and owner of Evergreen Medical Writing, where she specializes in writing about veterinary medicine for pet owners and veterinary professionals.
Dr. Lindsey E Bullen is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, D.C. After graduating from veterinary school at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, she remained at the veterinary school and completed a medical and surgery internship, followed by a residency in small animal nutrition and fellowship in clinical nutrition. Her clinical areas of interest include acute and chronic kidney disease and weight loss.
We also referred to the nutritional standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.
Dry dog food FAQs
Do vets recommend kibble?
“For healthy dogs, kibble is a good, affordable option for a well-balanced diet,” Koehler says, but she reminds pet owners that every dog is different. Some dogs do better on dry food, while others thrive on wet food. Consider your dog’s food preferences and overall health, along with your budget, when deciding between kibble and wet food.
What dry dog food is most recommended by veterinarians?
Veterinarians consider factors like a dog’s size, age, and health status when making food recommendations, so there’s no single dry dog food that most veterinarians recommend. Bullen also considers several other factors, including a brand’s investment in quality control and how the brand manages food recalls. Our experts prefer reputable food brands that employ a full-time board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
What dry foods are good for dogs?
Dry foods that contain high-quality ingredients and meet AAFCO’s standards for complete and balanced nutrition are good for dogs. With so many dry dog foods on the market, it’s best to work with your veterinarian to select a dry food that meets your dog’s unique nutritional needs.
Is it OK for dogs to only eat dry food?
Yes, dogs can get their nutritional needs met through dry food alone. That said, certain health conditions may affect your dog’s ability to eat hard kibble. For example, dogs with dental disease or tooth loss may benefit from the softness of wet food, though you may also choose to soften kibble with water before feeding your dog.
Is dry food the best for dogs?
Dry food has several benefits for dogs and also costs less than wet food. But it’s not necessarily the best for all dogs. “Overall, the best food for a dog is what they will eat and what will support optimal metabolism and a good quality of life,” Bullen says.