Figuring out the best dry dog food can be tricky, especially when your rescue would happily eat straight out of the garbage if it weren’t for their nemesis, the industrial trash can. It’s easy to assume that all kibbles are interchangeable, but picking the right dry food is a delicate and individualized process that can make the difference between a happy dog and a sick puppy. In other words, choose wisely.

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What to consider before buying dry dog food

When picking out dry dog food, experts consider the following factors for feeding their precious pups.

AAFCO Statement

“Pet foods’ safety, adequacy and efficacy are paramount,” says Dr. Shannon Barrett, a veterinarian and founder of Downward Paws. “Manufacturers should comply with regulations from various agencies to ensure the safety and adequacy.” The most important agency in this respect is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which tests dog food for safety and nutrition and tailors recipes for every stage of life. Pet owners can find the AAFCO’s stamp of approval on the label of their dry dog food or on the manufacturer’s website.

Size

When it comes to picking dry dog food, size matters. According to Dr. Vernard Hodges, a veterinarian and co-host of “Critter Fixers: Country Vets,” larger dogs need high-quality protein for lean muscles. Conversely, “certain small dogs may also be more prone to health issues, such as skin allergies or digestive problems,” Hodges explains. In these cases, “it may be beneficial to choose a dry dog food specifically formulated to address those concerns.”

Anyone with a large and small dog may want to invest in different dry foods.

Age

Age plays a similar role as size, particularly for large-breed puppies who have unique nutritional needs as they are growing and “require a diet with appropriate levels of calcium and overall calories to help support proper growth,” Hodges says. On the other hand (or paw), senior dog food has less protein and fat to avoid weight gain that could lead to health problems.

Price

Dry food is more affordable and essential than wet food, which is partially why veterinarians like Dr. Terrence Ferguson, Hodge’s co-host on “Critter Fixers,” caution against putting cost over quality. “When it comes to a pet’s nutrition, you’re likely to spend less in the long term by offering your dog a higher-quality food,” Ferguson notes. At the same time, pet owners who live beyond their means risk cutting corners on annual vet appointments and other preventative care. It’s a tricky balance, but pet owners should buy the best food they can afford — and again, one that their dogs will eat and meets AAFCO guidelines.

“Those on a budget shouldn’t feel any guilt about opting for cheaper food,” says Dr. Linda Simon, a U.K.-based veterinary surgeon and writer for Senior Tailwaggers. “As long as it is a complete food, it will contain all the necessary macro and micronutrients.” Anyone with ample disposable income can spend more money to specialize their dry food based on dog breeds. “For example, Dalmatians often need low-purine food to prevent stones from forming,” Simon explains. And if you think that sounds expensive, try owning 101 of them.

Smell

Let’s face it, some dry dog foods just stink, mainly because ultra-processed kibble can use excessive amounts of fillers, which can cause dry food to smell unpleasant. Any dry dog food is a waste of money when your dog refuses to eat it, and part of the reason might be the odor. Dogs have a weaker sense of taste than humans but a sense of smell that is significantly stronger. If a whiff of their breakfast makes you gag, it’s unsurprising that some dogs might pass on a bowl of it.

Our picks for the best dry dog food

Best bargain dry dog food: IAMS Adult Minichunks Small Kibble High Protein Dry Dog Food with Real Chicken

Best bargain

Iams Proactive Health MiniChunks Small Kibble Adult Chicken & Whole Grain Dry Dog Food, 15-lb bag

The word “real” before “chicken” does not always bode well regarding overall processing. However, Barrett prefers IAMS for affordable dry dog foods because its first ingredient is, in fact, chicken, whereas with other comparable brands, like Pedigree, “the first ingredient is corn,” she says. It’s useful to know that the first ingredient on food labels represents the main ingredient according to weight. Although corn is not necessarily harmful to dogs, it can make protein harder to digest in larger quantities, so having chicken as the first ingredient makes IAMS a reputable brand that adheres to AAFCO guidelines.

Specifications:

  • Best for: Dog owners on a budget.
  • Packaging Size: 15 pounds.
  • Life Stage: Adult.
  • Flavors: Chicken and whole grain.
  • Type: With grains.
  • Price on Publish: $28.

What we like:

  • Great value.
  • Made with farm-raised chicken.
  • Formulated with fibers and prebiotics.
  • Meets AAFCO standards.

What we don’t like:

  • Contains corn.
  • Some complaints about diarrhea, constipation and other stomach problems.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

A happy and healthy dog costs money — up to $5,000 a year. If your dog is not picky and your budget is tight, IAMS might be your best friend’s best friend.

Get it here: IAMS Adult Minichunks Small Kibble High Protein Dry Dog Food with Real Chicken


Best dry dog food for soft and shiny coats: Nutro Natural Choice Adult Dry Dog Food

Best for soft and shiny coats

Nutro Natural Choice Adult Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food, 36-lb bag

Although many expensive dog foods are enriched with vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids to promote healthy skin and soft, shiny coats, Nutro represents one of the more accessible of these brands. “Nutro is another well-respected brand,” Barrett confirms. The catch? This dry food only comes in bargain quantities, so if your dog is not a fan of Nutro, that is a lot of food waste. (Shelters cannot take open bags of food as donations due to the risk of contamination.)

Specifications:

  • Best for: Long-haired breeds.
  • Packaging Size: 40 pounds.
  • Life Stage: Adult.
  • Flavors: Chicken and brown rice.
  • Type: Dry kibble.
  • Price on Publish: $80.73.

What we like:

  • Great value.
  • No corn, wheat, or soy.
  • Has Vitamin E and Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Meets AAFCO standards.

What we don’t like:

  • Only available in one bulk-size bag on Amazon.
  • Some picky dogs refuse to eat it.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

To keep your dog’s coat soft and shiny, feed them quality food like Nutro.

Get it here: Nutro Natural Choice Adult Dry Dog Food


Best dry dog food for big dogs: Hill’s Science Diet Adult Large Breed Dry Dog Food

Best for big dogs

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Large Breed Dry Dog Food, 35-lb bag

Before Ferguson and Hodges had their television show, they learned about Hill’s Pet Nutrition as veterinary students at Tuskegee University. (Full disclosure: They have continued a professional partnership with the brand over the years.) “We also feed our own pets Hill’s products and recommend them to our clients at our clinics,” Ferguson says. The brand offers a range of prescription and non-prescription formulas based on scientific research. Still, Hodges recommends their large breed formula mainly because it “contains high-quality, easy-to-digest ingredients and high-quality protein for lean muscles.”

Specifications:

  • Best for: Large breeds.
  • Packaging Size: 35 pounds.
  • Life Stage: Adult.
  • Flavors: Chicken and barley.
  • Type: Dry kibble.
  • Price on Publish: $75.03.

What we like:

  • Specially formulated for healthy joints.
  • Excellent source of Vitamin E and Omega-6 fatty acids.
  • A favorite among veterinarians.
  • Meets AAFCO standards.

What we don’t like:

  • Contains corn.
  • More expensive than other brands.
  • Complaints of the formula being inconsistent and occasional adverse reactions.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

Hill’s Science Diet offers several research-backed formulas for different breeds, and their high-protein blends are a great source of nutrients for larger dogs.

Get it here: Hill’s Science Diet Adult Large Breed Dry Dog Food


Best dry dog food for small dogs: Eukanuba Adult Small Bites Dry Dog Food

Best for small dogs

Eukanuba Adult Small Bites Dry Dog Food, 4.5-lb bag

It’s easy to overlook tiny dogs when they’re so low to the ground, but choosing their food well is essential because they tend to be pickier eaters. “I like that Eukanuba is created with small dogs in mind, including kibble size,” Barrett explains. It is also formulated with their stature in mind, just in case their eyes become figuratively larger than their stomachs.

Specifications:

  • Best for: Small breeds.
  • Packaging Size: 30 pounds.
  • Life Stage: Adult.
  • Flavors: Chicken.
  • Type: Dry kibble.
  • Price on Publish: $109.99.

What we like:

  • It’s specially formulated with small dogs in mind.
  • Smaller kibble is more manageable for tiny mouths to chew.
  • Reduces tartar buildup and promotes clean teeth and healthy gums.
  • Meets AAFCO standards.

What we don’t like:

  • Contains corn meal.
  • More expensive than other brands.
  • Some picky dogs refuse to eat it.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

Tiny dogs tend to be picky eaters, which this kibble helps address by being specially formulated for their size.

Get it here: Eukanuba Adult Small Bites Dry Dog Food


Best dry dog food for puppies: Purina Pro Plan Puppy Sport Development

Best for puppies

Purina Pro Plan Sport Development High-Protein 30/20 Chicken & Rice Formula Puppy Food, 16-lb bag

Puppies need to have specialized food for their growing dog bones. “I like that Purina Pro is formulated with the phosphorus and calcium needed for growing puppies,” Barrett says. This is extra important for larger breed puppies, so Purina developed a blend with a higher protein-to-fat ratio.

Specifications:

  • Best for: Growing puppies.
  • Packaging Size: 24 pounds.
  • Life Stage: Adult.
  • Flavors: Chicken and rice.
  • Type: Dry kibble.
  • Price on Publish:$109.93.

What we like:

  • Specially formulated with vitamins and minerals that support growth.
  • Protein and fat ratios tailored to breed size.
  • Brain-boosting ingredients for added focus and trainability.
  • Meets AAFCO standards.

What we don’t like:

  • More expensive than other brands.
  • Contains corn.
  • Complaints about the formula being inconsistent.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

Dry dog foods high in protein and calcium, like Purina Pro, support a puppy’s growth into a good boy or girl.

Get it here: Purina Pro Plan Puppy Sport Development


Best senior dry dog food: Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Large Breed Senior Dry Dog Food

Best for senior dogs

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Large Breed Puppy Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food

Animal experts at Cornell University point out that most AAFCO-approved adult dog foods are sufficient for senior dogs. An exception to this rule is if dogs have health problems as they age — issues like arthritis, for example, can be more common in larger breeds. Whether you have an aging small or large dog, it’s also imperative to consult their veterinarian before changing their diet. But if they suggest a senior blend, Barrett stands by Blue Buffalo as an affordable, high-quality blend. “It’s easy to find in most grocery stores and fits most budgets,” she says.

Simon notes that the lower protein content may also be better for dogs with early liver or kidney disease.

Specifications:

  • Best for: Senior dogs.
  • Packaging Size: 30 pounds.
  • Life Stage: Adult.
  • Flavors: Chicken and brown rice.
  • Type: Dry kibble.
  • Price on Publish:$66.88.

What we like:

  • Good value.
  • Corn-free.
  • No artificial flavors or preservatives.
  • Meets AAFCO standards.

What we don’t like:

  • Some dogs experience worse breath after eating.
  • Occasional complaints about digestive distress.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

Old dogs can learn new tricks, like eating dry food formulated for them. Blue Buffalo’s blends are an excellent option for just that.

Get it here: Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Large Breed Senior Dry Dog Food


Best dry dog food for weight management: Royal Canin Small Weight Care Adult Dry Dog Food for Small Breeds

Best for weight management

Royal Canin Canine Care Nutrition Small Weight Care Adult Dry Dog Food, 13-lb bag

As cute as a chubby chihuahua can be, this can lead to health problems. Much like with senior dogs, it’s crucial to consult your dog’s veterinarian before switching them to a food formulated for weight control. In some cases, vets like Barrett will put chunky dogs on prescription diets, like Royal Canin’s “Adult Satiety Support Weight Management.”

Simon also prescribes Royal Canin’s Satiety Support formula to overweight dogs because it contains special metabolism-boosting ingredients. Still, the brand offers non-prescription options, too, such as its weight care blend for small breeds. Of course, larger dogs can become overweight, but small breeds like dachshunds are more vulnerable to bulking up quickly and tend to develop back problems and other issues.

Specifications:

  • Best for: Overweight dogs.
  • Packaging Size: 13 pounds.
  • Life Stage: Adult.
  • Flavors: Chicken and vegetables.
  • Type: Dry kibble.
  • Price on Publish: $58.89.

What we like:

  • Low calorie.
  • Specially formulated for weight loss according to breed size.
  • Dogs lost weight without losing interest in their food.
  • A favorite among veterinarians.
  • Meets AAFCO standards.

What we don’t like:

  • More expensive than other brands.
  • Prescription-grade food is more effective for weight loss.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

If your pup looks a little thicker than normal, it might be time to visit the vet, to see if Royal Canin’s weight care formula is a better fit.

Get it here: Royal Canin Small Weight Care Adult Dry Dog Food for Small Breeds


Best dry dog food for sensitive pups: Hill’s Science Diet Dry Dog Food, Sensitive Stomach & Skin

Best for sensitive pup

Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Chicken & Barley Recipe Dry Dog Food, 15.5-lb bag

Like humans, a dog’s skin is affected by what they eat. Ferguson and Hodges recommend Hill’s Science blends, developed with potential sensitivities in mind. “This nutrition is proven to be highly digestible and gentle on sensitive stomachs,” Hodges says. “It’s formulated for optimal nutrient absorption and easy stool pick-up and includes Vitamin E and Omega-6 fatty acids for skin and coat nourishment.” Since there won’t be any excuses to leave a mess on the sidewalk, remember to bring a poop bag.

Specifications:

  • Best for: Dogs with food sensitivities.
  • Packaging Size: 15.5 pounds.
  • Life Stage: Adult.
  • Flavors: Chicken and barley.
  • Type: Dry kibble.
  • Price on Publish: $53.19.

What we like:

  • Made with prebiotic fiber to promote healthier gut bacteria.
  • Vitamin E and Omega-6 fatty acids.
  • No artificial flavors or synthetic colors.
  • A favorite among veterinarians.
  • Meets AAFCO standards.

What we don’t like:

  • More expensive compared to other brands.
  • Some picky dogs refuse to eat it.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

If your dog is especially itchy or overly regular, ask your vet about Hill’s Science formulas for sensitive stomachs and skin. Your neighbors will appreciate it as much as your pet.

Get it here: Hill’s Science Diet Dry Dog Food, Sensitive Stomach & Skin


Best high-end dry dog food: Orijen Original Dry Dog Food

Best high-end

ORIJEN Original Grain-Free Dry Dog Food, 23.5-lb bag

While they were once marketed as the healthier option, grain-free dog foods have garnered a bad reputation, potentially causing canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), even in breeds without a genetic predisposition. The Food and Drug Administration launched an investigation in 2018 and found that it wasn’t just grain-free brands but any dog food with large amounts of peas, lentils, other legume seeds and potatoes.

According to the pending investigation, Orijen has had fewer DCM cases linked to their food than other grain-free brands. This might be because their original formula is made with 85% animal ingredients, making legumes relatively minimal. “Orijen is a great higher-cost option,” Simon explains. In addition to formulas for small breeds, puppies, senior dogs and dogs looking to stay “fit & trim,” Orijen offers four flavor options for adult dogs, including their original blend of free-run chicken, turkey and fish.

Specifications:

  • Best for: Dog owners with disposable income.
  • Packaging Size: 23.5 pounds.
  • Life Stage: Adult.
  • Flavors: Original, Regional Red, Six Fish, Tundra.
  • Type: Dry kibble, grain-free.
  • Price on Publish: $100.69.

What we like:

  • High in animal protein.
  • Uses fresh ingredients.
  • Rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
  • Contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Good for sensitive stomachs.
  • Meets AAFCO standards.

What we don’t like:

  • Grain-free.
  • More expensive than other brands.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

Celiac disease is rare in dogs, but pups with specific allergies may benefit from dry food made with fewer ingredients, such as Orijen.

Get it here: Orijen Original Dry Dog Food


Best dry dog food for most dogs: Royal Canin Medium Breed Adult Dry Dog Food

Best for most dogs

Royal Canin Medium Breed Adult Dry Dog Food, 17 lb bag

Royal Canin’s dried dog food is consistently a top pick among veterinarians because of the extensive research they put into making each blend. They are the brand that Barrett feeds her dog, an option for dry food geared towards German Shepherds. “I like the R&D that goes into their formulas,” says Barrett, who is not affiliated with the brand. “They research breeds to find the optimal shape, texture and ingredients for each breed.”

Although the first ingredient in many of their dry formulas is “brewers rice,” which can seem like cheap filler compared to chicken, it’s also bland and more digestible for some breeds. Again, these formulas are well respected because of the data used to develop them. Even if the chicken doesn’t come before the rice, this specialized dry food is ideal for most dogs. Interestingly, it’s the only dry kibble on the list without a flavor listed — perhaps because the flavor is “dog food.”

Specifications:

  • Best for: Most dogs.
  • Packaging Size: 17 pounds.
  • Life Stage: Adult.
  • Flavors: Not specified.
  • Type: Dry kibble.
  • Price on Publish: $58.89.

What we like:

  • Specialized formulas for breed and size developed through peer-reviewed research.
  • Different kibble sizes and shapes for different dogs.
  • Enriched with Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • A favorite among veterinarians.
  • Meets AAFCO standards.

What we don’t like:

  • More expensive than other brands.
  • Food cannot be reused for different breeds.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

You don’t have to dress your pup in a crown to appreciate the caliber of kibble Royal Canin puts out.

Get it here: Royal Canin Medium Breed Adult Dry Dog Food


How we selected the best dry dog food

Pet health is paramount to dog owners, and with this in mind, our selections were made only with the guidance of four trained, practicing veterinary professionals. Along with their expert clinical and nutritional advice, every brand on our list has been green-lit by AAFCO and received predominantly positive customer reviews for safety, nutrition and overall cost.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the healthiest food to feed your dog?

The healthiest dog food is dog food that meets your dog’s nutritional needs. That is why you want to choose a brand that meets AAFCO standards. Beyond that, the more research put into the kibble formula and specifications for your dog’s breed and size, the better it will be for their diets.

As for the least healthy dog foods, veterinarians like Barrett advise against raw diets because of concerns about foodborne illnesses. Raw dog food can be a mixed bag; one batch is fine, and another can make your dog sick with Salmonella. Likewise, vegetarian diets are not nutritionally sufficient for dogs and are not approved by AAFCO.

How much dry dog food should I feed my dog?

Figuring out how much to feed your dog can be tricky, Simon explains, “because every dog food has an entirely different nutrient profile.” For this reason, “You can’t make a broad statement like ‘feed three cups a day.’”

The good news is that AAFCO-approved dry dog foods have feeding instructions on their packaging, which account for the nutrient and calorie content relative to each dog’s size.

“Owners should remember that the guidelines assume no other food is eaten, so if the dog is also getting wet food, dental sticks, or other treats, they need proportionally less dry food,” Simon adds. “Every dog has a different metabolism and lifestyle so it isn’t unusual for owners to need to give a bit more or less than what it states.”

Is grain-free dry dog food better for dogs?

Some veterinarians like Barrett discourage grain-free dry foods, because of the link between kibble high in peas, lentils, other legume seeds and potatoes and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), and because celiac disease is rare in dogs.

However, other experts like Simon acknowledge that high-quality grain-free dry foods like Orijen can be helpful for dogs with atopic dermatitis, or digestive sensitivities regardless of a celiac diagnosis. Since the evidence of a correlation between heart disease and these diets has not yet proven that they cause such problems, AAFCO still approves of several grain-free dog foods.

Ultimately, it makes sense to approach grain-free diets with some caution and research on the number of cases linked to the brand, as well as consult a veterinarian about what makes sense for your dog.

How long can dry dog food be stored?

Simon recommends going off the sell-by date on the packaging, or about six weeks after opening. “This is why owners of smaller breeds should not buy extra large bags that may not be finished quickly,” she says. For maximum freshness, store dry food in an air-tight container that a hungry pup can’t break into outside of mealtimes. And keep those big bags of food for big dogs only.

Related: Guide to best wet food for cats

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