Dog Food Advisor – Using Ratings to Find the Healthiest Brands

Choosing the right dog food is one of the most important decisions a pet owner can make. The nutrients in your dog’s diet impact their health, lifespan, energy levels, skin and coat condition, digestive health, immune function and more. With so many dog food options on the market, how can you know which ones are actually healthy?

That’s where Dog Food Advisor comes in. Dog Food Advisor provides unbiased dog food reviews and ratings to help pet owners identify the healthiest brands. Their 5-star rating system analyzes the quality of ingredients, recalls, labeling accuracy and more. But with hundreds of reviews, navigating Dog Food Advisor can be overwhelming.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through interpreting Dog Food Advisor ratings, explain what makes a high-quality dog food, and reveal the top-rated healthy brands to consider for your dog. Follow our tips to become a smarter shopper, decipher misleading marketing claims, and provide your four-legged friend with optimal nutrition.

Understanding Dog Food Advisor’s Rating System

Dog Food Advisor was created in 2008 by veterinarian Dr. Mike Sagman as a public service to help pet owners recognize quality dog foods. His reviews analyze each product’s ingredients, nutritional adequacy statements, recall history and manufacturer transparency.

Each dog food is assigned a star rating out of 5:

  • 1 Star – Worst. Extremely low quality. Avoid these products.
  • 2 Stars – Poor. Significant flaws. Does not meet Dog Food Advisor’s standards.
  • 3 Stars – Average quality. Neither exceptionally good nor bad.
  • 4 Stars – Above average. High quality nutrition.
  • 5 Stars – Highest quality. Exceeds expectations. Considered elite nutrition.

In addition to the star rating, Dog Food Advisor designates certain recipes as “Editor’s Choice”. These represent the very best quality based on ingredients, nutrition, oversight and company reputation.

Let’s explore what factors Dog Food Advisor evaluates to calculate the ratings.

Dog Food Advisor Criteria for Rating Dog Foods

Dog Food Advisor thoroughly analyzes seven key areas when reviewing dog foods:

1. Ingredient Quality

The quality of ingredients has the biggest impact on a food’s rating. Dog Food Advisor prioritizes meat-based proteins, minimally processed whole foods, and excludes cheap fillers or artificial additives.

High Quality

  • Whole meats (chicken, beef, fish) and meat meals as first ingredients
  • Whole carbohydrates (brown rice, barley, sweet potatoes)
  • Fruits and vegetables

Low Quality

  • Meat by-products, digests, and meals far down the list
  • Refined grains (corn, wheat, soy)
  • Artificial colors, flavors and preservatives (BHA, BHT, propylene glycol)

2. Nutritional Adequacy Statement

The food’s nutritional adequacy statement indicates if feeding trials were conducted to substantiate the diet. Feeding trials are preferred to basic formulation and computer models.

3. Brand Reputation and History

Dog Food Advisor considers the brand’s track record, management transparency, and commitment to quality and nutrition. Smaller companies tend to rate higher than large commercial brands.

4. Product Safety and Recalls

Any history of recalls or contamination negatively impacts a brand’s rating, as it indicates issues with manufacturing and supply chain oversight.

5. Controversial Ingredients

Some debatable ingredients like carrageenan and peas/legumes are examined closely. While allowed by regulations, their long term impacts are still being studied.

6. Label Accuracy

Misleading labeling, inappropriate health claims, or incorrect nutritional profiles lower a food’s rating.

7. Customer Satisfaction

Dog Food Advisor heavily factors in actual customer experiences as reported through surveys and reviews. This provides real world feedback on digestibility, palatability and other issues not detected through lab testing.

Using this criteria gives Dog Food Advisor an objective, science-based methodology for evaluating dog food quality. But it’s not just about the stars. Let’s look at what makes a truly healthy dog food.

What Makes a High Quality Dog Food?

Beyond just aiming for 5 stars, there are certain characteristics and nutrition standards your dog’s food should meet to be considered high quality.

1. Main Protein Sources

The very first ingredients on the label should be whole meat, fish or poultry, or a meal from those single animal sources.

Beef, bison, lamb, venison, salmon, duck, quail, trout – These whole muscle meats provide quality protein and nutrients.

Chicken, turkey, fish or duck meal – Meals are concentrated sources of meat protein with moisture removed. Quality meals only from one animal source, not generic “meat meals”.

Avoid: By-products, digests, meat & bone meal, generic meat meal

2. Minimum Protein Levels

Adult dogs require a minimum of 18% protein. But active, growing puppies and nursing mothers need 25-30% protein to support development and milk production.

3. Moderate Fat Levels

Dogs need sufficient fat for energy, skin health and nutrient absorption. Look for overall fat around 15-18%. Higher levels like 20%+ may cause weight gain.

4. Limited Carbohydrates

Dogs have limited nutritional need for carbs. Look for under 45% carbohydrates. Quality whole food sources like brown rice and oatmeal are best.

5. Adequate Fiber

3-5% fiber supports healthy digestion. Insoluble fiber from whole grains and produce is ideal. Avoid excess peas, legumes and potatoes as main ingredients.

6. Natural Preservation Methods

Vitamin E, Vitamin C and rosemary provide natural alternatives to synthetic preservatives like BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin and propylene glycol.

7. No Artificial Additives

Avoid artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and texturizers. Dogs neither want nor require these.

8. Added Nutrients

Look for added supplements like probiotics, joint support and antioxidants tailored to your dog’s needs. This sets quality foods apart from basic nutrition.

9. Manufacturing and Testing

The best companies manufacture their own food in company-owned facilities under strict quality control. Regular lab testing for nutrition and safety is essential.

Using these criteria as your checklist will help you identify truly healthy and nutritionally balanced foods regardless of marketing claims. Now let’s look at some of the top brands and product lines rated very highly by Dog Food Advisor.

Highest Rated Dry Dog Foods

Dry kibble provides convenient, shelf-stable nutrition. These dry dog foods receive high ratings for their quality ingredients and minimal processing.

1. Dr. Tim’s Dry Dog Food

  • Rating: 5 Stars
  • Price Range: $$
  • Top Ingredients: Chicken meal, chicken fat, ground whole grain sorghum, dried egg product, chicken liver meal

Dr. Tim’s crafts his limited ingredient formulas in his own manufacturing facility in the USA. Grain-inclusive and grain-free recipes available. Rated “Editor’s Choice” by Dog Food Advisor.

Standout Products

  • Dr. Tim’s Kinesis GF
  • Dr. Tim’s Momentum Grain-Free
  • Dr. Tim’s Pursuit Active Dog

2. Annamaet Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

  • Rating: 5 Stars
  • Price Range: $$$
  • Top Ingredients: Chicken meal, brown rice, chicken fat, herring meal, brewers dried yeast

Annamaet’s grain-free line features high quality lean proteins and probiotics. Made in the USA in their own plant. Multiple formulas for all life stages.

Standout Products:

  • Annamaet Salcha GF
  • Annamaet Encore GF
  • Annamaet Aqualuk GF

3. Stella & Chewy’s Stella Protein Dry Dog Food

  • Rating: 5 Stars
  • Price Range: $$$
  • Top Ingredients: Chicken meal, chicken, turkey meal, chickpeas, chicken fat

This freeze-dried raw coated kibble from Stella & Chewy’s provides the convenience of dry with the palatability and nutrients of raw. Grain-free recipes made in the USA.

Standout Products:

  • Stella Protein Chicken & Turkey Recipe
  • Stella Protein Duck Duck Goose Recipe
  • Stella Protein Venison Recipe

4. NutriSource Grain Free Dry Dog Food

  • Rating: 4.5 Stars
  • Price Range: $$
  • Top Ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, peas, lentils, chicken fat

NutriSource is a consistent high-quality brand at a moderate price point. Made in their own Minnesota and South Dakota plants. Formulas for all breeds and sizes.

Standout Products:

  • NutriSource Chicken & Rice
  • NutriSource Pure Vita Turkey
  • NutriSource Element Series Fish Formula

5. Merrick Grain Free Dry Dog Food

  • Rating: 4.5 Stars
  • Price Range: $$
  • Top Ingredients: Deboned beef, chicken meal, turkey meal, salmon meal, sweet potatoes

Merrick crafts innovative grain-free recipes like Wingaling, Turducken and Grammy’s Pot Pie in their Hereford, Texas kitchens.

Standout Products:

  • Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Beef & Brown Rice
  • Merrick Backcountry Game Bird, Fowl & Rabbit
  • Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain-Free Chicken & Sweet Potato

Top Rated Wet Dog Foods

Wet dog foods provide increased moisture and protein. Canned and fresh/refrigerated options supply superior texture and palatability over dry kibble.

1. Dave’s Pet Food 95% Meat Canned Dog Food

  • Rating: 5 Stars
  • Price Range: $$
  • Top Ingredients: Beef, beef broth, beef liver

Dave’s limited ingredient, grain-free canned foods are 95% meat and organs. Nutrient dense and easy to digest. Made in the USA.

Standout Products:

  • Dave’s 95% Beef & Liver
  • Dave’s 95% Chicken & Heart
  • Dave’s 95% Rabbit & Liver

2. NomNom Fresh Pet Food Delivery

  • Rating: 5 Stars
  • Price Range: $$$
  • Top Ingredients: Beef, beef liver, beef bone broth, carrots, spinach

NomNom ships fresh, hand-crafted meals tailored to your dog’s needs straight to your door. Human grade ingredients cooked in an FDA-inspected kitchen.

Menu Highlights:

  • Chicken Chow-Wow with Quinoa & Kale
  • Beefy Bruschetta with Mushrooms & Potatoes
  • Porkalicious Pot Pie with Apples & Carrots

3. Primal Frozen Raw Dog Food

  • Rating: 5 Stars
  • Price Range: $$$
  • Top Ingredients: Beef, beef liver, beef lung, beef heart, beef kidney

Primal offers complete balanced raw frozen formulas using premium antibiotic/hormone-free meats, bones and organ meats. Many grain-free recipes available.

Standout Products:

  • Beef Formula
  • Duck Formula
  • Pheasant Formula

4. Tiki Dog Aloha Petites Wet Dog Food

  • Rating: 4.5 Stars
  • Price Range: $$
  • Top Ingredients: Chicken, chicken broth, chicken liver, dried egg, potato starch

Tiki Dog’s Aloha Petites line features high quality proteins like tuna, sardine, chicken and beef in tasty gravy recipes. Great for small breeds. Made in the USA.

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Standout Products:

  • Tiki Aloha Petites with Tuna & Shrimp in Sardine Consommé
  • Tiki Aloha Petites with Chicken & Salmon in Chicken Consommé
  • Tiki Aloha Petites with Beef & Sweet Potato in Beef Consommé

5. Weruva Grain-Free Canned Dog Food

  • Rating: 4.5 Stars
  • Price Range: $$
  • Top Ingredients: Chicken, chicken broth, carrots, potato starch, chicken liver

Weruva crafts tasty limited ingredient canned and pouch recipes made with quality proteins and produce. Their Pumpkin Patch Up line is a hit for the fall season.

Standout Products:

  • Weruva Pumpkin Patch Up Chicken & Pumpkin
  • Weruva Steak Frites with Carrots & Potatoes Grain-Free
  • Weruva Under the Sunfish Fish & Sweet Potato Recipe

Answering Common Dog Food Questions

Choosing the right dog food can certainly be confusing with so many options and strong marketing claims. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions to help you identify truly healthy foods.

FAQ: Are grain-free diets better than foods with grains?

Grains themselves don’t cause problems, but some dogs are sensitive to certain ones like corn or wheat. Focus on quality whole grains like brown rice, barley and oatmeal. Both grain-inclusive and grain-free diets can be balanced.

FAQ: Are human grade ingredients superior?

Human grade ingredients alone don’t guarantee safety or nutrition. Veterinary oversight and testing are most important. However, brands using human edible ingredients tend to exceed pet food standards overall.

FAQ: Is raw dog food more natural than commercial pet food?

Raw diets mimic ancestral eating patterns. But both raw and quality commercial foods can be nutritionally complete with proper vet guidance. Raw requires strict handling and isn’t right for every pet.

FAQ: Should I make my own dog food at home?

Very difficult to formulate homemade food with complete balanced nutrition yourself. Risk of deficiencies or excesses. Safer to work with your vet and use commercial food as your base.

FAQ: How important are dog food recalls?

Isolated recalls for processing issues happen even in high quality brands. But frequent or severe recalls indicate major safety problems. Prioritize companies with rigorous quality control.

FAQ: Are prescription dog foods better for health conditions?

Rx foods can help manage certain medical issues under vet guidance. But many non-prescription commercial foods also cater to sensitivities with limited ingredients, low fat, lower protein etc.

Choose Dog Food Like a Pro

As you can see, not all brands are created equal when it comes to providing complete and balanced nutrition. By leveraging Dog Food Advisor’s unbiased ratings and reviews, you can cut through marketing claims and feel confident you’re making the healthiest choice.

Keep quality proteins first, limit less essential carbohydrates, and avoid artificial additives. Prioritize fresh meats, meals and fats. Look for added nutrients that suit your dog’s needs. And of course, consult your veterinarian, especially for dogs with medical conditions.

With so many options to choose from, it may take some trial and error to find foods your dog loves and thrives on. Dog Food Advisor’s resources make it easier to start with quality recommendations to give your canine companion the diet they deserve. Here’s to many healthy, happy years together!

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