Choosing the right dog food for your furry friend is one of the most important decisions any pet owner can make. The food you feed your pup impacts their health, energy levels, skin and coat condition, digestive health, immune function, and more. With so many dog food options on the market, it can be incredibly overwhelming trying to decide what is truly the best nutritious dog food brand for your unique pup.
This comprehensive 2023 guide to picking the most nutritious dog food will walk you through everything you need to know to find the ideal food for your canine companion. We’ll cover how to read dog food labels, what ingredients to look for and avoid, debunk common dog food myths and marketing claims, provide tips for transitioning to a new food, and review the top 20 most nutritious dog food brands on the market this year.
Whether you have a puppy, adult or senior dog, a large breed or small breed, an active or sedentary lifestyle, or special dietary needs and allergies, you’ll find the information you need to make a well-informed decision when choosing your dog’s food. Let’s get started!
How to Read Dog Food Labels
The first step in picking out a nutritious dog food is learning how to properly read and interpret pet food labels. Here are the key things to look for:
This lists all ingredients in order of weight. The first 5-7 ingredients make up the majority of the food.
- Quality protein sources (chicken, beef, fish, eggs etc) should feature prominently.
- Whole meat/fish is better than by-products, meal or digest.
- Whole grains (barley, brown rice, oatmeal) are ideal over refined grains (corn, wheat).
- Fruits, veggies and supplements (kelp, cranberries, carrots, vitamins etc) provide micronutrients.
Avoid fillers like corn, wheat, soy, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.
Nutritional Adequacy Statement
This confirms the food meets AAFCO standards for complete and balanced nutrition. Look for “complete and balanced for all life stages”.
Follow this for proper amounts based on your dog’s weight and activity level. Starting point is commonly for a 10lb dog.
Helps determine proper portion sizes and weight management.
Minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat. Higher is better for active dogs. Moisture max also listed.
Top 5 Most Nutritious Ingredients to Look For
Focusing on dog foods with the following ingredients will help provide optimal nutrition for your pup:
1. Whole Meat/Fish
Animal protein provides essential amino acids dogs need. Look for identifiable animal ingredients like chicken, beef, salmon etc.
2. Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh produce like sweet potatoes, berries, kale and carrots add vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
3. Healthy Fats
Omega fatty acids support skin, coat and brain health. Look for fish, flaxseed and canola oils.
4. Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics
Support healthy digestion, nutrient absorption and immunity.
5. Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Help maintain healthy joints, especially for senior dogs.
Ingredients to Avoid
Steer clear of dog foods containing:
- By-products/meals – rendered parts like bone/feathers. Lower quality than whole meat.
- Artificial colors, flavors, preservatives – linked to health issues in dogs.
- Refined grains like corn, wheat, soy – cheap fillers, common allergens.
- Too many carbohydrates – dogs don’t require high amounts.
- Sugar – avoid except small amounts from fruit.
- BHA, BHT – synthetic preservatives, possible carcinogens.
- Ethoxyquin – chemical preservative banned from human food.
Debunking Common Dog Food Myths and Marketing Claims
There is a lot of misinformation surrounding dog nutrition. Here is the truth behind some common myths and buzzwords:
Myth: Grain-free is always healthier
Fact: Some dogs do better grain-free, but whole grains provide carbs, fiber, vitamins. Important to balance with meat protein.
Myth: Raw food is more natural
Fact: Raw diets carry risks of bacteria/parasites. Must be handled/prepared properly.
Myth: Human-grade ingredients are superior
Fact: No legal definition. Focus on nutritious ingredients vs. where sourced.
Myth: Natural preservatives are safer
Fact: Synthetic and natural both preserve similarly. Need correct amounts for safety.
“Holistic” – No rules on using this claim. Focus on ingredients.
“Veterinarian recommended” – Vets may get paid endorsements from brands.
“Organic” – No verified organic standards for pet food. Check ingredients.
Special Diet and Lifestyle Considerations
Certain dogs have unique nutritional needs. Here are some factors to consider:
- Puppies – Require more calories, nutrients, DHA for growth and development.
- Adult – Need balanced nutrition to maintain optimal health and weight.
- Senior – Benefit from reduced calories, extra joint support and easily digestible carbs/protein.
- Small breeds – Prone to dental issues. Need small kibble size, dental care additives.
- Large/giant breeds – Sensitive to excess calcium. Risk of joint issues. Require controlled nutrient levels.
- Active dogs – Require more protein, fat and carbs for energy. Tip: Feed higher calorie “Performance” formulas.
- Less active dogs – Need lower calorie, controlled nutrition to prevent obesity.
- Allergies – Limited ingredient diets remove common triggers like chicken, grains, dairy.
- Digestive problems – Need easily digestible carbs like white rice, fiber like pumpkin. Probiotics beneficial.
- Diabetes – Require low carb/high protein foods to regulate blood sugar.
- Joint issues – Extra glucosamine/chondroitin supports joints. Omega-3s reduce inflammation.
Transitioning Your Dog to a New Food
Switching foods requires gradually introducing the new brand over 7-10 days to prevent digestive upset:
- Days 1-2 – Feed 75% old food, 25% new food
- Days 3-4 – Feed 50% old food, 50% new food
- Days 5-6 – Feed 25% old food, 75% new food
- Days 7+ – Feed 100% new food
Look for gradually smaller stools and consistent energy. If any issues arise like vomiting or diarrhea, slow the transition.
The 20 Most Nutritious Dog Food Brands of 2023
Now that you know how to analyze dog food and pick the right product for your pup, here is an overview of the top 20 most nutritious dog food brands on the market this year.
1. The Honest Kitchen Human Grade Dehydrated Dog Food
- Human grade, dehydrated whole foods
- Made from beef, chicken, fish, fruits, veggies
- Grain-free and gluten-free options
- No artificial ingredients or preservatives
- Provides balanced nutrition for all life stages
- Easy to digest and highly palatable
Best For – Owners prioritizing human-grade ingredients. Suitable for pups with sensitivities.
2. Orijen Original Dry Dog Food
- Made with premium fresh meats, fish, eggs and vegetable ingredients
- Up to 90% meat content with concentrated sources of protein
- Grain-free, limited ingredient carbohydrate sources
- Enriched with probiotics, natural enzymes and antioxidants
- Biologically appropriate ratios of meat/protein
- Quality focused brand based in Canada
Best For – Owners seeking a premium meat-based kibble. Good for active dogs.
3. Instinct Original Grain-Free Cage-Free Chicken Recipe
- Features cage-free chicken as first ingredient
- Grain-free with nutritious fruits and vegetables
- Made without corn, wheat, soy, artificial colors or preservatives
- Contains probiotics to support healthy digestion
- Omega fatty acids help skin and coat health
- Company focuses on natural, high protein recipes
Best For – Owners seeking a protein-packed grain-free kibble. Good for dogs with allergies.
4. Wellness Core Original Turkey, Chicken & Chicken Meal Recipe
- Features deboned turkey and chicken as top ingredients
- Made with no wheat, corn, soy, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
- Contains probiotics, antioxidants and omega fatty acids
- Supports lean muscle mass and healthy digestion
- Balanced calcium and phosphorus levels
- Company committed to premium natural nutrition
Best For – Owners looking for a nutrient-dense kibble without common allergens.
5. Nutro Ultra Adult Dry Dog Food
- Contains multiple high-quality protein sources
- Made with natural ingredients and essential vitamins/minerals
- Enriched with botanical oils, sunflower oil and green tea extract
- Free of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives
- Features glucosamine/chondroitin for joint health
- Kibble pieces specifically designed for big breeds
Best For – Larger breed adult dogs. Good for joint support.
6. Purina Pro Plan Sport All Life Stages Performance 30/20 Formula
- Delivers 30% protein and 20% fat for active dogs
- Features chicken as first ingredient with rice and barley
- Fortified with guaranteed live probiotics
- Contains EPA and glucosamine from salmon oil
- Natural sources of prebiotic fiber support digestion
- Trusted brand recommended by many vets
Best For – Highly active dogs like hunting breeds. Suitable for all life stages.
7. Merrick Grain Free Healthy Weight Recipe
- Grain-free recipe for dogs needing weight control
- Features deboned chicken and turkey as first ingredients
- Made with probiotics, antioxidants and omega fatty acids
- Higher protein and lower fat to maintain lean muscle
- Contains glucosamine/chondroitin for hip/joint health
- No corn, wheat, soy or artificial preservatives
Best For – Overweight dogs. Smaller kibble size works well.
8. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Senior Dog Food
- Made to meet needs of less active senior dogs
- Features deboned chicken, chicken meal and turkey meal
- Contains glucosamine/chondroitin to support aging joints
- Natural prebiotics and probiotics for digestion
- Enriched with antioxidants and vitamins C and E
- Kibble easy to chew for senior mouths
Best For – Less active senior dogs. Supports joint, brain and heart health.
9. Wellness Complete Health Natural Dry Senior Dog Food
- Tailored nutrition for less active senior dogs
- Features chicken and chicken meal as top ingredients
- Made with glucosamine/chondroitin for joint support
- Contains easily digestible carbs and fiber
- Enriched with omega fatty acids for skin/coat
- Balanced levels of phosphorus and calcium
- No meat by-products, fillers or artificial preservatives
Best For – Seniors needing digestive and joint support. Smaller kibble pieces.
10. CANIDAE Grain Free PURE Limited Ingredient Diet Salmon & Sweet Potato
- Limited ingredients to minimize allergy risks
- Features fresh salmon as #1 ingredient
- Sweet potato provides grain/gluten-free carb source
- Made with probiotics, antioxidants and omega-3s
- Supports healthy skin and digestion
- No corn, wheat, soy or artificial preservatives
Best For – Dogs with food sensitivities and allergies.
11. Hill’s Science Diet Dry Dog Food, Adult Perfect Weight
- Clinically proven nutrition for weight management
- Features chicken as first ingredient
- Made with natural ingredients and amino acids
- Contains antioxidants, vitamins C and E
- Lower in fat with precise balance of carbs
- Trusted vet-recommended brand
Best For – Overweight and obese dogs. Vet recommended weight loss food.
12. Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
- Grain-free recipe inspired by ancestral diet
- Features bison, lamb meal, sweet potatoes
- Contains probiotics and antioxidants
- Made with fruits, vegetables, vitamins and minerals
- Added chicory root provides prebiotic fiber
- One of most affordable high quality grain-free foods
Best for – Owners seeking a quality grain-free food on a budget.
13. Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets Sweet Potato & Salmon Formula
- Limited ingredients ideal for sensitive dogs
- Features salmon and salmon meal as protein sources
- Sweet potato provides digestible grain-free carbs
- Contains omega-3s to support skin and coat
- Made with probiotics for digestive health
- Affordably priced quality limited ingredient food
Best for – Dogs with food sensitivities. Budget-friendly option.
14. Annamaet Grain-Free Lean Low Fat Formula
- Features lean bison and herring meal
- Higher protein and lower fat for weight control
- Contains probiotics and digestive enzymes
- Enriched with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants
- Low glycemic carbs from lentils and chickpeas
- Small company focused on quality ingredients
Best for – Owners seeking premium quality foods. Good for overweight dogs.
15. Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Boost Mixers
- Provides benefits of raw food with kibble
- Features raw coated kibble mixed with freeze dried raw pieces
- Made with high protein from cage-free chicken
- Contains probiotics, omegas and antioxidants
- Natural grain-free ingredients
- Provides taste and texture dogs love
Best for – Owners looking to add raw food to kibbles diet.
16. Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Large Breed Puppy Recipe
- Specially formulated for large breed puppy nutrition needs
- Contains 30% raw pieces frozen into the kibble
- Features deboned chicken, turkey meal and salmon meal
- Made with glucosamine/chondroitin for joint support
- Balanced calcium and phosphorus levels
- Contains DHA for brain development
Best for – Large breed puppies under 1 year old.
17. NOW Fresh Senior Weight Management Recipe
- Designed to help senior dogs lose or maintain weight
- Features deboned salmon, turkey and duck as protein sources
- Contains glucosamine/chondroitin and omega-3s
- Made with limited, easily digestible carbs
- Enriched with antioxidants
- Lower fat content for senior weight control
Best for – Overweight senior dogs needing joint support.
18. IAMS ProActive Health Smart Puppy Dry Dog Food
- Made to fuel the needs of growing puppies
- Features real chicken as #1 ingredient
- DHA from fish oil supports brain development
- Contains prebiotics, vitamins and antioxidants
- Higher protein levels for lean muscle
- Affordably priced quality puppy food
Best for – Owners looking for a budget-friendly puppy food.
19. Diamond Naturals Large Breed Puppy Real Lamb Recipe
- Formulated for large breed puppies under 1 year
- Features lamb and lamb meal as protein sources
- Contains glucosamine/chondroitin for joint health
- Probiotics and fiber for digestive health
- Made with superfoods and antioxidants
- Affordably priced quality option
Best for – Budget-conscious buyers with large breed puppies.
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20. Nutro Wholesome Essentials Senior Dry Dog Food
- Tailored for senior dogs over 7 years old
- Features farm-raised chicken as first ingredient
- Contains joint supporting glucosamine/chondroitin
- Natural fiber promotes regular digestion
- Enriched with antioxidants and vitamins
- Trusted brand at a reasonable price point
Best for – Senior dogs on a budget needing digestive and joint support.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most important thing to look for in a dog food?
The quality of ingredients, especially the protein sources. Look for whole animal ingredients like chicken, beef, fish rather than by-products, meals or digests.
Are raw dog foods better than kibble?
Not necessarily. Raw diets can provide benefits but also carry risks of bacterial contamination if not handled properly. Both cooked and raw foods can be nutritious if made with quality ingredients.
Should I look for organic or human-grade dog foods?
These terms are not verified or regulated for pet foods. Focus on the ingredients and nutrition rather than buzzwords. Quality foods can be made without “human-grade” labels.
Is it ok to feed a puppy regular adult dog food?
No, puppies need specially formulated food. Puppy foods provide crucial nutrients like DHA for brain development, higher protein for growth and calibrated calcium/phosphorus. Feeding adult food risks deficiencies.
How much food should I feed my dog?
Follow the feeding guidelines on your dog food package based on your dog’s weight and activity level. Adjust amounts as needed to maintain an ideal weight and body condition score.
How do I choose between dry, wet, dehydrated or frozen dog foods?
Dry foods provide the best
nutritional balance long-term and are easiest to store and feed. Wet foods have higher moisture and may be better for picky eaters or dogs needing more hydration. Dehydrated and frozen foods promise fresher ingredients but are more expensive and take more preparation. Ultimately choose based on your dog’s preferences and needs. Dry food works well for most dogs.
What dog foods are best for weight loss?
Look for foods labeled “lite”, “weight control” or “healthy weight” with these characteristics:
- Higher protein, lower fat and calories
- Increased fiber and L-carnitine to promote metabolism
- Salmon, turkey or other lean protein as first ingredient
- Limited carbohydrates, especially from grains
- Avoid fatty proteins like lamb and high glycemic carbs
Are by-products and meals bad in dog food?
Not necessarily. By-products contain organ meats rich in nutrients. Meals are concentrated sources of meat protein via water removal. Both can provide quality nutrition. Whole foods are ideal when possible. Avoid generic terms like “meat meal” vs named sources.
How do I switch my dog to a new food?
Mix increasingly larger amounts of the new food and smaller amounts of the old food over 7-10 days. This gradual transition prevents digestive upset. If stool or energy issues arise, slow the switch.
The Final Word
Choosing the most nutritious dog food is essential to your pup’s health and happiness. While the process can seem complicated, you now have the knowledge to navigate labels, decipher marketing claims, recognize quality ingredients, avoid fillers and artificial additives, and factor in your dog’s unique needs.
By feeding one of the top-rated nutritious brands in this guide, you can help your furry friend thrive. Your pup will enjoy better digestion, a lustrous coat, sustained energy, ideal body weight and longevity when you make his nutrition a priority. Serve up a nourishing bowl filled with real food ingredients and you’ll have a faithful companion by your side for years to come.