Ask 10 people what the best dog food is and odds are you'll get 10 different answers. The truth is that what is best for one dog might not be best for a different dog; often trial and error is the only way to find the best food for your particular dog. It's highly likely that if you have two dogs of different breeds or ages, their diets are not going to be one-food-suits-all. Owners can narrow their choices by choosing foods with wholesome ingredients and limited fillers, without grains, chemicals, artificial colors or artificial flavors.
As a subspecies of the wolf, dogs are biologically engineered to eat a diet based on raw meaty bones, muscle meat and organs. (Never feed dogs cooked bones.) Fruits and vegetables that are safe for dogs may be beneficial as a small part of the diet, notes Australian veterinarian and raw food proponent Dr. Tom Lonsdale. Not all owners are comfortable feeding whole bones, or confident in their ability to balance their dog's diet over time. As a result, a growing number of prepared ground raw foods are available on the retail market. You can feed them as a complete and balanced diet. Raw diets are highly controversial, and veterinarians and veterinary organizations are divided on the topic. Feed a raw diet only if you have an understanding of the risks and rewards, and ideally with the guidance of a veterinarian who supports raw feeding.
A good diet is an integral component of good health. As with human nutrition, a wide variety of whole foods is ideal. Dog owners who choose not to feed a raw diet but want to avoid processed kibble may opt to cook for their dogs. Numerous books discuss home cooking and provide recipes to help owners prepare a wholesome, balanced diet for their pets. As with a raw diet, a home-prepared diet can cause problems rather than prevent or solve them if done badly, so researching before making the switch is essential.
The Honest Kitchen
Not quite a raw diet, not kibble, The Honest Kitchen's dehydrated foods offer the convenience of a processed food with the benefits of whole foods. The dehydration process gently cooks the ingredients, retaining more nutrients than regular cooking or extrusion. You can feed most THK foods as a standalone complete diet or you can use it to supplement a raw diet, as a base mix for home-prepared food, or as a topper on kibble or canned food.
Designed to be biologically appropriate, Orijen kibble is made with 80 percent meat and 20 percent fruits and vegetables. Since dogs do not have a nutritional requirement for grains, all Orijen foods are grain-free. Orijen, based in Alberta, Canada, says its ingredients are locally sourced, arrive fresh daily for processing and are deemed fit for human consumption by the Canadian government.
The Natura Pet Company's Evo diet, the first grain-free kibble on the market, remains one of the top-rated foods for dogs. With whole meats or meat meals in the first several ingredients, along with whole eggs and whole fruits and vegetables, Evo recognizes the dog's status as a carnivore yet provides a convenient food for dog owners.
Nature's Variety Instinct
Instinct foods, made by Nature's Variety, are free of grains, gluten and potatoes, and contain about 70 percent animal ingredients and 30 percent fruits and vegetables. Meat ingredients are in meal form, which means the water is removed before processing; this lends accuracy to the ingredient listing on the label, as whole meats weigh less, and thus comprise less of the total food, when the water is processed out. The line includes Limited Ingredient Diets -- one protein and one starch -- for dogs with allergies or sensitive stomachs. Instinct also offers frozen and freeze-dried raw foods.
Petcurean Go! Fit + Free
Another Canadian-made pet food, Go! Fit + Free kibble contains meat proteins as its six main ingredients. They're wholly grain-free. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables, herbs, essential fatty acids and additional proteins round out the formula, as well as supplemental vitamins and minerals. For dogs with food allergies or sensitivities, Go! includes the Sensitivity + Shine product line. The Go! line is a product of the Petcurean Pet Nutrition company.
Long a leader in quality kibble, The Wellness brand makes a Core diet that marks the line's leap into the grain-free market. Whole meats and meat meals lead the ingredient lists, with a variety of whole fruits and vegetables following. The Ocean recipe is fish-based as a choice for dogs that have issues with poultry and other meats. Wellness does not recommend feeding Core foods to puppies under 1 year of age.
Taste of the Wild
Taste of the Wild grain-free kibbles use novel roasted meats such as bison, venison, quail and duck. These meats are both an alternative for dogs with food allergies and a way to better mimic what a dog might eat in the wild. Puppy formulas provide appropriate levels of protein and fat for growth and development.
The Blue Buffalo company offers several grain-free kibble lines. Freedom is a moderate-protein kibble based on chicken, with whole fruits and vegetables. Wilderness foods offer chicken, salmon or duck formulas and are higher in protein. Blue Basics is a limited-ingredient line for allergic or ingredient-sensitive dogs.
- Close up of dogfood and rewards. image by Saskia Massink from Fotolia.com