The Best Dog Food Options for Your Pet, According to a Vet

updated Aug 26, 2020
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Any longtime dog owner knows that the quality of their dog’s diet is directly related to its health, so shopping for pet food is a big responsibility. Besides impacting your pooch’s growth, the right food can prevent diseases as they get older, as well as lead to better absorption and digestion, producing dog poop that’s smaller and firmer. But with so many options on the market, picking the right food for your pet can get confusing, especially if you’re a newbie pet parent or have recently started fostering. Add to that the dilemma of choosing between dry, wet or fresh food, dealing with picky eaters and determining what food combo is best for your dog’s breed, size and life stage. Phew! Being a pet parent is hard work, so we consulted Dr. Carly Fox, Staff Doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center, to figure out how to shop for the best food for adult and older dogs.

How to Shop for Dog Food

“You always want to make sure you’re feeding your pet a complete and balanced diet,” says Dr. Fox. “It’s super important.” To make sure your pet’s food packs in all the required nutrients and vitamins they need to live a healthy life, it’s key to ensure that there’s an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement on the back of the bag, box or can. The AAFCO statement is an assurance that the food is nutritionally complete and balanced, explains Dr. Fox. Another important thing she recommends is picking food options that are high quality, commercially available and easily accessible. “Meaning that if they were running low, it doesn’t require ordering in advance or a lot of preparation,” she says. “Because as a dog owner, sometimes I’ll find myself running out of food, and it’s hard to scramble to get your animal’s food quickly if it’s anything but commercially available.”

Adding sites like Amazon, Chewy, Petco, PetSmart and PetFlow to your radar is advisable, since they’re always stocked up and deliver relatively quickly. Another pro to picking commercially available food options? “Unlike small boutique companies, larger companies heavily invest in education and research, employing teams of nutritionists and experts to determine that the diet is complete and balanced for your pet,” notes Dr. Fox.

Choosing Between Wet, Dry or Fresh Food

It all whittles down to personal preference, explains Dr. Fox. While wet food tends to be more palatable to dogs, it also packs in higher water content in addition to the water your pet is already drinking. “But a lot of people don’t like storing open cans in their refrigerator, or just find it more expensive,” she says. “In that case, feeding your dog dry food is totally fine.” Another option is doing a combination of both dry and wet food. But whatever you choose, Dr. Fox recommends picking food that’s easy to store and a brand you can stick with long term.

When it comes to subscription services that deliver fresh food, Dr. Fox suggests only brands that are AAFCO-approved. “These companies are well intentioned, but at this time, they’re just not able to compete with larger companies that have so much research backing them,” she says. “But if I were to feed my dog, I would pick either Ollie or The Farmer’s Dog, since both offer AAFCO-standard meals formulated in conjunction with an expert.” Pro tip: If you’re transitioning your pet from wet food to dry food or fresh food and vice versa, Dr. Fox recommends doing it slowly over the course of a few days, allowing your pet to readjust to their new diet.

Food Shopping for Large-Breed Adult and Older Dogs

Kibble size tends to be bigger for larger-breed adult and older dogs, allowing them to chew and take their time when eating. “Large dogs are prone to developing something called a GDV or a Gastric Dialation-Volvulus, where their stomach becomes very full, and it’s been linked to eating very quickly,” says Dr. Fox. “They also engulf a lot of air when they eat, so larger-size kibble can help slow them down and help prevent this from happening.” Large-breed dogs are also prone to developing orthopedic diseases, so choosing a diet that includes supplements that support joint health can be incredibly helpful.

Food Shopping for Small-Breed Adult and Older Dogs

Unlike larger-breed dogs, smaller-breed pooches have tiny little mouths, so their kibble size tends to be smaller and easier to chew. Smaller dogs are also more prone to dental and gum diseases, and kibble helps in removing some of the plaque on your dog’s teeth. Additionally, their food is more nutrient dense, since their metabolic rate is much higher than larger-breed dogs.

Best Dog Food Brands

Credit: Amazon

1. Blue Buffalo

When it comes to dog food brands, Blue Buffalo is a great option! Their food is free of meat by-products or artificial additives, plus each formula is supplemented with Blue Buffalo’s exclusive LifeSource Bits. For the unacquainted, LifeSource Bits contain a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. They offer dry food and wet food options for both larger-breed adult and smaller-breed adult dogs. They also have prey-based dog food options packed with organ meats that are great for certain larger-breed dogs.

Shop: Blue Buffalo

Credit: Chewy

2. Royal Canin

The popular brand offers quality food formulated by a veterinary nutritionist to meet the specific needs of your adult dog according to size, breed and sensitivities. There are tons of dry and wet food options to choose from; simply type in your dog’s breed or health requirements to refine your search and get quick options. The brand is also easily available at most major retailers, but Chewy currently has some of the most extensive options. Royal Canin also offers food options for dogs with specific health requirements, but do keep in mind that you need a vet’s prescription to purchase them.

Shop: Royal Canin

Credit: Petco

3. Hill’s Science Diet

In addition to regular food for large- and small-breed adult dogs, Hill’s also has a range of prescription foods for pooches with various health conditions like skin sensitivity and digestive issues. Their most popular option, though, is the Perfect Weight formulation, aka dog diet food, which is great for pets needing to shave off a few extra pounds. “Obesity is a huge, huge problem in our pet population, especially dogs, and can reduce their life span by two years,” notes Dr. Fox. In addition to several diet food options, Hill’s also offers healthful and low-calorie snacks for pooches.

Shop: Hill’s Science Diet

Credit: Amazon

4. Purina Pro Plan

Another reputable brand with AAFCO certification, Purina Pro Plan offers pet parents an exhaustive variety of protein — chicken, beef, salmon, duck, lamb, pork and even quail — to choose from at an affordable price tag. Shop based on your pet’s unique health needs or pick legume-free mixes that are great for pets with sensitive stomachs and digestive issues. There are also some wet food options for picky eaters or pets who are averse to kibble.

Shop: Purina Pro Plan

5. Open Farm

Open Farm’s dry and wet food have won over some of the pickiest pups. This sustainable-minded brand is helmed by animal lovers who are focused on delivering nutrition-packed pet food (that is 100 percent human-grade) and sourcing ingredients from farmers who treat both their animals and the environment right. Every bag features a complete breakdown of what’s inside, so you know exactly what you’re giving your dog.

Shop: Open Farm

Credit: Chewy

5. Taste of the Wild

Made with a variety of novel animal proteins like buffalo, roasted venison and lamb, this adult food features grain-free, digestible carbohydrates to provide sources for essential vitamins and minerals. According to several reviewers, the taste is also irresistible to pooches, making it more palatable and easily digestible. There are tons of wet and dry options to choose from, just narrow down your search based on age, breed and health requirements.

Shop: Taste of the Wild

Best Vet-Approved Meal Subscription Services

Credit: Ollie

1. Ollie

To start, you take a quiz, then Ollie recommends a plan that suits your pet’s needs, although you can easily change the proteins and/or how much of your pet’s food will be made up of Ollie (25 percent, up to 100 percent). Plans start as low as $2 per day, and new customers can save 50 percent off their first box. Your pet’s meals are delivered fully frozen in vacuum-sealed packaging with dry ice and will stay good for up to six months. Meal options include beef, chicken, turkey or lamb with other nutritious ingredients like sweet potatoes, peas and spinach.

Shop: Ollie

2. The Farmer’s Dog

You start by taking a highly detailed quiz about your pup’s eating patterns and preferences, and then The Farmer’s Dog offers customized options for your pooch. You also have the option to choose from recipes packed with proteins like turkey, beef and pork, but keep in mind that all of them have fish oil and a proprietary nutrient blend. Everything is made fresh and delivered within days in eco-friendly packaging. Plans start at $2 per day and include free shipping. Right now you can snag 50 percent off your first order.

Shop: The Farmer’s Dog

Do you have an adult or older large breed or small breed pup at home? We would love to hear your favorite pet food brands and meal options in the comments below!