The best food for your dog depends on their size and age (2024)

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Selected.Our top picks Related selectHow often you bathe your dog depends on its breed Best overall dog food: Royal Canin Small Breed Adult Dry Dog Food Royal Canin Small Breed Adult Dry Dog Food Best subscription dog food: The Farmer’s Dog Subscription Dog Food The Farmer’s Dog Subscription Dog Food Best dry dog food for sensitive stomachs: Purina Pro Plan Adult Sensitive Skin & Stomach Dry Dog Food Purina Pro Plan Adult Sensitive Skin & Stomach Dry Dog Food Best dog food for puppies: Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Small Bites Dry Dog Food Hill's Science Diet Puppy Small Bites Dry Dog Food Best dog food for large breeds: Purina Pro Plan Large Breed Adult Dry Dog Food Purina Pro Plan Adult Large Dry Dog Food Best frozen dog food: Just Food For Dogs Fish & Sweet Potato Just Food For Dogs Fish & Sweet Potato Best poultry-free dog food: Merrick Grain Free Real Salmon & Sweet Potato Dry Dog Food Merrick Grain Free Real Salmon & Sweet Potato Dry Dog Food Best food for active dogs: Purina Pro Plan Sport Performance Salmon & Cod Dry Dog Food Purina Pro Plan Sport Performance Salmon & Cod Dry Dog Food Best dog food for digestive and joint health: Kirkland Signature Adult Formula Chicken, Rice and Vegetable Dog Food Kirkland Signature Adult Formula Chicken, Rice and Vegetable Dog Food Best canned wet dog food: Royal Canin Adult Gastrointestinal Canned Dog Food Best wet food for sensitive stomachs: Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Canned Dog Food Hill's Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Canned Dog Food - 12 Pack Best prepared wet dog food: Purina Beneful Prepared Meals Beef & Chicken Medley Purina Beneful Prepared Meals Beef & Chicken Medley Frequently asked questions

Being a pet parent comes with its fair share of responsibilities, including feeding them a nutritious diet. Ensuring your dog has the right food (and balancing it with their favoritedog treats) can offer multiple health benefits, including weight management and maintaining a healthy immune system, according to experts.

“Commercially processed canned or kibble foods are formulated to meet dogs’ nutritional needs for proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals — they’re convenient, consistent and readily available, and they undergo a process of quality control and inspection that is meant to catch any contaminants or pathogens before they affect pets or people,” says Dr. Lori Teller, a board-certified veterinarian and immediate past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

I have written about all things dogs — and specifically dog food — for over three years. To help you search, I consulted veterinarians and animal nutrition experts on what to consider when shopping for the best dog food. Below, I compiled expert-recommended dog food brands to consider and options NBC Select staffers feed their own pets.

SKIP AHEAD How I picked the best dog food | Best dog food | How to determine the best food for your dog | Why trust NBC Select?

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How I picked the best dog food

When choosing the right food for your dog, my experts recommend considering the following factors:

  • AAFCO nutrition standards: Ensure the dog food meets AAFCO nutrition standards, which you can determine by looking at the nutritional adequacy statement on the label that will note the food is “complete and balanced.” All of the dog foods I list — including dry kibble and canned wet food — meet or exceed the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional standards.
  • Ingredients and palatability: All of the following dog foods come from brands with a team of veterinary nutritionists on staff to regulate the use of high-quality ingredients (more on specific ingredients and formulas below). The ingredient list on the packaging displays all ingredients from highest to least amount by weight, which means the first three listed are the most crucial to consider, according to AAFCO.
  • Nutritional value and proportions: Make sure brands provide a feeding guide on its packaging to help you determine the appropriate portions for your dog’s weight and size.
  • Your dog’s size, weight and life stage: For example, you should feed your puppy food that’s specifically labeled for puppies until they reach their adult body weight. Some dog foods are labeled by size, like small, medium and large breeds, which means the size of the kibble is easier for them to ingest. Some brands like Royal Canin also has breed-specific formulas, which can help address common needs and concerns for certain dog breeds. All of the following brands offer high-calorie options for puppies and easily digestible kibble sizes for dogs of various sizes.
Best dog food in 2024

Below, I compiled the best dog foods to consider that are in line with experts’ guidance. I also listed options that NBC Select staffers feed their own dogs.

Best overall dog food: Royal Canin Small Breed Adult Dry Dog Food

What we like

  • Crunchy texture
  • Multiple kibble sizes
  • Resealable bag

Something to note

  • Nothing to note at this time

4.7-star average rating from 12,292 reviews on Amazon

Royal Canin has some of the most diverse dog food options on the market — the brand makes both dry and wet dog food for various dog sizes, breeds and dietary restrictions, including food sensitivities and gastrointestinal issues. I feed my 6-year-old Havanese and bichon frise mix, Bella, Royal Canin’s small-breed dry dog food after my veterinarian recommended it. The small-breed kibble is made for small dogs 10 months to 8 years old that weigh between nine and 22 pounds.

NBC Select manager of editorial operations Shari Uyehara also feeds her dog Loki, a 2-year-old cavalier King Charles spaniel, the same formula after it was recommended by Loki’s breeder. I’ve noticed that Bella prefers this brand over others, which she would often leave half-eaten. Royal Canin also has dry food formula for extra-small, medium, large breeds and giant breeds, as well as a puppy formula.

Food type: Dry | Texture: Crunchy kibble | Calorie content: 359 kcal per cup (small breed formula) | Main ingredients: Corn, chicken by-product meal, brewers rice, brown rice

The best food for your dog depends on their size and age (7)

Best subscription dog food: The Farmer’s Dog Subscription Dog Food

The Farmer’s Dog is a subscription plan that delivers fresh, ready-to-eat dog food to your door. Each prepared meal delivery comes with the exact portions your dog needs based on their age, weight, breed, activity level and build. Before you place an order, you’ll fill out a questionnaire and the brand calculates the plan that fits your dog’s caloric and nutritional needs.

You can store the food pouches in your fridge or freezer, and each package lasts up to four days in the fridge after being thawed, according to the brand. NBC Select social editor Sadhana Daruvuri feeds The Farmer’s Dog to her 2-year-old Maltipoo, Bandit: “I knew friends who tried it, and their dogs were all big fans, so I did a trial with Bandit and it was obvious he liked it way more than his kibble,” she says. Bandit was always a picky eater regarding his kibble, Daruvuri says, until she noticed a huge difference in how excited he was to eat after switching to The Farmer’s Dog. Subscription prices start at $2 per day and delivery options range from one week to two months of food (plan pricing varies based on your dog’s weight, breed, activity level and more).

Food type: Fresh | Texture: Soft, easy to chew | Calorie content: n/a (based on questionnaire) | Main ingredients: Human-grade (based on questionnaire)

The best food for your dog depends on their size and age (9)

Best dry dog food for sensitive stomachs: Purina Pro Plan Adult Sensitive Skin & Stomach Dry Dog Food

What we like

  • Easy to digest
  • Novel proteins
  • No wheat, soy or corn

Something to note

  • May take time to adjust
  • Kibble is all same size

4.6-star average rating from 23,879 reviews on Amazon

Some dogs are sensitive to certain food ingredients, which can cause excessive itching, loose stools, occasional vomiting and other symptoms. Investing in a dog food formulated for dogs with sensitive stomachs and skin can help minimize these issues. This option from Purina does not have corn, wheat or soy, so it’s easier to digest for dogs with an intolerance to these ingredients. However, these types of ingredients should only be avoided if your dog has an intolerance because they are full of healthy vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, experts say. To help your dog maintain a complete and balanced diet, the formula has high-protein salmon (novel proteins like salmon that aren’t common in a dog’s diet help with sensitive stomach issues, according to experts), probiotics and prebiotic fiber for digestive and immune health and omega-6 fatty acids to help support a healthy skin and coat, according to the brand.

Food type: Dry | Texture: Crunchy kibble | Calorie content: 407 kcal per cup | Main ingredients: Salmon, barley, rice, oatmeal, canola meal, fish meal

Best dog food for puppies: Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Small Bites Dry Dog Food

What we like

  • Small-sized kibble
  • Supports overall puppy health
  • Easy to digest

Something to note

  • Nothing to note at this time

4.8-star average rating from 5,668 reviews on Amazon

Hill’s Science Diet’s puppy food is made for dogs up to 1 year old and comes in small, easy-to-digest kibble, according to the brand. The formula has natural omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil that work to support healthy brain and eye development, as well as a vitamin E and vitamin C blend that helps support a healthy immune system in puppies, according to Hill’s. The food comes in a 4.5- or 12.5-pound bag, and the brand also has a canned puppy formula, which my experts say can be great to mix into your dog’s dry food.

Food type: Dry | Texture: Crunchy kibble | Calorie content: 393 kcal per cup | Main ingredients: Chicken, brown rice, whole grain wheat

Best dog food for large breeds: Purina Pro Plan Large Breed Adult Dry Dog Food

What we like

  • Maintains healthy weight
  • Large kibble size
  • Good value for size

Something to note

  • Large bag sizes

4.7-star average rating from 5,490 reviews on Amazon

Purina employs several veterinary nutritionists to help determine healthy formulations and ingredients. The brand’s highly rated Pro Plan dog food is geared toward dogs of different sizes and in all stages of life, including large-breed adults and puppies, according to the brand. The Purina Pro Plan formula has natural prebiotic fiber for digestive health and omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin A for skin and coat health, according to the brand. NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin says her large 100-pound yellow lab Chance eats the weight-management dry kibble from the brand, which has a more optimized protein-to-fat ratio because he’s 10 years old and less active.

Food type: Dry | Texture: Crunchy kibble | Calorie content: 407 kcal per cup | Main ingredients: Chicken, rice, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn

The best food for your dog depends on their size and age (13)

Best frozen dog food: Just Food For Dogs Fish & Sweet Potato

What we like

  • Locally sourced produce
  • Last a long time
  • Easy to store

Something to note

  • Individually packaged
  • May need to ease into new diet

4.2-star average rating from 621 reviews at Just Food For Dog

Just Food For Dogs has pouches of high-protein food with a low-calorie count, so it’s great for dogs who may be overweight or don’t get regular exercise, according to the brand. It has a variety of meal options made up of locally sourced produce and have only one source of protein for a limited ingredients diet, including venison, lamb and turkey. The meals are made for all life stages, and they include a feeding guide on the packaging so you know how much to feed your dog. All pouches last up to 18 months in the freezer, and thawed meals stay fresh when sealed in the original package for up to seven days, according to the brand. Once you open the pouch, the brand recommends using it within five days

This sweet potato and fish option provides a balanced diet for dogs with sensitive stomachs or those in need of a novel protein due to allergies, according to the brand. If you’re unsure which dog food to buy, the brand also has a variety pack with recipes like venison and squash, lamb and brown rice, and beef and potato.

Food type: Fresh | Texture: Soft, easy to chew | Calorie content: 26 kcal per ounce | Main ingredients: Cod, sweet potatoes, potatoes, green beans, broccoli

Best poultry-free dog food: Merrick Grain Free Real Salmon & Sweet Potato Dry Dog Food

What we like

  • Novel proteins
  • Good for allergies
  • Small kibble size

Something to note

  • Grain-free

4.6-star average rating from 6,915 reviews on Amazon

This Merrick salmon and sweet potato formula is great for dogs with sensitive stomachs or those who experience allergies to common proteins. Studies show that proteins like beef and chicken are among the most reported causes of allergies in dogs, so it’s important to look out for common signs of allergies — like excessive itching and vomiting — to figure out what works best for them, says Dr. Joe Wakshlag, professor of clinical nutrition and sports medicine and rehabilitation at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. However, most dogs don’t usually experience these types of allergies, so you don’t need to avoid chicken and turkey unless you think your dog may have an allergy or intolerance, says Wakshlag.

Food type: Dry | Texture: Crunchy kibble | Calorie content: 392 kcal per cup | Main ingredients: Deboned salmon, salmon meal, whitefish meal, sweet potatoes, potatoes, peas

Best food for active dogs: Purina Pro Plan Sport Performance Salmon & Cod Dry Dog Food

What we like

  • Maintains healthy weight
  • Good for picky eaters

Something to note

  • Not for older dogs

4.5-star average rating from 164 reviews on Amazon

NBC Select commerce analytics manager Amanda Smith feeds this Purina Pro Plan formula to her 3-year-old rat terrier Mac, a picky eater who found this option more palatable than others. Specifically made for active adult dogs, this dry food has glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids to help maintain joint health and mobility, according to the brand. It also has a ratio of 30% protein and 20% fat to keep their energy up, according to Purina. This food is available in several flavor combinations to fit your dog’s preferences, including turkey, duck and quail, salmon and cod, and beef and bison formulas.

Food type: Dry | Texture: Crunchy kibble | Calorie content: 473 kcal per cup | Main ingredients: Salmon, rice, poultry by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, beef fat

The best food for your dog depends on their size and age (17)

Best dog food for digestive and joint health: Kirkland Signature Adult Formula Chicken, Rice and Vegetable Dog Food

What we like

  • Good source of protein
  • Promotes joint health
  • Budget-friendly

Something to note

  • No bag size variety

4.6-star average rating from 3,270 reviews at Costco

NBC Select associate reporter Bianca Alvarez feeds her 8-year-old pitbull Baylor this Kirkland Signature dry dog food with chicken, whole grain brown rice and vegetables. “Baylor has a really sensitive stomach and this dry food is one of the only ones we found that she can tolerate,” says Alvarez. “We’ve been feeding her this one for years and when we’ve tried to switch it up in the past, she either doesn’t like it or her stomach gets really upset.” The food has probiotics to maintain digestive health, and glucosamine and chondroitin to help support healthy joints, according to the brand. The brand also makes a small breed formula.

Food type: Dry | Texture: Crunchy kibble | Calorie content: 393 kcals per cup | Main ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, whole grain brown rice, cracked pearled barley, chicken fat

Best canned wet dog food: Royal Canin Adult Gastrointestinal Canned Dog Food

Royal Canin Adult Gastrointestinal Canned Dog Food - 24 Pack$119.76

$

117.36

What we like

  • Great for sensitive stomachs
  • Low-fat
  • Maintains gut health

Something to note

  • Needs vet approval
  • More expensive
  • Non-resealable can

4.7-star average rating from 2,491 reviews at Chewy

Suppose you prefer to incorporate canned food into your dog’s meals. In that case, Royal Canin has various wet food options tested by veterinary nutritionists that can help you provide them with a little more diversity at dinnertime. Though it’s pricier, this low-fat option can be good for adult dogs with gastrointestinal issues or sensitive stomachs, according to the brand. (Though remember you’ll need your vet’s approval to order it.) The formula has prebiotics to help maintain good bacteria in the gut, a blend of dietary fibers that can promote healthy digestion and omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil to help soothe the GI tract, according to Royal Canin.

The brand also has other options to tackle various concerns, including weight loss, digestive care and joint care (all of which need veterinarian approval). If you don’t want your vet’s approval first, you can opt for the brand’s regular adult canned dog food.

Food type: Wet | Texture: Soft, easy to chew | Calorie content: 345 kcal per can | Main ingredients: Pork by-products, pork liver, brewers rice flour, corn grits, corn meal

Best wet food for sensitive stomachs: Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Canned Dog Food

What we like

  • Good for several sensitivities
  • High moisture content
  • Can mix with dry food

Something to note

  • Non-resealable can

4.6-star average rating from 12,608 reviews on Amazon

I typically mix my dog Bella’s dry kibble with canned food to add moisture and texture to her nightly meal. However, her veterinarian recommended this wet food since she has a very sensitive stomach. So far, it’s one of the only canned foods that hasn’t caused any discomfort or side effects. The turkey and rice stew is Bella’s favorite, but the brand also has salmon and chicken recipes.

Food type: Wet | Texture: Soft, easy to chew | Calorie content: 253 kcal/can | Main ingredients: Chicken broth, turkey, carrots, pork liver, rice, chicken

The best food for your dog depends on their size and age (21)

Best prepared wet dog food: Purina Beneful Prepared Meals Beef & Chicken Medley

What we like

  • Dogs love the flavor
  • Resealable container
  • Can serve on its own

Something to note

  • Nothing to note at this time

4.6-star average rating from 128 reviews at Chewy

As a treat, Smith mixes a scoop of this prepared meal with Mac’s dry food about once a week. The stew comes with veggies, chunks of real beef, real chicken and rice. It’s also a fully balanced meal, so you can serve it on its own as long as you follow your dog’s recommended portion size (you can calculate portions on the brand’s website), or sprinkle it on top of your dog’s favorite kibble.

Food type: Wet | Texture: Soft, easy to chew | Calorie content: 265 kcal per tub | Main ingredients: Beef and chicken broth, beef, wheat gluten, liver, white rice

How to determine the best food for your dog

The two biggest factors that determine whether your dog’s food is good for their health is whether it’s nutritionally complete and balanced and whether you’re giving your dog the right portions based on their size and weight. When selecting your pet’s food, it is important to consider the information on the label and beyond the label.

On the label, the nutrition adequacy — or the AAFCO statement — indicates the species and life stage the food is formulated for and how it’s substantiated, either by formulation or feeding tests. But what isn’t on the label can be equally as important. The Global Nutrition Guidelines set by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) recommend investigating the brand to determine the people involved in the product’s formulation and manufacturing and whether the company routinely analyzes its finished products for nutrient content, pathogens and other items that don’t belong in dog food.

“Do they have veterinarians on staff or, more specifically, do they have veterinary nutritionists who are board-certified in that field? Brands that provide the best diets also invest in research,” says Dr. Brian Roberts, a board-certified veterinarian and regional medical director in the Mid-Atlantic region with VCA Animal Hospitals.

Below, I highlight some key considerations experts suggest when shopping for high-quality dog food.

Meets AAFCO nutrition standards

Experts say any good dog food will meet the AAFCO nutrition standards. “You can determine if a pet food meets your pet’s nutritional needs by looking at the nutritional adequacy statement on the label — if this statement includes the phrase ‘complete and balanced,’ then the product is intended to be fed as a pet’s sole diet and should be nutritionally balanced,” says Roberts.

“We have the AAFCO to make sure that everything you feed [your dog] is nutritionally complete,” says Wakshlag. You should be able to find the statement, which the FDA considers one of the most important aspects of a dog or cat food label, on the back label (in small font).

While AAFCO has feed control officials that develop standards, definitions and policies for the sale and distribution of pet food, among other animal feeds, the voluntary membership association doesn’t regulate, test, approve or certify pet food, so there’s no such thing as an “AAFCO approved” brand or product.

Ingredients and palatability

Finding the best food for your dog is much less about the specific ingredients than you may think. Dog owners should focus on the nutrients their companion is getting from those ingredients instead, says Dr. Richard Hill, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and associate professor at the University of Florida Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

However, the ingredient list can give you an idea of what nutrients your dog can get from their meal. The AAFCO states that an ingredient list is required to display all ingredients from highest amount to least amount by weight, which means the first three listed are the most critical — this will help you determine if the formula is vegetable-based with things like corn and brown rice or meat-based with chicken, fish or lamb, experts say.

AAFCO has developed several safety standards for ingredients used in pet food, and it goes in depth about common pet food labels.

  • Organic food needs to follow production and handling requirements set by the USDA’s National Organic Program, which regulates all organic crops, livestock and agricultural products, to be recognized by the association.
  • Human-grade has no real definition in any animal feed regulations because very few pet food products can be officially considered edible by humans, AAFCO says.
  • Natural food has to be derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources and cannot be produced by a chemically synthetic process (although ingredients can have trace amounts of chemically synthetic compounds and still be considered natural).

“Some say natural ingredients like whole chicken are better than something processed like chicken meal; however, both are from the same source — chicken meal is just dehydrated chicken,” says Roberts.

Nutritional value and proportions

To ensure you’re giving your dog the appropriate nutrients and proportions, check the food’s energy density — shown as kcal (calories) per cup, can or ounce, similar to the nutritional facts on human foods — and its feeding guidelines.

“Generally speaking, commercially prepared brands of dog food have all the essential nutrients that a dog needs for healthy life function,” says Dr. Kristin Michael, a board-certified veterinarian and medical director at VCA Liberty Animal Hospital. “Each specific brand and type of dog food should have clearly labeled feeding amounts for your dog’s ideal weight.”

Once you determine feeding guidelines, you should keep an eye on your pet’s weight with the Body Condition Score, which is a visual scale that evaluates the amount of fat on key parts of the dog’s body (a 4 or 5 score is ideal). Vets use this scale to help gauge a pet’s body condition at each medical appointment and monitor it over the lifespan of a pet, says Michael. “A dog outside of [a healthy] range in either direction could be struggling with a medical issue that needs to be addressed,” she says.

Unfortunately, the top nutritional disease in dogs is obesity and, in some breeds, this can take as much as two years off their lifespan, according to Hill. A lot of obesity problems in dogs come down to the owner’s inability to understand their dog’s calorie intake: “We often pay attention to what’s on the side of the bag, and those recommendations are for the normal, active dog — a lot of dogs aren’t normal and active,” says Wakshlag. (More on dogs and obesity below.)

Your dog’s size, weight and life stage

Generally, your dog’s food should match their life stage. For example, you should feed your puppy food that’s specifically labeled for puppies until they reach their adult body weight — small breeds can switch to adult dog food at seven to nine months, while bigger breeds typically switch at 12 to 14 months, according to the American Kennel Club. “Giant breed dogs can remain on a puppy diet until 1.5 years since they continue to grow for longer than standard sized dogs,” says Michael.

According to Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, if your senior dog is healthy and eating a nutritionally balanced diet in the later stages of its life, there is no need to change its food.

You’ll often see certain dog foods labeled for small, medium and large breeds — these labels mostly deal with the size of the kibble and whether it’s easy for them to ingest. Some brands like Royal Canin have breed-specific formulas, which can help certain breeds’ needs.

“Manufacturers that follow nutritional science have developed diets with ingredient content for specific classes of breeds who are predisposed to certain problems,” says Roberts. “Many large and giant breeds can develop joint problems in life — some of which are linked to certain ingredients — and diets labeled ‘giant breed’ take this into consideration.”

Be mindful of whether the formulas are actually beneficial or just marketing tactics, and you should double-check the ingredients list and nutritional content to make sure the food is actually serving its purpose for your breed, says Wakshlag.

Frequently asked questions

The main difference between dry food and canned dog food is its water content. “Kibble is 10% water, [while] canned food is upwards of 70% water,” says Roberts. If both products have the same ingredients and only the water content differs, it’s okay to mix the wet food with your dog’s dry dog food, especially if they often get picky about their food or need an extra boost of hydration, he says. You can also add fresh dog-safe vegetables and fruits to their meals or as dog treats to add nutritional value without adding the calories (as long as they’re still getting their normal kibble ), says Wakshlag. (We go more in-depth about dog food toppers below.)

Dry food is also more economical and typically much more stable if it’s stored in its original container in a dry location compared to wet food, which perishes at room temperature after opening, according to our experts. (For food safety purposes, Hill recommends storing your dog’s dry food in a cool, dry environment to prevent it from going bad and completely cleaning out the bag or reusable container before putting new kibble on top.)

A sole wet food diet can be helpful for dogs who can no longer chew kibble due to dental disease or dogs who may benefit from a higher moisture diet due to health conditions, like chronic recurrent urinary issues, experts say.

The main ingredient you should avoid that’s commonly seen in commercial pet food is garlic powder. Garlic is a palatant, which means it’s designed to make the food taste better, but it can have health risks, says Michael. Onions, raisins, grapes and sugar-free additives are also toxic to dogs, though most commercially prepared food won’t contain these ingredients. You should also avoid dog foods that are heavily ladened with dyes, which often give the food a more consistent and visually appealing color, says Michael.

A grain-free formula is made without wheat, barley, rye and corn, and it’s commonly fed to dogs with a gluten intolerance. However, a grain-free diet isn’t better for your dog — and feeding them grain-free kibble can sometimes prevent them from getting their appropriate daily nutritional intake.

“Although often seen in humans, actual cases of true gluten intolerance in dogs and cats are quite rare,” says Roberts, adding that the aforementioned ingredients aren’t just filler ingredients. “Carbohydrates — and corn especially — provide calories, extra fiber for better digestion, important vitamins and minerals and antioxidants,” he says.

Hill echoes the importance of carbs in your dog’s diet: “There’s no reason why animals shouldn’t consume a reasonable amount of carbohydrates — [they’re] okay in moderation.” Plus, grain-free foods will usually use other sources of carbohydrates in place of grain — including potatoes and legumes — so the formula will very rarely be low in carbs despite the brand’s marketing, says Hill.

Research has found an association between some grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy in some dogs, but the cause for the association is still under investigation by the FDA. The vets we spoke to don’t know if there are ingredients to avoid or if it is due to an overall quality control issue. It may not be the grain-free foods that are causing these issues, but rather the dogs themselves may be predisposed, according to Wakshlag.

Typical dog food, whether it’s basic dry dog food or a combination of kibble with wet food, is specifically designed to meet your dog’s nutritional needs. Some dog owners will feed their dogs a raw food diet — which can be homemade, freeze-dried and dehydrated — and this typically consists of everything from raw meat and eggs to dog-safe fruits and vegetables.

But our experts advise against a raw diet: “The AVMA discourages feeding dogs any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans,” says Teller. If your pet is eating a complete and balanced commercially available pet food, supplements are not recommended unless specifically prescribed by your veterinarian, says Teller.

Raw meat-based diets can produce a higher risk of microbial pathogens, antibiotic resistance genes and other anti-nutritional factors, experts say. “There are many harmful parasites and bacteria that can contaminate raw diets, which may not only harm your dog, but may be transmitted or shed by your dog and cause harm to you and your family,” says Michael. This also goes for freeze-dried meat products that typically get mixed in with kibble as “boosters.” Hard bones can also get mixed in with raw diets, which can cause an obstruction in the gut or splinter and lead to a serious medical emergency, says Michael.

Dog food toppers or boosters, including canned pumpkin, blueberries and bone broth, are mixed into your pet’s food to make it taste better, which can be good for picky eaters. However, you should use toppers as a last resort if they’re not eating their regular food, and you certainly shouldn’t add them to their meal every day because it can cause your dog to only want to eat that type of food, according to our experts. “If your dog is eating a complete and balanced commercially available pet food, toppers are not recommended unless specifically prescribed by your veterinarian,” says Teller. Toppers should be treated like dog treats and factored into their total calories, our experts say.

The first thing to address if you notice your dog is gaining weight or shifting out of an ideal Body Condition Score range is the type and amount of foods they’re getting on a daily basis, says Michael. That includes whether your dog is getting table scraps or other treats, if they’re being fed by more than one member of the household, and if they’re sneaking into a housemate's food in addition to their own food.

The next step is to discuss the weight gain with your dog’s veterinarian. “They may want to look at diagnostic tests to determine if an underlying disease process could be contributing to the issue, or if perhaps a weight management food is a better food option for the pet,” says Michael.

There is no specific figure for the amount of food you should feed your dog — the number of calories your dog needs per day depends on a few factors, including their breed, weight and size. The WSAVA has a handy chart that shows the recommended amount of calories for healthy adult dogs up to 108 pounds (the organization uses calculations from the National Research Council). However, most dogs have different needs — all of the experts I spoke to recommend paying a visit to your vet and talking through your dog’s specific caloric needs.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Lori Teller is a board-certified veterinarian and the former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
  • Dr. Joe Wakshlag is a professor of clinical nutrition and sports medicine and rehabilitation at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Dr. Brian Roberts is a board-certified veterinarian and regional medical director in the Mid-Atlantic region with VCA Animal Hospitals.
  • Dr. Richard Hill is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and associate professor at the University of Florida Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences
  • Dr. Kristin Michael is a board-certified veterinarian and medical director at VCA Liberty Animal Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.
Why trust NBC Select?

I am an updates editor at NBC Select who has written a variety of dog-related stories, including treats, toys, travel carriers and car safety. For this article, I spoke to six veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists about how to shop for dog food and researched dozens of options on the market to recommend the best ones to shop.

Catch up on NBC Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.

Mili Godio

Mili Godio is an updates editor for Select on NBC News.

Jessica Migala

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Address: 850 Benjamin Bridge, Dickinsonchester, CO 68572-0542

Phone: +26813599986666

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Table tennis, Soapmaking, Flower arranging, amateur radio, Rock climbing, scrapbook, Horseback riding

Introduction: My name is Corie Satterfield, I am a fancy, perfect, spotless, quaint, fantastic, funny, lucky person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.