Which Type of Dog Food is Best?

We compared the pros and cons of different types of dog food - kibble, homemade, canned, raw, freeze-dried and dehydrated - to make your decision of what to feed your dog a little easier!

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What is the best kind of dog food? Is canned food healthier than kibble? Does a homemade dog food diet require as much work as it appears to? Whole Dog Journal developed a comprehensive pros and cons chart for various dog food options you may be considering. Remember: no one dog food is best for all dogs! Consider your dog’s lifestyle and needs and use this chart to help you decide what kind of food your dog should eat regularly. You might also consider feeding your dog a mix of different food types for greater variety in the diet.

Beneath each table you will find a corresponding Whole Dog Journal article that goes into depth about the kinds of dog foods included here. If you’re looking for a quick breakdown of a dog’s nutritional requirements, check out this Dogster page.

1. Homemade Dog Food

Creating a homemade diet for your dog, whether cooked or raw, requires detailed planning and dedication.

Related: What Vegetables Can Dogs Eat?

If you are new to the homemade dog food lifestyle, it is important to familiarize yourself with canine nutrition, and your dog’s individual dietary needs. Mary Straus offers an excellent start in “How to Make Your Own Dog Food“.

HOMEMADE DOG FOOD
Homemade Pros Homemade Cons
Homemade dog food diets provide a wider variety of healthful foods and nutrients It can be easy to neglect certain necessary ingredients to your dog’s health when making his food at home – putting him at risk of nutritional deficiency if you’re not vigilant
Homemade dog food puts you in control – you know exactly what your dog is eating Home-prepared dog diets require special attention to meeting the “complete and balanced” recommendations regularly; you will need to use supplements
Dogs often prefer the taste of homemade meals to commercial dog food Cooking for your dogs is a definite time investment for you
When you make your dog’s food from scratch, ingredients are minimally processed and fresh Feeding homemade dog food is potentially more costly than buying commercial food
Homecooked meals result in marked health improvements for many dogs

2. Dry Dog Food (Kibble)

The benefits of feeding your dog dry food are many, which explains why so many people buy kibble – and only kibble – for their dogs. Whole Dog Journal has a yearly tradition of taking hard looks at the virtually endless variety of dog foods on the market, breaking down why certain foods are good choices, and why you want to avoid others. Find those reviews here.

DRY DOG FOOD
Kibble Pros Kibble Cons
Dry dog food is generally the most cost effective diet you can give your dog When feeding dry dog food, you must trust the company and manufacturer (if different) as to ingredient quality and safe food manufacturing processes – your dog is at the mercy of the pet food manufacturers’ diligence
Dry dog food travels and stores well (for a specific period of time) Kibble often includes low-quality ingredients like meat by-products, sweeteners, and preservatives
Commercial kibble includes a guarantee of nutritonal completeness – you don’t need to worry about deficiencies Dry dog foods are typically carb-heavy
Dry dog food is available in a wide range of choices in flavor, sourcing and cost Dry dog food ingredient quality varies – and it’s almost impossible for consumer to differentiate
Kibble requires no preparation Dog food exiration dates matter! Dry food shouldn’t be more than half-way to the end of its “best by” date, as vitamin levels and preservation diminishes with time

3. Canned (Wet) Dog Food

Next to dry dog food, canned food may be the most widely fed kind of dog food in the U.S. Dogs tend to enjoy the taste of wet food noticeably more so than kibble, and the canning process allows you to avoid preservatives and ultra-processing. Like our dry foods, we review the best-canned dog food every year.

CANNED DOG FOOD
Wet Food Pros Wet Food Cons
Canned dog food is more appetizing to dogs than dry food When feeding canned dog food, you must trust the company and manufacturer (if different) as to ingredient quality and safe food manufacturing processes – your dog is at the mercy of the pet food manufacturers’ diligence
Most canned foods use fresh or frozen meats, rather than rendered (more processed) meats It is common to see meat byproducts in lower-quality wet dog foods
There are no preservatives used in wet dog food, yet it is shelf-stable for a long time Canned dog food is generally more expensive than dry food
Wet dog food tends to be less carb-heavy than dry food BPA may be present in dog food cans – need to look at labels carefully
No preparation required with canned food Wet dog food smells bad to humans
Commercial wet dog food includes a guarantee of nutritonal completeness Wet dog food may contain too much fat for some dogs

 

Related: 5 Steps to Enhancing Your Dog’s Store-Bought Dog Food

4. Store-Bought Raw Dog Food

For those who want both the health benefits of raw dog food and the convenience of a packaged, nutritionally complete diet, commercial raw dog foods may be an option worth exploring. Let editor Nancy Kerns help you make a decision about feeding raw in “The Evolution of the Raw Dog Food Diet“.

COMMERCIAL RAW DOG FOOD
Raw Food Pros Raw Food Cons
Store-bought raw dog food uses fresh, unprocessed ingredients, which means maximum nutrient retention for your dog If feeding commercial raw food, consumers must still trust pet food company as to ingredient quality and safe food manufacturing processes
Dog diets that include raw meat are closest to the evolutionary, biologically appropriate diets of wild and ancestral dogs Raw diets are not good for sick or old dogs because raw meats may contain pathogens – it is a risk for immunocompromised dogs
Most commercial raw foods contain no preservatives, or artificial flavors or colors at all Raw dog food is difficult to travel with
Raw food diets show marked health improvements for many dogs Raw food must be bought frequently, or it takes up a lot of freezer space
Commercial raw food includes guarantee of nutritonal completeness Some raw dog foods contain too much fat for some dogs
Raw dog food must be maintained at safe temperature (no thawing until consumption)

5. Dehydrated Dog Food

DEHYDRATED DOG FOOD
Dehydrated Food Pros Dehydrated Food Cons
Most manufacturers of dehydrated dog food use fresh, minimally processed ingredients Like any store-bought dog food, packaged dehydrated food requires you to trust company and manufacturer (if different) as to ingredient quality and safe food manufacturing processes
Dehydrated food retains maximum nutrients after processing – only the moisture is removed Dehydrated dog food is often extremely expensive type
No preservatives are used in dehydrated dog foods, yet they are shelf-stable for a long time Dehydrated raw foods may still contain pathogens – not good for immunocompromised dogs
Commercial dehydrated dog food includes guarantee of nutritonal completeness

CLICK HERE for more information on dehydrated dog foods.

6. Freeze-Dried Dog Food

FREEZE-DRIED DOG FOOD
Freeze-Dried Dog Food Pros Freeze-Dried Dog Food Cons
Freeze-dried dog food is portable, lightweight and extremely shelf stable Freeze-dried dog food is by far the most expensive kind of dog food; it is actually unaffordable to many
Freeze-dried dog food is minimally processed or raw Some freeze-dried dog food is meant for supplemental or intermittent feeding only; always check the label for “complete and balanced diet
Highest quality ingredients are the rule in freeze-dried dog food A complete and balanced freeze-dried dog food may not be available in all pet stores
Good for dogs with poor appetite; the taste of freeze-dried dog food is generally irresistible to dogs

CLICK HERE to read Whole Dog Journal‘s review of the best freeze-dried dog foods – and find out how they are different from dehydrated foods.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I noticed dehydrated food still has some risk to immunocompromised dogs while freeze-dried does not mention this…what would be the best diet for an immunocompromised dog that’s not kibble? Would freeze-dried or air-dried (like Ziwipeaks) be okay?

  2. Maybe a weird question, but i am vegan for health and animal welfare reasons. I am deeply concerned about how animals are kept and killed for food, including dog food. I have found several kibbles that are vegan. What are your thoughts!
    Before everybody jumps on me, i currently feed my dogs a raw diet, home made with lots of fresh veggies. They have been thriving and i am worried that i might harm them.
    However, the way animals are „farmed“ is deeply troubling to me and i would prefer to have less to do with that.
    Thanks

    • I’m a vegan and a vet tech with training in nutrition. A vegan diet is not species appropriate, sadly. Your best bet is to source meat that is humanely raised, grass fed, and preferably slaughtered on site so the animals experience the least distress possible. I considered inhumane to deny a carnivore a meat-based diet.

  3. Hi there. Sorry in advance to be a downer, but after subscribing and following Whole Dog Journal since 2014, this is the worst article we have ever read. This piece is especially astonishing since so much has been good within its pages. It seemed based upon many assumptions and generalizations. It would have been better to have a debate style discussion about many parts of what was written; much of it based on what people have been conditioned to believe as true.
    We don’t see this is as a real discussion of food – this seems to be a need to fill space. You don’t need to do this. There are many articles you could still send again or could update. Thankfully, there is a lot to read in WDJ; just point the way. But please don’t get trapped by the controlling orthodoxy and write pieces like this. The issue of dog food, together with vaccines, might be at the top of the list of topics that are misunderstood.

    • Geez, maybe you didn’t read the whole article. I thought is was well researched and provided a wealth of ideas on different types of dog foos, plus their pros and cons. If you knew all that, why did you read it and take your time to be critical of information others find helpful?

  4. I have a English Cream Golden Retriever turning 1 in a week and he will be neutered tomorrow. I asked his Doctor what food to give him and anything with the approval on the back. We were lost so pet supplies plus told us Red Ford it’s there brand. After a while he had diarrhea so I gave him rice and chicken. Now he won’t eat his kibble without his boiled chicken! Is this ok or do you recommend a different brand of dog food that might have chewy bits my neighbor uses purina glutton free?

    • I’m not a professional so keep that in mind, but I think either option would be fine as long as it’s still a balanced diet. Commercial dog food is already formulated to have all the nutrients your dog needs in the correct proportions, so while adding a small amount of chicken for flavor is fine I would just make sure that isn’t becoming a significant proportion of his diet. The rule of thumb is to feed no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calories from treats or supplements, so I would probably stick to that.

  5. I currently feed my 15 year old mixed breed a combination of premium kibble, brown rice, boiled/fried human ground turkey and a few choice veggies left over from our previous meal. I feed a moderate amount twice a day with fresh water always on hand.
    I changed to above recipe about a year ago after concerns about canned foods causing her stomach upset and it has worked out just fine. She continues to act half her age and besides hypothyroid condition has no major problems. Can you suggest any other changes? or should I continue as is?

  6. I agree with PM…if you’re going to lead through informative information then don’t be afraid to continue leadership by making recommendations.

  7. There is no mention of using base mixes along with fresh proteins. It makes sense for me to do the semi-homemade as I can go to my local club store and buy meats in large packages and break it down to one or two days worth packages, cook it at the same time I cook my own meals and don’t have the worry about being balanced as the premix has dehydrated veggies, some have grains (oatmeal or barley), and the vitamin and mineral mixes that make kibble “complete”

  8. Wish there was a category in today’s article regarding vegan dog food, such as Wild Earth, made in Berkeley, California.

    I have been unable to secure any valid discussion on this subject anywhere. The claim Wild Earth makes is that the food meets or exceeds the nutritional requirements for dogs (which are omnivores), using natural ingredients that equal human food standards. Please research, and comment.

  9. My Airedale is over 13 yo. She has eaten dry kibble her whole life. Now she’s tired of it.
    We need a couple of suggestions for her, either with grain or grain free.

  10. I feed my German Shepherd raw chicken thighs which are cheaper than chicken wings it includes the bones and frozen string beans and a raw egg. I sometimes throw in Salmon from time to time also chicken livers! She dislikes Beef for some kind of reason! Also I give her Dasuquin everyday!!

  11. I currently feed my 1 year old puppy dog dry food and with that whenever she finishes with one bag I switch up to see what she likes more. We usually take some of her old food and mix it with her new food to see if she likes it. Should I not use dog dry food though?

  12. My 8 year old Shih Tzu has high ph levels. I have been feeding her dehydrated Honest Kitchen with Vetoquinol Methigel given with her meals. She has done well with it and her ph levels have been great! She has always gobbled down her food, but lately she stops and needs encouragement to finish. Suggestions on the best dog food to lower her ph levels would be great! Thank you!

  13. I have a 4 year old English cocker who has always had digestive issues and unfortunately had a telescoping of the intestines when he was a year old and required a major operation.We have been on a merry go round of food he was on the hills prescription after the operation.He doesn’t do well with kibble since he was a puppy so it is usually canned food.He has tried many brands and I have home cooked for him ..Blue Buffalo GI canned and some of their prescription kibble has worked as has solid gold tripe.The prescription kibble from blue buffalo gives him well formed stools but seems to be hard to digest unless I pre soak it and after a few weeks on it he always seems to get a bout of diahhrea.I have been adding clay which has helped.None of the vets in my area are well versed in nutrition I even had 2 different vets at two practices ask me what tripe is.One thing I know I can not feed him a high protein- high fat diet he does not do well on premium brands like Orijen or wellness or even Fromm or Abady. He also doesn’t do well with too many legumes though there are some in his Blue BuffaloArticles about what to feed your dog leave me frustrated.He seems to need a specialized food that is relatively low in fat and unfortunately that is usually a prescription food.I had a problem with one of the bags of blue buffalo prescription ( it had large unidentified black nuggets) and they had the worst customer service but this is the food that has been the most reliable in the canned not the dry.The addition of the canned tripe was great initially but I have to be very careful about measurements.I dont want to use the kibble again ( I used very little just a 1/4-1/2 a cup )but it has on occasion helped and he is always hungry so sometimes I give it to hm separately and presoaked.At the moment I haven’t been feeding it as he was recovering from a stomach issue and has been doing well on just canned foods.Home cooking has not been successful it works for a few days and then perhaps I vary it too much – he has problems..Ideally I would like to find a vet who is aware of nutrition but in the meantime I worry that since I am stuck with the prescription food and all these articles say how bad processed dog food is that I have no recourse.A raw diet might be too difficult and I have a small kitchen and another pet so I worry about bacteria.Thnaks again

  14. After much searching and debating, we put our dogs on Nutro. We also sprinkle super veggie on top and give them one ice cube of pumpkin. This combination took our foster failure from icky hair and bulging eyes to a high energy dog with beautiful hair and the ability to run and run!

  15. After much searching and debating, we put our dogs on Nutro. We also sprinkle super veggie powder on top and give them one ice cube of pumpkin. This combination took our foster failure from icky hair and bulging eyes to a high energy dog with beautiful hair and the ability to run and run!

  16. I have the privilege of having Stella (American Staffordshire Bull Terrier). She has always been picky about the foods she eats. She has been on a raw diet for a couple of years but suddenly, Stella stopped eating it. Stella and I decided we should go to her favourite store (PetSmart), and talk with a couple of employees who also had larger breed dogs as my Stella. These ladies were quite knowledgeable about dry foods, canned foods, and raw foods.

    Just as your nutritional paper about pros and cons about raw diet, canned and cibble, these employees led me to 4 isles of cibble. They told me the nutritional value of many canned, and dry foods they sold, and then led me to their prepared raw foods (very expensive). They led me back to the dry food. They explained the filler used in several products and I was mortified. Then they led me to the dried food they both fed their dogs with. It was called Nutro. I began reading the ingredients on the Nutro foods and was quite impressed. They gave me sample packages of all the Nutro products so I opened several of them and laid them out for Stella. She sniffed them all and finally decided she liked the lamb. And did she ever eat the lamb.
    I purchased the 30 lb bag of the lamb and picked up a couple of toys and some freeze dried liver.

    As Melanie Rusch has stated, I have switched to Nutro as well. Thanks for the heads up Melanie. Stella loves it, especially when I supplement it with chicken livers. My butcher saves Stella all the chicken livers and we pick up a bag of them each week. Our butcher had never sold them before but now he gives them to Stella each week. He’s a very good friend to Stella and I. I just ordered a full side of beef from him and he wrapped the organs seperately for Stella to enjoy.

    Now I give Stella both cibble and raw with a crushed calcium tablet (once a day).

    Stella loves the combination meal both morning and evening.

    Thanks for the great tip Melanie. I owe you one.

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