Best Dog Food Choices: Dry, Wet, Organic, and More

From key ingredients and regulations to choosing dry, organic, holistic, or wet dog food, WebMD reveals which food is best for your canine companion.

By Elizabeth Lee
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

Pet store aisles are lined with dozens of brands of dog food. There's dry food, canned food, and semi-moist food. Then there are all the labels: natural, holistic, super-premium, organic. How do you know which one is right for your dog?

To help you find the best food for your furry companion, WebMD went to the experts to get answers to eight common questions about dog food.

1. If a dog food is more expensive, does that mean it's better?

Many dog owners these days splurge on expensive dog foods, thinking they are buying the best for their dog. But when it comes to quality, price isn't a good guideline, says Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Nutrition.

“I've seen ‘all-natural, holistic' dog foods that perform really poorly in dogs, and I've seen some dog foods that you might not want to feed your dog, that perform better,” he says. “I don't think you get what you pay for.”

2. What is dog food made of?

Dog food ingredients vary, depending on the manufacturer and the brand, but most meet standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Those standards cover protein, which supplies necessary amino acids; fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Depending on the manufacturer, the food could contain protein from animal and/or plant sources, grains or other types of carbohydrates, fat, moisture, vitamins, and minerals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for ensuring that pet foods are safe and labeled appropriately.

3. How do I choose a high-quality dog food?

Check the label first for the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement, which indicates the food provides complete and balanced nutrition. It should also include the life stage for which the food is appropriate. Life stages include growth (appropriate for puppies), adult maintenance, gestation/lactation, senior (appropriate for older dogs), and “all life stages.” A food labeled for all life stages can be used throughout a dog's life, from weaning through adulthood.

When choosing a food, look for one that fits your pet's flavor preferences, lifestyle, medical conditions, and environment, says Susan Wynn, DVM, AHG, a nutritionist for Georgia Veterinary Specialists in the Atlanta area and a clinical resident in small animal nutrition with the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

Use the food for six to eight weeks to see how it affects your dog, says Wakshlag, who accepts some research funding from a major pet food manufacturer. Good signs: A shiny coat and a pet that looks healthy. If the dog is producing a large volume of stools or develops diarrhea, he may have problems digesting a food. If a dog has skin, ear, joint, or other problems, try another food to see if there's a connection, Wynn says.

“What's great for one dog may not adequately support another,” she says. “It's important to try a wide variety of diets to find the optimum.”