As pet parents, we want the food we feed our dogs to be incredibly healthy, nutritious, tasty, and satisfying for our pets. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt if it makes things easier on us…and our wallets!
But despite an explosion of new dog food options that have flooded the market in recent years—including fresh, frozen, human-grade, and freeze-dried recipes for dogs—one fact remains unchanged: Kibble is still king when it comes to what pet parents prefer to purchase in the dog food aisle.
According to recent research, more than 75% of dog owners feed their pets dry dog food, while another study cited in a Petfood Forum 2021 presentation reported that 94% of U.S. dog owners fed kibble consistently over the past decade.
Here’s what has changed: The dry dog food filling bowls across America these days may not resemble the kibble of yesteryear. Pet parents now face a growing number of dry dog food choices. And many, such as Spot & Tango’s popular Unkibble, feature innovative formulas, premium ingredients, and new manufacturing techniques.
To help make sense of this still-growing pet food category, here’s the scoop on dry dog food, along with our top picks for the best options out there.
Is Dry Dog Food Good for Dogs?
Yes, dry dog food is perfectly healthy for your dog. Though many pet parents hold strong opinions on whether wet dog food or dry dog food is best, as long as the label states the food meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines for your dog’s life stage, your pet is in good shape.
AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards dog foods must meet to be defined as “complete and balanced.” And, according to Sarah Lynn Wallace, DVM, “If the food you feed daily is complete and balanced, you are giving your dog everything they need to live.”
Beyond the nutritional benefits, feeding your dog dry food may also be safer for your pet. “Canned food, once opened, needs to be used within a few days,” says veterinarian Sara Ochoa, DVM, of Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital.
Wet, fresh, or frozen dog food should also not be left sitting in your dog’s food bowl at room temperature for hours. To avoid the risk of harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recommends throwing out uneaten or leftover canned and pouched wet dog food or refrigerating it in a tightly covered container.
Dry dog food, on the other hand, can be stored in an airtight container for many months and can sit out all day without risking your pet’s safety. It’s also easier to travel with, less messy than other dog food options, and it tends to be cheaper, too.
Top Dry Dog Foods: Our Picks
According to recent industry research, dry dog food accounted for nearly half of the U.S. pet food market in 2021, with the balance being split between wet dog food, snacks, and treats. That means pet parents are facing more dry dog food choices than ever—which is why we’ve rounded up some of the very best options, based on price point, nutritional profile, ingredients, pet parent reviews, and the help of our expert veterinarian.
Here’s what made the list:
- Best Overall Dry Dog Food: Spot & Tango UnKibble
- Best Grain-Free Dry Dog Food: Redbarn Grain-Free Dog Food
- Healthiest Dry Dog Food: Purina Pro Plan Complete Essentials
- Best Dry Dog Food for Seniors: ORIJEN Senior Dog Food
- Best Dry Dog Food for Small Dogs: Merrick Lil’ Plates Small Breed Dry Dog Food
- Best Dry Dog Food for Large Dogs: Nutro Natural Choice Large Breed Dry Dog Food
6 Best Dry Dog Food Formulas to Consider
Every dog is different, with different palates, preferences, and nutritional needs based on their lifestyle and stage of life. It’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian when deciding what to feed your dog. If you’re considering a new dry dog food, here are some stand-out options we suggest discussing with your veterinarian.
All featured products are chosen at the discretion of the author. However, Great Pet Care may make a small affiliate commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Best Overall Dry Dog Food
Our Pick: Spot & Tango UnKibble
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We love Spot & Tango because the brand really prioritizes what’s best for your pet—from recipes made with quality, human-grade ingredients to customized feeding plans developed to fit your dog’s unique nutritional needs. But the brand earned our top spot because its revolutionary UnKibble formula is redefining what pet parents can expect a dry dog food to deliver.
Just like Spot & Tango’s fresh formulas, UnKibble is made with nutrient-dense meats and fish, as well as healthy fruits and vegetables. But pet parents don’t have to worry about refrigeration or spoilage because UnKibble recipes are gently dried at a low temperature to offer the crunch and convenience of dry food, without unwanted fillers and preservatives.
Plus, UnKibble is easy on you and your wallet. It offers all the nutritional benefits of fresh and frozen dog food, but costs about 40% less on average. Your pet’s customized UnKibble meals can also be delivered right to your door. Simply answer a few questions about your pet and Spot & Tango will calculate the perfect meal plan for your pet’s needs.
- Ready-to-serve, shelf-stable recipes made with 100% fresh, human-grade ingredients
- GMO- and hormone-free; contains no soy, corn, wheat, artificial additives, preservatives, or fillers
- The convenience of kibble and benefits of fresh dog food, at a fraction of the cost of fresh-frozen options
- Vet-formulated to fit pets’ individual life stages and nutritional needs
- Subscription delivery service ensures you never run out of food; easy to pause or adjust frequency to fit your schedule
- 100% money-back Happy Pup Guarantee
Things to Consider
- Price point is slightly higher than most traditional kibble, with UnKibble plans starting at $1/day
- Only three recipes to choose from
- Subscription required, though the convenience of set-it-and-forget-it home delivery is hard to beat
Best Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Our pick: Redbarn Grain-Free Dog Food
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Whether your dog is dealing with food allergies or sensitivities, or you’re simply looking for dry dog food that’s rich in quality proteins, Redbarn’s grain-free dry dog food recipes are a great choice for your pup.
Depending on the recipe you choose, you’re guaranteed meat, fish, or poultry protein sources will be the first five ingredients. That’s great news for all dogs, and especially for those who may have trouble digesting grains or dog food packed with carbohydrate-heavy fillers.
Redbarn dry dog food is also well-balanced and rich in functional ingredients like pumpkin and probiotics for healthy digestion, omega-rich fish and sunflower oil to promote skin and coat health, taurine for heart health, and immunity-boosting vitamins A and E.
- Available in three protein-rich recipe options: Ocean (featuring salmon and trout), Land (featuring beef and lamb), and Sky (featuring turkey, chicken, and duck)
- Made in the USA with globally-sourced ingredients
- Available in 4-lb or 22-lb bags
- Subscribe and save and get 15% off your first order
- Redbarn also offers protein-packed air dried dog food that features 90 percent or more meat, fish, or poultry in every bag
Things to Consider
- Land recipe is formulated for maintenance; Ocean and Sky recipes are suitable for all life stages
- Only available directly through Redbarn.com or at select pet specialty stores which can be found using their store locator
Healthiest Dry Dog Food
Our Pick: Purina Pro Plan Complete Essentials
We like to think of Purina Pro Plan dog food as the Wheaties of the dog world. According to the brand, Pro Plan’s advanced nutrition powers the elite athletes of the canine world—92 of the top 100 show dogs and 90 of the top 100 sporting dogs.
There are over 80 different Pro Plan formulas targeting a wide range of life stages and nutritional needs. We picked the Complete Essentials dry dog food line because it offers a well-balanced formula featuring real, high-quality meats or fish as the primary ingredient, as well as nutritious vitamins, minerals, and live probiotics that can strengthen immunity and balance healthy bacteria in your dog’s gut to improve digestion. Best of all, Pro Plan Complete Essentials features a blend of crunchy kibble and tender pieces to entice your pup to eat up every last delicious and nutritious morsel.
- Advanced nutrition formula is backed by 400+ veterinarians, nutritionists, and behaviorists
- Optimized protein-to-fat ratio promotes healthy body condition
- Appropriate for all breed sizes
- Hard kibble is combined with tender shredded morsels for texture and taste dogs love
- Fortified with live probiotics for easier digestion and absorption of nutrients, plus immune health
- Find the best Pro Plan dry food formula for your pet by using the Purina MyPlan tool
Things to Consider:
- For adult dogs only
- Pro Plan dry dog food formulas were changed in 2020; some pet parents say their dogs preferred the original formula
Best Dry Dog Food for Seniors
Our Pick: ORIJEN Senior Dog Food
Our senior dogs often have special dietary needs, such as a diet high in protein to promote lean muscle mass and healthy body weight that won’t put extra stress on older joints. ORIJEN’s senior dry dog food not only fulfills these needs in a delicious, protein-rich way, but it also goes a step further to ensure older dogs get the same benefits from their diet as their ancient ancestors did.
ORIJEN’s recipes are made with nutrient-dense, biologically appropriate elements—like lean muscle, succulent organ meat, and cartilage—that deliver optimal whole-prey nutritional benefits. The senior dry dog food formula contains 85 percent quality animal ingredients. And every kibble morsel is coated with a layer of freeze-dried liver for a burst of raw flavor dogs instinctively crave.
- For all breed sizes
- Whole-prey ingredients derived from free-run chicken, wild-caught fish, and cage-free eggs
- Caters to dogs’ natural eating instincts by including meat, organs, cartilage, and bone
- Grain-free formula is based on ingredients dogs have evolved to eat
- Coated with freeze-dried raw liver for great taste dogs crave
- Proudly crafted in Canada with quality regional ingredients
Things to Consider
- Specially formulated to address the unique needs of senior dogs
- Some pet parents complain about the smell
Best Dry Dog Food for Small Dogs
Despite their diminutive size, small dogs often have big nutritional needs, especially when it comes to making sure the food you feed your pint-sized pup is well-balanced. Merrick gets our vote because it pays close attention to smaller dogs’ specific health needs, while focusing on tasty flavors, too.
The brand’s Lil’ Plates line of dry dog food has everything your petite pet needs to thrive, including a balanced ratio of protein and healthy fats to maintain a healthy weight and probiotics for easy digestibility. That’s especially important to ensure your dog absorbs every last nutrient from their food so they have all the energy they need to get through the day.
Lil’ Plates crunchy kibble is also appropriately sized to fit smaller mouths. It comes in chicken, salmon, lamb, and beef recipes, in both grain-free and ancient grain options, so you’re sure to find a meal to please even the pickiest palate.
- Small-sized kibble is just the right size for small dogs; helps keep teeth clean and healthy
- First ingredient is always high-quality animal protein
- Choose from grain-free recipes or those made with ancient grains
- Packed with glucosamine and chondroitin to keep small joins healthy and limber
- Made with probiotics and prebiotic fiber for gut health
- Omega 3 fatty acids from flaxseed help maintain healthy coat and skin
- Made without corn, soy, artificial flavors, artificial colors, and chemical preservatives
- Appropriate for all life stages
Things to Consider:
- Formulated specifically for small dog breeds
- Does contain meat meal
Best Dry Dog Food for Large Dogs
If you have a larger dog breed, it can be a struggle to provide them with a food that not only gives them enough energy and nutrients to power their large frame, but also takes into consideration their unique health needs.
Nutro’s Natural Choice offers a recipe that’s specially formulated to keep your large in primo shape. It features a tailored blend of protein and fiber to help maintain a healthy weight, which is essential to reducing strain on the often overtaxed joints of larger dogs. The formula also contains plenty of chondroitin and glucosamine sourced from chicken meal for improved joint health and mobility.
Nutro also provides a helpful feeding guide that offers weight loss and weight maintenance recommendations for dogs all the way up to 200 pounds.
Plus, you can feel good about feeding your super-sized dog a super-clean diet with Nutro. The brand’s “Feed Clean” philosophy ensures every recipe is made with real, recognizable ingredients that are non-GMO and sourced from trusted farmers and suppliers to give you and your pet the very best.
- Made with real, recognizable foods, including high-quality protein as the main ingredient
- Contains antioxidants for healthy immunity and natural fiber for healthy digestion
- Naturally-soiurced glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids aid promote joint health and mobility
- Made with non-GMO ingredients and without corn, wheat, or soy
- Also available in a formula for older large breed dogs
- Cooked in USA facilities, using ingredients from trusted farmers and suppliers
Things to Consider
- Formulated for large dog breeds only
- Made for dogs aged 1 year and older
- Discuss any weight or protein concerns with your veterinarian prior to switching food for your dog
Feeding Dry Dog Food: Tips for Success
You know your dog best. So when searching for the best dry dog food to fit their needs, it’s best to keep their preferences, lifestyle, and health needs in mind.
In addition, Dr. Ochoa suggests paying close attention to:
- The AAFCO statement on the packaging to ensure the food is appropriate for your dog’s life stage
- The first ingredient; you want that to be a whole protein source, not a by-product
- Additives like artificial flavoring or colors, which can trigger issues in dogs with food allergies or sensitivities
Once you’ve chosen a dry dog food for your pet, remember to introduce the new food gradually to avoid stomach upset. If your dog needs a little encouragement, you may want to consider adding a topper to the dry food to pique their interest. On the other hand, if your dog is incredibly enthusiastic about chowing down on thier new kibble, a no-spill dog bowl can help you keep the mess to a minimum.