In a previous article, we discussed how to choose a quality commercial dog food for your pit bull. Today, we'll give you our recommendations for the best dry dog foods, including detailed reviews describing why we made the selection.
Dry Dog Food Evaluation Criteria
In order to be selected for our list of the best kibbles for your pit bull, dry dog foods must meet the following criteria:
- Ingredients must be human-grade. In the case of meat meals, which are obviously not intended for human consumption, the meals should be rendered from high quality, healthy animal tissues, not from meats rejected for human consumption.
- Foods must be meat-based, not grain-based. Some carbohydrates are unavoidable in dry dog food or the kibble pieces would not retain their shape, but since dogs are carnivores, we're looking for foods that are mostly meat. Ideally, 70% of the food's protein should come from high quality animal sources, not plant sources.
- Foods must not contain cheap filler ingredients such as brewer's rice, peanut hulls, soybean mill, wheat middlings, corn bran, etc. that are waste products of the human food industry and provide little or no nutritional value.
- Foods must be preserved naturally and not contain carcinogenic chemical preservatives such as BHT, BHA, and ethoxyquin. If the food contains any type of fish meal--which is required by law to be preserved with ethoxyquin unless the supplier has a special permit allowing them to use a different preservative--the dog food manufacturer must have stipulated that their fish meal supplier has such a permit and that the fish meal used in the food is ethoxyquin free and preserved with natural antioxidants. This is important because dog food companies are not required to list ethoxyquin on the label unless they have added it themselves.
Summary of Dog Food Reviews
- Best All-Around Dog Food - Orijen
- Best Moderately-Priced Grainless Food - Acana, Taste of the Wild, Canidae
- Best Dry Food for Weight Loss - Wellness CORE
- Best Single Meat Source - Canine Caviar
- Best Affordable Dry Food - Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul
- Honorable Mention Dog Foods
Best Dry Dog Food - All-Around Top Pick
Orijen - All Formulas
While most of the dog food companies that made our list produce only a few foods we recommend, in the case of the Canadian super premium brand Orijen, every food from the large breed puppy diet to the senior diet is highly recommended. Orijen understands the concept of biologically appropriate nutrition, and their foods are based on the latest nutritional research. Most senior diets, for instance, are still formulated to contain lower levels of protein and correspondingly higher amounts of carbohydrate, but recent studies tell us that older dogs actually need more quality protein, not less. Orijen Senior is one of the very few foods formulated for older dogs to get this right.
Orijen knows that dogs have neither the digestive tract, nor the enzymes necessary to digest huge amounts of grain. Consequently all Orijen foods contain at least 70% meat, no more than 30% vegetables and fruit, and 0% grain. The idea is to supply dogs with a food that is as close to the diet they evolved on as possible.
All ingredients are human-grade, but Orijen goes a step further by using free-range meats raised without antibiotics and growth hormones. Orijen dry dog foods typically contain five or six different fresh meats and at least four high quality meat and fish meals. And yes, the fish meals are ethoxyquin-free. Orijen pays their supplier a premium to use a blend of vitamin E and botanical extracts to preserve the meals.
Orijen emphasizes the use of fresh, regional ingredients, and all foods contain a large number of herbs and botanicals intended to mimic the natural canine diet. You'll also find probiotics and glucosamine and chondroitin in amounts high enough to do some good as a general preventative (if your dog is on antibiotics or experiencing gastrointestinal problems, you'll probably still want to use a separate probiotics supplement, and in the event of arthritis or other joint conditions, your dog will need more glucosamine and chondroitin than any dog food supplies).
Orijen Adult features the following main ingredients: fresh deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, russet potato, fresh deboned pacific salmon, herring meal, sweet potato, peas, fresh deboned lake whitefish, fresh deboned northern walleye, and chicken fat (naturally preserved with vitamin E and citric acid).
Minor ingredients include chicken liver, salmon meal, fresh deboned turkey, fresh whole eggs, fresh deboned herring, sun-cured alfalfa, salmon oil, and various vegetables, fruits, kelp, probiotics, and vitamin and mineral supplements. This formula is 40% protein and 16% fat with an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 2.7:1.
The main ingredients in Orijen Regional Red formula are fresh deboned wild boar, fresh deboned lamb, lamb meal, russet potato, fresh deboned pork, peas, salmon meal, whitefish meal (made from flounder, halibut and cod caught wild from the north pacific ocean), herring meal, fresh deboned bison, fresh whole eggs, potato starch, fresh deboned salmon, alfalfa, sweet potato, fresh deboned walleye, and salmon oil (naturally preserved with vitamin E).
Minor ingredients include apples and various berries, vegetables, herbs, probiotics, and vitamins and minerals. This formula is 38% protein and 18% fat with an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 3.75:1.
The main ingredients in Orijen 6 Fish dog food are fresh deboned salmon, salmon meal, herring meal, russet potato, fresh deboned lake whitefish, sweet potato, peas, and salmon oil (preserved with vitamin E).
Minor ingredients include fresh deboned walleye, fresh deboned herring, sun-cured alfalfa, fresh deboned flounder, fresh deboned lake trout, dehydrated organic kelp, and various vegetables, fruits, herbs, probiotics, vitamins, and minerals. This formula is 40% protein and 18% fat with an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 2.5:1, which is excellent.
Also available are Orijen Puppy, Orijen Large Breed Puppy, and Orijen Senior foods. These three formulas are of the same high quality.
What we like about Orijen dry dog foods:
- Orijen dog foods are 70-75% meat, high in species-appropriate protein, and contain only 18-22% carbohydrate.
- Each Orijen food contains multiple, high quality protein sources including at least five different types of fresh meat and fish, at least four nutritionally dense meat and fish meals, plus fresh whole eggs (most formulas).
- All ingredients are fit for human consumption, and meats are free-range and raised without antibiotics and growth hormones.
- Orijen foods contain 28-35% fresh meats from at least five different sources guaranteeing a superior amino acid profile.
- Unique low temperature processing at 190 degrees Fahrenheit ensures that more nutrients remain intact.
- Excellent omega-3 to omega-6 ratios, and omega-3 fatty acids are supplied by fish and fish oil, not vegetable oil.
- Fish are wild-caught and tested for mercury and other environmental contaminants.
- No ingredients, including vitamin and mineral supplements, are sourced from China.
- All Orijen foods are produced entirely in the parent company's own plant in Canada; no part of the manufacturing process is ever farmed out to third parties.
- Orijen foods do not contain excessive amounts of calcium like some high protein super premium foods.
- Probiotics, glucosamine, and chondroitin are present in sufficient amounts to be effective (especially in the puppy and senior diets).
- Neither Orijen foods, nor individual ingredients such as fish meal are preserved with chemicals like BHT, BHA, and ethoxyquin.
If you're looking for the ultimate kibble and can afford the hefty price tag that such quality commands, we can't recommend Orijen foods highly enough. The price for a 29.7 pound bag is typically $62-75, depending on the formula. Keep in mind though that you will need to feed far less of a calorie dense food with high digestibility such as Orijen, so the price difference between a super premium food and a mainstream brand isn't actually as big as it would seem.
Best Moderately Priced Grainless Dry Dog Foods
Acana - Grasslands, Pacifica, and Wild Prairie Formulas
Acana and Orijen are both made by Champion Pet Foods, a family owned and operated boutique pet food manufacturer in Alberta, Canada. Everything you read above about the quality of the ingredients in Orijen foods also applies to Acana. So what's the difference between these two brands?
Acana's Grasslands, Pacifica, and Wild Prairie formulas are also grain-free, but they're slightly higher in carbohydrate (about 28%) and lower in protein (about 33%) than the Orijen foods. They contain three fresh meat/fish sources as opposed to Orijen's five or six and two high quality meat/fish meals instead of Orijen's four. The idea behind the Acana line is to make biologically appropriate canine nutrition more affordable.
Despite the slightly lower price point, these three Acana foods are superb. Grasslands features boneless lamb, lamb meal, salmon meal, herring meal, russet potato, peas, and chicken fat (naturally preserved with vitamin E) as the main ingredients. The minor ingredients are sweet potato, deboned walleye, sun-cured alfalfa, natural lamb flavor, deboned duck, whole eggs, and lots of different veggies, fruits, herbs, probiotics, and vitamin/mineral supplements.
Pacifica consists of 55% fish. The main ingredients are salmon meal, russet potato, peas, fresh boneless salmon, fresh boneless herring, herring meal, pumpkin, fresh boneless flounder, and salmon oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols and rosemary). Also includes a variety of seaweeds, vegetables, fruits, herbs, probiotics, and vitamins and minerals.
Wild Prairie is a chicken and fish formula. The main ingredients are chicken meal, russet potato, deboned chicken, deboned walleye, whitefish meal, peas, and chicken fat (naturally preserved with vitamin E). Minor ingredients include sun-cured alfalfa, chicken liver, deboned Lake Whitefish, whole eggs, salmon oil, and various veggies, fruits, herbs, probiotics, and vitamins and minerals.
All three formulas are 33% protein and 15-17% fat. The omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio is 5.5:1. These Arcana foods are suitable for all life stages. Calcium levels are appropriate for large breed puppies.
Acana Grasslands, Pacifica, and Wild Prairie formulas typically cost $52 for a 29.7 pound bag.
Taste of the Wild - High Prairie, Pacific Stream, and Wetlands Formulas
Taste of the Wild is an all-natural human-grade line featuring wild game meats such as bison, duck, venison, and quail as part of their formulas. All meats are hormone and antibiotic free. The inclusion of small amounts of roasted and smoked meats as "taste enhancers" ensures that dogs go wild over Taste of the Wild.
We also like the use of sweet potato as the main carbohydrate source. Despite the name and the sweet taste, sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes. They are also more nutritious, providing especially high levels of valuable antioxidants.
Taste of the Wild makes three excellent grain free formulas. High Prairie features bison, lamb meal, chicken meal, egg product, sweet potatoes, peas, potatoes, and canola oil as the main ingredients. Minor ingredients include roasted bison, roasted venison, natural flavor, tomato pomace, ocean fish meal, salt, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, plus probiotics, prebiotics, and complete vitamins and minerals. This food is 32% protein and 18% fat with an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 9.3:1, which is not great. You may want to add a couple of fish oil caps to your dog's diet when feeding this kibble.
Pacific Stream is a fish recipe that's much lower in protein and higher in carbohydrate than most grainless foods. This is done to keep the price down since salmon is expensive. The main ingredients are salmon, ocean fish meal, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and canola oil. Other ingredients include salmon meal, smoked salmon, potato fiber, natural flavor, salt, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, plus probiotics, prebiotics, and vitamin and mineral supplements. This food is 25% protein and 15% fat. The omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio is 8:1.
The main ingredients in Wetlands are duck, duck meal, chicken meal, egg product, sweet potatoes, peas, and chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols). Secondary ingredients include potatoes, roasted quail, roasted duck, smoked turkey, natural flavor, tomato pomace, ocean fish meal, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, plus probiotics, prebiotics, and vitamin and mineral supplements. This food is 32% protein and 18% fat. The omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio is 6:1.
Until very recently, the ocean fish meal found in all three formulas came from a supplier who uses ethoxyquin. The company switched to a naturally preserved fish meal source in May 2010. Taste of the Wild has confirmed to us that all foods with an expiration date of June 2011 or later contain fish meal that is preserved only with mixed tocopherols (vitamin E).
A 30 pound bag of Taste of the Wild grainless dry dog food typically costs $46-48.
CANIDAE - Grain Free Salmon and Grain Free All Life Stages Formulas
Due to the growing demand for more species-appropriate canine nutrition, CANIDAE has created two high protein/low carbohydrate grainless formulas. 80% of the protein in CANIDAE's Grain Free Salmon and ALS foods is derived from meat or fish. The remaining 20% comes from fruit and vegetable sources.
Grain Free Salmon is 40% protein and 20% fat, making it most appropriate for active dogs. This food is less than 20% carbohydrate, which is oustanding and comparable to the Orijen formulas. The main ingredients are salmon meal, potatoes, potato protein, ocean fish meal (made from middle ocean swimming herring and menhaden fish), and canola oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols). Minor ingredients include peas, tomato pomace, sun-cured alfalfa meal, lecithin, a few herbal extracts, cranberries, sunflower oil, probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, and vitamin and mineral supplements. The omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of this kibble is a very respectable 3.7:1.
The Grain Free All Life Stages formula features chicken meal, turkey meal, fresh lamb, potatoes, peas, and chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols) as the main ingredients. The minor ingredients are lamb meal, ocean fish meal (made from herring and menhaden fish), tomato pomace, sun-cured alfalfa meal, lecithin, a few herbal extracts, cranberries, sunflower oil, probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, and vitamin/mineral supplements. This food is 34% protein and 18% fat. The omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio is 7.4:1.
Both foods are appropriate for all life stages, and calcium levels are suitable for large breed puppies. All CANIDAE products undergo extensive food safety audits. Every batch of food is tested for melamine, cyanuric acid, salmonella, and numerous other toxins and bacteria. The company has a good safety record, and their foods have not been involved in the recalls of recent years.
A 30 pound bag of CANIDAE Grain Free food usually costs about $50 for the ALS formula and $56 for the Salmon formula. Currently, however, these foods can be found on sale for $46 and $52 respectively. CANIDAE Grain Free Salmon is the lowest priced super low carb kibble on the market (as of June 2010).
Best Dry Dog Food Weight Loss Formula
Wellness - CORE Reduced Fat Recipe
Wellness is a super premium brand offering quality human-grade ingredients and hormone-free meats. The CORE formulas are grain-free and high in species-appropriate proteins. CORE comes in three varieties: Original Recipe, Ocean Recipe, and Reduced Fat Recipe. The latter is particularly interesting, since most dog foods formulated for overweight dogs contain abysmal ingredients. While Wellness CORE Reduced Fat Recipe is slightly higher in fiber than the other CORE varieties, you won't find worthless fillers like rice hulls in this food. The reduced caloric value is primarily the result of using lower fat meats and less vegetable oil.
CORE Reduced Fat Recipe has the following main ingredients: deboned turkey, turkey meal, chicken meal, potatoes, dried ground potatoes, pea fiber, whitefish meal, tomato pomace, natural chicken flavor, chicken liver, and salmon oil. Other ingredients include flaxseed, various vegetables and fruits, probiotics, prebiotics, glucosamine and chondroitin, and vitamins and minerals. This food is 33% protein and only 9% fat with an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 4.4:1.
The two other CORE varieties are also recommended. CORE Original Recipe features deboned turkey, deboned chicken, turkey meal, chicken meal, potatoes, dried ground potato, tomato pomace, natural chicken flavor, and canola oil as the main ingredients. The minor ingredients are chicken liver, salmon oil, flaxseed, various vegetables and fruits, probiotics, prebiotics, glucosamine and chondroitin, and vitamins/minerals. This food is 34% protein and 14% fat with an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 4.6:1.
The main ingredients in CORE Ocean Recipe are whitefish, whitefish meal, salmon meal, menhaden fish meal, potatoes, dried ground potato, and canola oil. Secondary ingredients include pea fiber, tomato pomace, natural fish flavor, flaxseed, various vegetables and fruits, probiotics, prebiotics, glucosamine and chondroitin, and vitamins/minerals. This food is 34% protein and 14% fat with an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 2.5:1.
The glucosamine and chondroitin levels in these formulas are too low to do any good. Also, CORE foods are too high in calcium to make them suitable for pit bull puppies under 12 months of age. These are, however, fine foods for adult pit bulls.
The regular price for CORE Reduced Fat Recipe is about $65-67 for a 26 pound bag, but it's frequently on sale for $57. CORE Ocean Recipe is the most pricey at $70-73 for a 26 pound bag (sale price is around $63), and CORE Original Recipe is usually $62-64 for a 26 pound bag (on sale for $55).
Best Single Meat Source Dry Dog Food
Canine Caviar - Venison and Split Pea
If your pit bull suffers from food allergies, you'll probably want to feed a single meat source food, and Canine Caviar makes a formula that's tough to beat. The main ingredient in this 100% human-grade grainless food is free-range New Zealand venison raised without hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides. This excellent kibble even contains venison tripe, and is guaranteed to include no genetically modified ingredients (GMO). Digestibility is an outstanding 91-93%.
But what really makes this Canine Caviar formula unique is the processing method. Venison and Split Pea kibble is cooked for only six seconds, ensuring that nutrients remain largely intact!
The main ingredients in the minimally processed Venison and Split Pea formula are, as the name suggests, venison meal, split pea, and canola oil. Other ingredients include dried pumpkin, whole ground flaxseed, sun-cured alfalfa, venison tripe, dried beet pulp, coconut oil, borage oil, primrose oil, sun-cured kelp, lecithin, whole clove garlic, and several other herbs, plus vitamin and mineral supplements.
This food is 34% protein and 20% fat with the highest omega-3 levels (2.7%) of any kibble we've seen. The omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio is an amazing 1.5:1. Better yet, the inclusion of borage oil and primrose oil means that much of the omega-6 fatty acids are in the form of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is superb. The excellent fatty acid profile of this food makes it a great choice for dogs with skin conditions, allergies, or arthritis.
If this Canine Caviar formula has any drawback, it's the price. A 30 pound bag typically costs $82-86, making this the most expensive kibble we've reviewed.
Best Affordable Dry Dog Food
Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul - Adult Dog Formula
Grainless kibbles are great, but they're also expensive. If you're looking for a lower priced, high quality dry dog food and don't mind the inclusion of some whole grains, take a look at the Adult Dog Formula from Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul.
Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul uses human-grade ingredients and meats raised without hormones and antibiotics in their foods. The top ingredients in the Adult Dog Formula are chicken, turkey, chicken meal, ocean fish meal, cracked pearled barley, whole grain brown rice, oatmeal, millet, white rice, and chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols). Minor ingredients include potatoes, egg product, tomato pomace, duck, salmon, flaxseed, various fruits and veggies, kelp, probiotics, prebiotics, and the usual vitamin and mineral supplements. This food is 24% protein and 14% fat with an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 5.5:1.
Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul also makes a good large breed puppy formula.
This brand is made by Diamond Pet Foods, a company that has used ethoxyquin-preserved fish meal in the past, but switched to natural antioxidant preservation in May 2010. Kibble bags with an expiration date of May 15, 2011 or later are said to be ethoxyquin-free.
A 35 pound bag typically costs $39.99, making this quality dry dog food more affordable than our grainless recommendations.
Other Excellent Dry Dog Foods
Horizon Legacy Grain Free is another superb Canadian food made by a small company in their own processing plant using fresh, human-grade ingredients. Horizon Legacy Grain Free is available as an Adult Formula and a Puppy Formula. Based on the ancestral canine diet, both formulas are high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrate. What makes these foods different from most other grainless kibbles is that they contain no potatoes, making them a great choice for dogs who don't do well with potato products in their diet. The main ingredients in Horizon Legacy Grain Free Adult Formula are fresh chicken meat, chicken meal, salmon meal, turkey meal, pea starch concentrate, green split peas, and chicken fat. Also includes whole eggs, salmon oil, and lots of herbs, vegetables, fruits, and probiotics.
Surf & Turf by Fromm Four Star Nutritionals is a high quality, human-grade salmon and duck food made without grain. Its main ingredients are salmon, duck meal, potatoes, pea flour, sweet potatoes, duck, and chicken fat. Meats are hormone and antibiotic free, and the fish meal the company uses is guaranteed not to be preserved with ethoxyquin. Surf & Turf is made in Fromm's own USDA-inspected plant in Wisconsin.
We also like the Now! Grain Free line from Petcurean. These foods are unique in that they contain no rendered meats (such as meat meals) whatsoever. All ingredients are human-grade and meats are fresh and hormone-free. The absence of meat meals means that Now! Grain Free kibbles can contain no more than 35% meat; fresh fruits and veggies make up the remainder of the food. Consequently these kibbles are moderate in protein and fat and somewhat higher in carbohydrate than most other grainless foods; however, the ingredients in this naturally preserved dog food line are excellent.
Another line worth mentioning is Wilderness by Blue Buffalo. This grainless, human-grade food comes in three varieties: Chicken Recipe (main ingredients: deboned chicken, chicken meal, potato starch, turkey meal, peas, and chicken fat), Duck Recipe (main ingredients: deboned duck, chicken meal, potato starch, turkey meal, peas, and chicken fat), and Salmon Recipe (main ingredients: deboned salmon, menhaden fish meal, chicken meal, potato starch, peas, and chicken fat).
Solid Gold is another brand that recently switched to ethoxyquin-free fish meal. We like their super high protein, low carbohydrate Barking At The Moon formula, which is grainless and features ocean fish meal, hormone-free beef, potatoes, potato protein, and canola oil as the main ingredients. With 41% protein and 20% fat, it's most suitable for active dogs. If you're looking for a Solid Gold food that's lower in fat, take a look at the Wolfking formula. This bison-based food does contain some whole grains, but they're all gluten-free, and it's only 9% fat. The main ingredients are bison, ocean fish meal, brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, millet, rice bran, and canola oil.
Special Note about EVO and Natura Pet Products
EVO, a high protein/high fat/low carbohydrate line of human-grade grainless dog foods made by Natura Pet Products, would be right behind Orijen on our recommended list if it wasn't for two issues. The first is that the high calcium content in these foods makes EVO unsuitable for puppies under the age of twelve months. The second, far bigger issue is that Natura Pet Products (makers of EVO, Innova, California Natural, HealthWise, and Karma Organic brands--all high quality natural dog foods made with human-grade ingredients) has just been sold to Procter & Gamble. Given what happened to Iams and Eukanuba after they were acquired by P&G, people feeding Natura products are justifiably concerned.
Many people believe that it's only a matter of time before P&G begins cutting corners in an effort to reduce costs and maximize profits. The worst is that these changes may not be immediately apparent. Here's the thing: The term "human-grade" has no legal meaning. It really comes down to the credibility of the manufacturer whether we believe them when they tell us that the ingredients they use are fit for human consumption, or that their fish meal isn't preserved with ethoxyquin, or that they don't import anything from China. Even more alarming is the fact that pet food manufacturers have six months to update their product labels after changing the food's formulation.
With Procter & Gamble now in charge of all Natura brands, it's up to you to decide if these are foods you still feel comfortable feeding your pit bull.