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5 Best Kibble and Canned Dog Foods

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Want my advice on feeding your dog real food instead of kibble or canned?

So you're reading this paragraph because you skipped over the link above, the one on feeding real food.

You might have skipped over it because you've already read it. Excellent!

Or you might have skipped over it because you think feeding real food would take too much time, be too much hassle, and your life is already overwhelmed with too much stuff to do. Understandable.

But feeding real food doesn't require you to make it yourself. You can, of course.

But you can also buy real food that's already been pre-made for your dog. You just serve it, just as you would serve kibble or canned food.

So if you haven't read it yet, I do encourage you to check out my advice on feeding your dog real food. Honestly, it's nearly as convenient as feeding kibble or canned.... and it's MUCH better for your dog.

You want something that you can feel good about feeding your dog. You know he deserves it. He's part of your family.

But if you're still interested in feeding kibble or canned, your obvious question is, "What's the best brand of dry or wet dog food?"

I can help you with that (click here if you're in a hurry), but aren't you curious – even a little bit – about WHY I'm not enthusiastic about feeding kibble or canned foods?

The two huge problems with kibble and canned dog food

dry kibble dog food in a bowl

What is really inside these pellets?

  1. Safety. You simply don't know what else might be in that bag or can.

    Is My Dog's Food Safe?

  2. The Ingredients. In ALL dry kibble and canned foods, your dog isn't getting what he should be getting.... and he's getting too much of what he shouldn't be getting. And that affects his long-term health and lifespan.

    On my list of criteria for What Makes a Dog Food Good? kibble and canned foods fail again and again.

If kibble and canned foods aren't very good, why are they so common?

  1. Sophisticated marketing.
  2. People's love of convenience.
  3. Many dry and wet foods are inexpensive.

Dogs have been domesticated for about 15,000 years. That's amazing, isn't it? And all through those centuries, right up until a hundred years ago, they were fed real food. Meat, fish, eggs, broccoli and carrots, a few biscuits dipped in milk.

On this diet of real food, dogs lived to ripe old ages. Then the pet food corporations came along and changed everything.

Pug sitting beside a bowl of dry dog food pellets

Dogs didn't eat kibble until about a hundred years ago, when the meat and grain industries started looking for a market for their rejected foodstuffs that couldn't pass USDA inspection.

About a hundred years ago, the USDA started stamping "failed" on wheat and corn that didn't pass inspection for the human market due to mold, rancidity, and other contaminants.

Of course, this annoyed the grain manufacturers, who quickly discovered that the meat industry faced the same dilemma – meat that failed USDA inspection because it had spoiled or because the livestock was diseased.

Sad faceThe idea of mixing the rejects together and calling it "pet food" was born.

Marketing firms spent an enormous amount of money planting this awful idea in the public's mind.

Today, kibble and canned diets are aggressively promoted by the multi-billion-dollar pet food industry and the veterinary industry, both of whom have a huge financial stake in getting you to feed these products.

Here's some of the clever misinformation "fed" to us by the manufacturers of dry and canned pet foods:

 The manufacturers will put a photo of a juicy steak or gleaming white chicken breast on the bag.

In virtually all kibble and canned diets, this is so far from the truth that it should be illegal to do.

  • Kibble and canned foods virtually never contain sirloin from a healthy cow raised in a lush pasture.
  • Nor do those foods contain chicken breast from a healthy hen who pecked happily around the barnyard.
Cattle in feedlot

Unless a dog food specifically says pasture-raised or grass-fed, this is where the beef in your dog's food comes from. Feedlots packed with livestock eating junky grain.

Virtually always they contain meat from unfortunate cows and chickens packed together in miserable pens and warehouses where the animals can hardly move.

It's bad enough that some of the meat from these animals passes USDA inspection and gets delivered to the supermarket for us to eat.

It's much worse that the stuff that fails USDA inspection gets thrown into the pet food bin.

It's called Feed Grade meat or 4D meat, meaning it can come from livestock that were Diseased, Disabled, Dying, or already Dead when it arrived at the slaughterhouse.

Takeaway: If you don't want your dog eating that crap, the package would need to specify that all ingredients are USDA-approved for human consumption. There aren't many dog foods like that. You should also want meat and eggs sourced from pasture/grass-fed beef and free-range poultry.

 Kibble and canned food manufacturers will assure you that they're based right here in the United States.

After those nasty pet food recalls where toxins from China killed all those poor pets, owners have become wary of ingredients from other countries.

So pet food manufacturers have begun mouthing platitudes like "100% US owned" or "Manufactured by our facilities in the US."

Yes, but.... what about the actual ingredients?

Most pet food companies buy their ingredients in bulk on the international open market. Which means their sources change regularly. Which means the quality of their ingredients – sometimes the actual ingredient itself – changes regularly.

"Fish oil" could be from salmon (good) this month and tuna (bad) next month.

Girl reading a map

Unless the dog food specifies WHERE each ingredient comes from, you have no way to know where that might be. Could be a miserable facility in a third-world country with minimal safety standards.

This is why pet food companies do their darnedest to conceal their sources. They want to be able to shop around for the cheapest prices.

Of course, they still charge YOU the same price. Anything they save on ingredients they bank themselves.

The result is that you can never know who has supplied the stuff your dog is eating, or when that stuff has changed. The manufacturer doesn't need to report those changes.

Often the bag looks exactly the same and you'd need to read it carefully and compare it to past bags to discover that the company has reduced its chicken by substituting pea protein, or reduced its protein and increased its (cheaper) fats and carbs.

So when your dog's coat suddenly starts looking scruffy, or he starts throwing up or having loose stools, your vet will ask, "Have you changed his food recently?"

"No," you say.... but... how would you know?

Takeaway: The bag or can should specify that all ingredients are sourced from the US (or another specifically-named country; for example, "salmon from Norway" or "lamb from New Zealand").

 Kibble and canned manufacturers will assure you that their food is "Complete and Balanced" and formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO.

Well, hooray!


AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Their expertise is in livestock which stand shoulder-to-shoulder in small pens and only live a few months before being butchered for consumption.


I pay no attention to AAFCO labeling.

Dogs are not livestock, so I don't consider AAFCO qualified to be determining the nutritional requirements of companion animals who should be living 10-18 healthy, happy years as part of our family.

  • A dog food gets "validated" by AAFCO simply by having the right numbers of grams and percentages. The actual quality of the ingredients – the ingredients that your dog is supposed to pull his nutrients from – is ignored.
  • AAFCO feeding "trials" are run on 8 dogs for 3-6 months, after which bloodwork is done. That's it. Doesn't seem to have much bearing on whether a dog could live a healthy lifetime on that food, does it?

Takeaway: I ignore AAFCO. The nutritional levels of protein and fat established by this livestock organization are simply minimums. It might keep your dog alive, but that's not much of a goal to be proud of, eh?

 Kibble manufacturers will assure you that dry kibble is good for a dog's teeth.


Tiny dry bits actually become wedged between the teeth and under the gumline. Those bits are convenient landing spots for bacteria to build up on.

With so many dogs eating these diets, bad teeth and gum disease are worse now than ever. Vets make a substantial portion of their income providing dental care, which puts your dog through risky general anesthesia.

 Kibble and canned manufacturers will assure you that their foods contain all required vitamins and minerals.

Yes, but in forms that are usable by the dog? Not so much.

hot fireMany essential vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants are damaged or destroyed by high heat.

All kibble and canned dog foods are COOKED.... and most are cooked at very high temperatures.

That means the manufacturer has to add synthetic vitamins, which are never as absorbable as the real stuff found in food.

And there's a bigger problem – digestive enzymes are destroyed by cooking.

Digestive enzymes (which are built into raw/uncooked food) are vital to a dog's ability to digest his meals.

When those digestive enzymes are missing, your dog is forced to produce those missing enzymes in his pancreas. Forcing the pancreas to work overtime puts a lot of stress on it, potentially leading to health problems.

Sure, you can add synthetic digestive enzymes to his kibble and canned food (and you absolutely should), but they're not as good as the real stuff.

 Kibble and canned manufacturers will assure you that their food includes essential fatty acids.

Yes, but which fatty acids? Virtually ALL kibble and canned diets have far too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3.

That imbalance leads to a LOT of health problems, especially inflammatory ailments, itchy skin conditions, allergies, weight gain, and mental issues such as anxiety, behavioral issues such as excitable reactivity.

All because of a fatty acid imbalance.

Why are the fats in kibble and canned foods so unbalanced? Because Omega 6 is cheaper, while Omega 3 is more expensive.

Some manufacturers do add some Omega 3. It's usually listed as fish oil. But what kind of fish? Some fish species (such as Wild Alaskan Salmon) provide high-quality oil, while other fish species provide low-quality oil that can also contain high levels of mercury.

fish oil capsules shaped like a fish

By just saying fish oil, the manufacturer can put in whatever's cheapest.

Oh, and another thing about fats... you know that pungent smell that wafts up from a freshly opened bag of kibble?

That's the smell of the greasy fat sprayed onto the hard little pebbles to tempt your dog to eat it. Otherwise, it wouldn't be recognizable to him as food. With the fat sprayed on, dogs gobble up their kibble for the same reason kids gobble up french fries.

Tastes great, yes. Nutritious, no.

 Kibble manufacturers will assure you that it's perfectly natural for dogs to eat hard pebbles every day.

VeterinarianListen to what Dr. Richard Pitcairn DVM says about that:

"The whole concept of Insta-Meal for humans is repulsive. Most people would soon be climbing the walls in frustration, desperate for a salad or some fruit – anything whole and fresh, or just different. Perhaps the thought of eating kibbles for the rest of your own life helps make the point that pets forced to do so are being shortchanged. All of us – humans and animals – should have fresh, wholesome, unprocessed food in our daily diet."

Dry kibble is the exact opposite of what a dog is supposed to eat.

Dry dog food is hard on his digestive tract. A dog's natural diet is packed with moisture (INSIDE the food) which helps bathe his intestines, keeping them slippery and healthy. Dry food has no such moisture, which is hard on his intestines, kidneys, and bladder. And no, unfortunately, pouring water on the dry food doesn't help much.

Dogs were born to eat real food with lots of INTERNAL moisture that aids in healthy digestion and elimination.

 Kibble and canned food manufacturers are now using the nice-sounding phrase "gently cooked" because they know the public is catching on about high heat killing nutrients in the food.

Problem is.... it's not true. Kibble and canned diets are subjected to MASSIVE amounts of heat and are often cooked not once, but twice or even three times.

That's just devastating to the enzymes and antioxidants your dog needs for optimum health.

My Honest Advice

Your dog's daily diet should not be kibble or canned dog food.

For his daily diet, you should feed real food. You can make it yourself or you can buy a frozen or freeze-dried dog food, which you can feed raw or lightly cooked.

Feeding dry dog food

Kibble or canned is okay for an occasional meal.

An occasional meal of kibble or canned food is fine

You can certainly feed a kibble or canned meal now and then! The convenience is great on a day when your schedule is tight, or when you don't feel well, or when you're traveling with your dog.

There are only a handful of such kibble and canned dog foods I recommend for this occasional use.

This is important.... NONE of the brands on this list meets all (or even most) of the criteria in on my personal list of what makes a dog food good. For all the reasons I explain in that article, there are no kibble or canned foods that I consider good enough for daily use.

If you decide to ignore my advice and feed these foods every day, please be kind to your dog and at least mix it with real food.

In the list below, please note the exact name and type of the dog food.

For example, I recommend Nature's Variety Original dry kibble. That doesn't mean I also recommend Nature's Variety canned. Or if I specifically recommend a company's Turkey formula, that doesn't mean I also recommend its Beef.

DRY KIBBLE (for occasional use)

  • Orijen
  • Wysong Epigen 90

CANNED DOG FOOD (for occasional use)

  • Ziwi Peak Mackerel & Lamb
  • Weruva Grain Free
  • FirstMate Cage-Free Turkey
  • Wellness CORE Hearty Cuts Beef & Venison

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

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