We Reviewed over 50 Brands & 89 Formulations for the Best Dog Kibble in Canada & USA
- Is kibble bad for your dog & cat?
- A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Dog Food Labels
- Ultimate guide: Choosing the best pet food. What should be in your dog or cat’s food.
- We Reviewed over 50 Brands & 89 Formulations for the Best Dog Kibble in Canada & USA
Ranking of Pet Food Based on More than a Gut Feeling
It’s no secret: good nutrition is essential for dogs everywhere. However, with so many options, it can be difficult to know which brand is right for your dog. Pet parents should choose the best dog kibble based on ingredient quality, digestibility, the dog’s health condition and owner budget. We see a lot of subjective reviews by experts in newspaper articles about the top 5 dog kibble. They do not provide a framework or a list of criteria to help explain the ranking and seem to be going with their gut feeling. We tend to find that the website Dog Advisor does a clear job of rating individual dog kibble. We do not agree with all their pet food reviews but their framework is well explained and makes sense.
Today, we put together a list of criteria and a framework to rank dog kibble. The study we conducted below looks at over 50 dog kibble brands and 89 formulations in Canada and the USA.
The variables we take a look at focus primarily on the ingredient panel, processing and manufacturer. It did not look into other factors such as price of dog kibble or dog health condition. And today, I’m going to share what we found with you on what the healthiest dry dog food is and the worst dog kibble.
Here is a Summary of Our Key Findings:
- The best 10 dog kibble formulations are from the following dog brands: Carna4, Bixbi Rawbble, Nature’s Logic, Acana, Orijen Pet Food, Nulo and Petkind.
- Based on the ingredient panel, smaller manufacturers seem to use better ingredients than larger companies. The large companies included Nestle or Mars Inc. who manufacture Hills Science Diet, Purina Pro Plan, Royal Canin and Iams.
- The Worst 20 dog kibble included Nutro, Purina Pro Plan, Hills Science Diet, Royal Canin, Blue Buffalo and Iams. These fall under the dog food brands to avoid despite so-called expert suggestions.
- Larger manufacturers like Nestle and Mars Inc. through Iams, Purina Pro Plan, Royal Canin and Hills Science Diet were more likely to have questionable ingredients.
- Larger manufacturers like Nestle and Mars Inc. used questionable practices/advertising through brands like Iams, Purina Pro Plan and Hills Science Diet.
How Important is Meat in Our Ratings?
We start the study off with the simple statement that a dog is a carnivore. This means that with the carnivore physiology, their teeth are designed for chewing/tearing meat and grinding bones. Dogs also have digestive tracts meant for consuming mostly meat (lower coefficient of fermentation). In addition, the stomach pH is more acidic. Dogs also have little salivary amylase.
We also admit that dogs are adaptable to carbohydrates, unlike cats which makes them capable of utilizing carbohydrates in kibble. To make kibble, you need some carbohydrate (e.g. grains or no-grains such as potatoes) to hold the dough together. For how kibble is made you can read here.
As such, we favor dogs foods rich in meat protein as this is more biologically appropriate for dogs and bioavailable. If you want to read more about pet food nutrients, see here Ultimate Guide to choosing the best pet food.
To be clear, the amino acid profile obtained from the biologically appropriate meat is the important factor.
Methodology of Ranking the Best Dog Kibble
The study starts with publicly available information as this is the same starting point for all pet parents. We evaluated the best dog kibble food by:
- Firstly, choosing a variety of dog food including grain-free kibble, grain-inclusive kibble, vegetarian and vegan kibble to prescription dog food.
- To control for the variety of proteins, we settled on mostly the chicken based formulations of these pet foods. The kibble had to be adult or all life-stage formulations.
- As vegetarian or vegan dog foods are being marketed to consumers as alternatives for meat protein diets, we picked their basic lines.
- We also included oven-baked dry foods which are not technically kibble as they are marketed to consumers as alternatives.
- For comparisons across dry dog food recipes, we took out the moisture in the Guaranteed Analysis and converted to a dry matter basis.
Note: This study does not evaluate whether dogs with particular health conditions would benefit from vegetarian or prescription vet diets.
Factors Used to Rank Dog Kibble
This study is trying to evaluate what is best dog kibble brand and formulation for the average dog. We start with putting the health of the dog first without considering other factors.
We use the following variables:
- Quality ingredients and how the food is processed– this variable evaluates whether the dog kibble uses fresh ingredients. Is the pet food organic or synthetic ingredient free? It also evaluates if the food uses lower temperatures in processing food as this maintains better nutrients.
- Note that more vitamins and minerals does not equate to good pet food. In actuality, extrusion results in loss of vitamin A, B, C and some minerals. In the Ultimate Guide to choosing the best pet food, we discuss the impact of high temperatures on depleting lysine, taurine, fatty acids, enzymes.
- Synthetic free pet foods are better. “The importance of eating whole foods and avoiding synthetics cannot be overstated. The body is programmed to recognize actual food, and when the immune system detects chemicals, lab-made ‘foodstuffs’ like isolated soy protein, or the synthetic vitamins used in all ‘vitamin premix’, it sends out signals for the body to protect itself as it sees these molecules as invaders. This sets off inflammation…and chronic inflammation kills. It is that simple. A diet of whole foods will stave off illness and vulnerability, preserving the life and health of your pet ( and yourself) for many years to come.” Carna4 Inc.
- When pet food manufacturers supplement minerals, better brands will also use mostly proteinates vs inorganic minerals.
- Ingredient Panel – we evaluated how much protein is available in the dog food. Relatively higher levels of animal protein corresponding with better quality dog food. Although dogs are adaptable to carbohydrates, it is not a biologically appropriate based on the dog’s physiology. Dr. Becker has also written about it. More importantly, we evaluated whether the brand provided public information about the protein digestibility and if it higher than 82%. Protein digestibility explains what your dog is actually getting from pet food.
- See our Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Dog Food Labels for more info on reading dog food labels and protein digestibility.
- Questionable Ingredients– under this variable we deducted points from kibble formulations that used unidentifiable meat sources. We also gave negative points for kibble with ingredients that have higher glycemic loads such as white rice and potatoes. Dry pet food that also utilized grains were also affected. Formulations with grains have the risk of aflatoxins. At high levels, these can cause liver damage and death in pets. We also deducted points for dog kibble brands which used over 50% of their protein from plant matter. This tends to be the case for vegetarian and vegan dog foods. Our NAUGHTY LIST details ingredients that are not good for your dog and these got negative points.
- Questionable Practices/Advertising– this variable evaluated practices where manufacturers used various methods to deceive consumers. We looked at the dog kibble ingredient panel and advertising on the bags. We penalize brands for having recalls.
- Ingredient splitting to window dress the panel is deceptive marketing and penalized.
- Brands showing fruits and veggies on the dog kibble bag when these ingredients are listed after salt are meant to deceive customers. (Salt Divider Rule)
- We consider showing roasted/ grilled meats when that is not the form put in pet food as deceptive marketing.
Quantifying Qualitative Factors
As this is a scored qualitative study, we started with the variables above and broke them down into individual components. For example, for Quality of Ingredients, we’d ask if the ingredient panel had probiotics or was synthetic free. The study assigns each of these individual variables a score for Yes (Y) or No (N) based on the importance of the variable.
For each Y or N, the study calculates average points by polling staff to score individual variables as pet parents. This attempts to minimize any inherent biases.
Recap of Problems with Ingredient Labelling of Dog kibble
Although the ingredient panel is useful for giving you a standardized list by weight of the ingredients.
- It does not tell you anything about the quality of the ingredient or the sourcing of the pet food. For example, “Chicken” means fresh chicken but it does not tell you how Fresh is the chicken. It also does not tell you if the chicken is free range, non-medicated. Neither does it tell you if it is a USA product or imported from China.
- The ingredient panel also does not tell you how much of each ingredient is in the product. By weight, we know the ranking in a panel. For example, in a panel “Chicken, Peas, White Rice, Pea Protein.” We know what comes first but we don’t know if Chicken is 20%, Peas 18%, White Rice 15%, Pea Protein 10%.
- If above is plausible, then Pea +Pea Protein = 28% is 1st ingredient and Chicken with moisture will move down.
- The manufacturer window dressed ingredients to move pea protein which is not as desirable down in the list.
A Quick Note on Canine DCM and Why You Should Not Add Grains or Switch to Only Grain Containing Kibble
We’ve been hearing of vets asking dog owners to add grains to their pet’s food due to canine heart disease or food-related Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).
Do dogs need grain in their dry food? The answer is NO.
Unfortunately, these vets seem to be behind the news and giving customers a worrisome knee jerk reaction. The FDA has backpedaled and said that they are not sure what is causing non-hereditary DCM. Having grains in the food or not is not reason for DCM.
A 2022 journalist investigation found the “veterinarians who prompted the FDA to consider diet have financial and other ties to the leading sellers of grain-inclusive pet foods.”
- Choose a good whole foods-based dog food and rotate your proteins.
- Add seafood to your pet’s meal once a week or omega-3 fatty acids .
The Best 10 Dog Kibble Formulations Ranked Primarily because of Better Pet Food Ingredients
The top 10 brands scored higher because they were more whole foods/ synthetic free in their formulation. The number 1 ranked dog food was Orijen Original. The best dog foods in 2023 for both Canada and the USA were the brands and formulation shown above.
The kibbles in the top 10 brands which were not synthetic free, used mostly chelated minerals/ proteinates. They were also more likely to use pre- and pro-biotics.
Nulo and Bixbi Rawbble were 2 brands that surprised us and made it into the top 10. Nulo and Bixbi use better pet food ingredients than most kibble in general. However, they might have been boosted into the top 10 because they got extra points for being forthcoming about their protein digestibility. This is key to understanding what your pet is getting from a dog food.
4 out of the 89 kibble formulations provided protein digestibility information publicly. The remaining two companies are Orijen and Acana for a few formulations.
Surprisingly, we found that 4 of the top 10 kibble formulations had carbohydrates slightly above 35%. Generally, we suggest avoiding kibble that contain more than 35% carbohydrates as carbs are cheaper to buy and store than proteins.
The 4 dog kibble were Carna4 Chicken, Acana Classic Prairie Poultry with grains, Petkind Tripe Dry Single Animal Beef and Bixbi Rawbble Liberty Dry Chicken (highest carbohydrates in Top 10). Their other factors positively pushed them into the top 10 rank.
We Used Digestibility of Pet Food as a Ranking Factor
In utilizing protein digestibility as a factor, we focused on what is the most important thing when you eat food. For dogs, you are not getting all the Crude protein that is provided in the nutritional label. In fact, it is the biologically appropriate amino acids provided by the meat which is important. As such, information about digestibility gives you a clearer picture of on average what the dog is getting nutritionally.
Digestibility means feeding X g of food, dog poops Y g and essentially X- Y gives you what is digested. E.g. feed 454 g of dog food, dog then poops 100 g. This leaves 354 g digested or essentially 78% digestibility. Then you can multiply your Crude Protein by 78% and that is what your dog is absorbing. So for pet owners who see their dog poop big amounts, this means your dog is not getting what they need. Big poop is not exactly healthy poop.
The other reason that this information is important is because not all proteins are bioavailable or digestible. For example, pet manufacturers can add leather, which has a high amount of protein. However, it is not that digestible or bioavailable. There are numerous ways in which pet manufacturers could use inferior products to boost the Crude Protein.
In 2007, ingredient suppliers intentionally contaminated wheat gluten & rice protein with melamine to inflate the Crude Protein amounts. See the FDA case here. In that case, your ingredient panel would show a high Crude Protein. However, it could kill your pet because the melamine combines with cyanuric acid in pet food to become toxic.
Our Review of the Best 10 Dog Kibble Formula in Canada & USA
We were surprised that Bixbi Rawbble and Nulo made it into the top 10. They seem to use good pet food ingredients overall. Petkind also surprised us as their other formulations in the past did not score high for us. The Petkind proteins surprised us as well. However, we are not fans of ingredient splitting used with legumes. This might also be one of the reasons they ranked higher for Protein content. As the FDA has pointed out, they SUSPECT but do not know how legumes affect heart disease. We also dislike peas as we’ve seen dogs with food sensitivities to peas. Despite that, Petkind seems to better formulated than others on the list.
Side note: Mars Inc is acquiring Orijen and Acana which is ranked in the best kibble formulations meaning that a large corporation now controls some of the worst brands as well as some of the best kibble brands on the market.
Out of the top 10, surprisingly 60% were Canadian Kibble Brands with the rest being USA Pet Food brands.
The Worst 20 Dog Kibble Formulations are Owned Primarily by Large Companies
Out of the 20 worst dog kibble/ dry dog food formulations, we found that these dog kibble manufacturers scored poorly on quality ingredients. This was the case even though most of them are prescription diets.
From the guaranteed analysis, most of these pet food manufacturers used 39% to 54 % carbohydrates in their formulations. This is a lot of carbohydrate which despite a dog’s adaptability to carbohydrates is not biologically appropriate. It is a sign of using cheaper ingredients overall and covering with synthetic ingredients. This is because carbohydrates tend to be cheaper to store, package and transport. Thus more carbohydrates in kibble means BIGGER profit for manufacturers.
Vegetarian and vegan diets scored poorly overall as Meat is an important component for a dog to thrive. Despite this, vegan and vegetarian dog kibble were still better than some formulations of Royal Canin, Iams, Purina and Hills Science Diet.
Brands you may want to avoid include Royal Canin, Iams, Purina and Hills Science Diet based on reviewing their ingredient panels.
The concentration of acrylamide from extrusion of grains, vegetables and potatoes is an issue with all dog kibble but particularly vegetarian or vegan kibble. This is because the dogs eat the same food daily. Acrylamides are shown to cause cancer in animals exposed to very high doses.
Prescription diets score poorly overall. In addition, they technically break US federal law as they are advertised as drugs. The food is not manufactured like a drug or approved as one. The FDA just overlooks the law with a compliance policy. However, prescribed canine diets are notorious for vitamin toxicity issues e.g. being the Vitamin D Toxicity issue in 2019. Prescribed canine diets in general are often in recalled pet food lists.
Questionable Ingredients Used in Dog Kibble
To be thorough, we checked the dog food panel for known ingredients that can be possible carcinogens (cancer causing). Also, we checked for ingredients that can damage the liver and kidneys.
Ingredients that fall under either of those are Butylated Hydroxyanisole BHT, Butylated Hydroxytoluene BHA, Ethoxyquin, Nitrites & Nitrates, Sodium Tripolyphosphate and Proplyene Glycol. However, it is difficult to find a pet food manufacturer stupid enough to include these in their pet food labels. It would be shooting themselves in the foot as they know that pet parents are looking for these ingredients. If the kibble manufacturer’s suppliers include these in the ingredients they provide, pet food manufacturers are not under any obligation to disclose on their labels.
With the exception of the Menadione, it is pretty difficult to find the others on dog manufacturer’s ingredient panel. Dog kibble that ranked low likely used 2 or 3 ingredients from Naughty Ten Pet Food Ingredients to Avoid.
Summary and Recommendations
We found a lot of dog kibble touted by newspapers, some pet websites are actually mediocre re: ingredients used. Brands like Taste of the Wild, Wellness Kibble, Ultra Performatrin kibble, Blue Buffalo, Go kibble, Fromm Gold line were in the middle of the pack.
In the Top 25 formulations were Zignature Kangaroo, Jinx, Stella & Chewy’s Raw Coated and Wild Red kibble lines, some Open Farm Homestead and Farmina’s N&D Prime lines.
Attached is the full list of 50 Brands and 89 Formulations ranked from the Overall Best to the Overall Worst.
Recommendation for Getting the Best Pet Food for Your Pet
For all pet parents, we suggest learning how to read an ingredient panel as the first step in understanding dog kibble. We hope you join us in requesting your kibble manufacturer move to providing more information about protein digestibility. Protein digestibility as well the proportion of energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fat tells us what our dogs are actually eating.
In addition, we recommend adding the following to your dog kibble at least twice a week to ensure you are getting optimal health:
- Soak your dog food with water or bone broth. It ensures your dog is ingesting a good amount of water daily which will help with kidney health later.
- Blanch fresh vegetables from your kitchen. This makes vegetables easier to digest but ensures you do not cook away the nutrition e.g. kale, celery, zucchini
- Provide your dog with fruits in moderation e.g. apples, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries
- Consider adding probiotics to your dog kibble for better digestion and health or try any fermented goat milk.
- Add omega 3s in the form of fish oil/ krill oil to help with skin, coat and also heart health.
- Add fresh food whenever possible but not in the same meal as kibble.
How did your brand stack up? Were you surprised? Let us know if you have an thoughts or questions. Either way, leave a comment below right now.