The “best” food depends on your dog’s size, breed, and health needs. Here’s how to choose what to serve your dog, according to expert vets.
Now that doggy ice cream is officially a thing (thanks, Ben & Jerry’s), it should come as no surprise that pet parents everywhere truly care about choosing the best (and most delish) food for their pets.
Whether your dog leads a cushier life than you or Fido has health concerns like food sensitivities or weight management, many pet parents wonder which food to serve at mealtime — wet, dry, or a combo of both?
We talked to two expert vets to find out. According to veterinary surgeon Linda Simon, “the ‘best’ option depends on your preference and your dog’s breed and health status.”
Dry dog food (aka kibble) is made by grinding and mixing up ingredients like meats, grains, and nutritional additives, veterinarian Jamie Whittenburg explains. They’re then shaped into little kernels and cooked at high temps to remove the water content.
Dry dog food typically has:
- more carbs
- less fat
- less water
- sometimes less protein
Dry food is often recommended by vets due to its:
Lots of owners start by feeding their pooch dry food since it’s considered easier, Simon says. This is because it can be stored for longer once opened and makes less mess around the house (or on your furry friend’s face).
Kibble tends to be helpful when you need to let your pal munch on their food over time. For instance, if you go to work and Luna needs free reign over her food bowl.
Heads up, though: Even though Whittenburg says kibble can be left out for long periods, she doesn’t recommend it in most sitches. Aka, head home to your pets, pals! They miss you.
Dental health benefits
All that chomping on dry food just might help your canine preserve their canines.
“I recommend dry food for dental diets,” Whittenburg says. She likes to use dry kibble as an add-on to a wet food diet, because “it can be thought of as brushing the dog’s teeth daily.”
In fact, a small 2022 study found that dogs fed dry food had lower breath odor and tooth plaque buildup and a healthier oral microbiota than dogs fed wet foods. Some older studies have contested this claim, saying the evidence isn’t totally there yet — so more research is needed to confirm these findings for sure.
Another thing to consider: The higher added sugar content in low quality wet foods could be the culprit for doggo cavities everywhere, Whittenburg suggests.
Still, as of now, most vets agree: Dry food = improved dental hygiene. “The kibble doesn’t cake on teeth like wet food can, meaning there is less plaque buildup and gingivitis,” Simon says. She points out that this is especially important for breeds prone to dental disease like greyhounds, poodles, and chihuahuas.
If your pooch has dental probs, there are also dental prescription foods that use special fibers that essentially “act as a toothbrush,” Whittenburg says.
Let’s be real, with inflation and all that jazz, for most people, money *is* an object.
Fortunately, kibble is a lot cheaper than its wetter counterpart. While wet, canned food can run you up as much as a few dollars per meal, dry food is usually a fraction of that.
And like Consumer Reports points out, pricey pet food isn’t necessarily a better option. It’s more about the ingredients and your dogs’ unique needs.
“I would rather owners feed a high quality kibble than a lower-quality canned food,” Whittenburg says.
Weight loss support
Dogs sometimes need to go on a diet, too!
“Dry diets can make losing weight easier,” Simon says. “This is because the kibble can be accurately weighed and portions are simpler to control day by day.”
And since dry food often contains less fat than the canned stuff, this may be ideal for doggos on a diet. Just make sure it’s free of sugar, fillers, and other unnecessary ingredients.
Um, Fido, you have something on your face.
If you’re constantly wiping schmutz off your pup’s stache, dry food may be a welcome change — it also could help protect their health.
For longer furred breeds and those with mustaches and beards (hiii Schnauzers), “Dry dog food can keep fur clean and help prevent skin disease around the mouth,” Simon says.
It’s no secret that dogs can get super stir-crazy — and they don’t even have their phones to distract them.
That’s where puzzle toys come in. If you get your pup one of these interactive toys, you can put dry food or treats inside to entice them and “keep them engaged and entertained,” Whittenburg explains.
Wet dog food can be canned or semi-moist. Their ingredients are mixed up and cooked before “varying amounts of water are extracted (or added),” Whittenburg explains.
As a result, canned food has a super high-water content — about 78 percent based on Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulations (unless it’s labeled as a “stew,” “in sauce,” or “in gravy” — those can have up to 87.5 percent).
Compared to the dry stuff, wet dog food usually has:
- more water
- fewer carbs
- more fat
- often, more protein
Vets might recommend wet food due to its:
High water content
Fido feeling thirsty? (Omg no, not for the neighbor’s dog.)
Wet food might be the fix your pal needs. The super high water content of wet food is “beneficial for both hydration and satiety,” Whittenburg says.
Maybe canned food is like the pizza of dog food or something — because most pups seem to love it. “Fussy dogs tend to find wet food more palatable, meaning it can be easier to encourage these persnickety pooches to chow down,” Simon says.
Why, though? It could come down to “better flavor and texture,” Whittenburg says. Still, like people, dogs are unique! “This is not true of every dog, as all are individuals and have preferences, and many prefer what they were fed as young puppies.”
For that reason, Whittenburg says she recommends feeding both wet and dry food to young pups so they’re more likely to accept either down the road.
Ease of eating
Softer foods can be easier for dogs who:
- have dental disease
- have just had a dental procedure
- have sensitive stomachs
- are prone to constipation
In these cases, wet food is a solid option to make sure they’re still getting vital cals and nutrients, Simon explains. If your dog has tummy troubles, “opt for one enriched with prebiotics and/or probiotics when possible,” she says.
Wet foods often (but not always!) have:
- More protein-rich meat. This can be ideal for very active pups, who “need plenty of protein to maintain their lean muscle mass,” Simon says.
- Fewer carbs. Higher-quality canned foods (but not all canned foods) are often lower in carbs. Even though dogs are omnivores, like with humans, loading up on carbs still isn’t great for their health, Whittenburg points out.
Okay, now that you have all this info — which do you pick for your canine king or queen?! TBH, there’s no right answer.
While Simon recommends dry food in most cases (due to things like convenience, cost, and dental benefits), Whittenburg thinks wet is #best (because of “better hydration, better palatability, better satiety, and fewer carbohydrates.”)
According to 2021 research on over 1,500 dog owners and hundreds of cat owners, the majority (about 76 percent) feed their pets kibble, while about 35 percent mix dry and wet pet food. This likely boils down to price.
But the vets agree that in most cases, a combo might be the compromise — and the variety — your dog craves. “Most do well on mixed diets,” Simon says. “This could mean some kibble left in the bowl throughout the day, combined with a canned dinner,” Simon says. Or maybe you give Bella a bowl that has both.
“Dogs should be offered a varied diet and learn to eat different types of foods when they are young,” Whittenburg says.
And keep in mind that like people, dogs’ needs change over time! “Your dog’s preference may change as they mature, so keep an open mind,” Simon says. She also recommends transitioning your dog to a new diet slowly over 5-10 days to help them adjust to the transition.
Also, “if feeding a wet diet alone, don’t forget to offer harder treats to help clean teeth,” she says.
Other considerations include:
According to 2015 research, the most common allergen triggers in dog food include:
If you suspect your dog is allergic to something, head to the vet to see what’s up.
Grain vs. grain-free
Lots of dog food brands have grain-free formulas available, with some claiming that grain-free food is healthier — but there actually isn’t any evidence supporting that claim.
In fact, the FDA is currently investigating links between grain-free food and the development of heart disease (aka canine dilated cardiomyopathy — or DCM). It’s still not totally clear if grain-free food is actually the reason the FDA has seen an increase in reports of dogs with DCM, though.
The only reason you should specifically avoid grains is if your dog is allergic to them. Talk with your vet if you suspect your pup might have a grain allergy.
As we’ve mentioned, dry food tends to be better for pooches with periodontal disease. (Heads up: She notes that smaller breeds that have dental overcrowding can be especially susceptible.)
For that reason, she thinks dry food is better in most cases for daily eating unless you plan to brush your dog’s chompers on the daily.
If your dog has or is predisposed to certain conditions or diseases, ask your vet for diet recommendations that can help keep their health on track.
Basically, find out what your pet likes and needs. They can’t tell you with your words, but they *can* with their food bowl (and maybe some tail wagging). A visit to the vet can also help you figure it out.
Older pets with periodontal disease might do better with wet food. But while most assume puppies can only chow down on wet food, most do fine with kibble, Simon says. When they’re teeny, you can soak the dry food in water to help them chew.
Just don’t do it long-term, though, she says, as that cancels out the dental benefits dry food otherwise offers.
“When it comes to practicality, dry food wins,” Simon points out.
Meanwhile, Whittenburg advocates for mixing wet + dry when money’s a concern or your pup needs kibble available when you’re away.
But ultimately, the choice comes down to you and your pooch.
“Reading pet food labels can be complicated,” Whittenburg says. “Marketing is a huge force in pet food sales, and it can be hard for even the most educated pet parents to be aware of the tricks of pet food companies.”
Be wary of marketing-speak like “human-grade,” which the pros say really is too good to be true. While the term is supposed to mean the food is free of the 4 D’s: Diseased, Dying, Down, or Dead animals — those things are already illegal in dog food, at least in the U.S.
Plus, “no food made in a pet food factory is legally classified as human-grade,” Simon says.
And no, you really shouldn’t eat it — even if your fridge is looking pretty empty. “It is not food that humans could or should eat!” Simon says. “We tend to see it more of a marketing ploy than anything else,” she says.
It’s also pretty tough to read the label without a thorough understanding of dog nutrition, she adds.
In general, though, here’s what the pros say is ideal:
- Lists a specific meat like “chicken” or “turkey” instead of “poultry” as the first ingredient, Simon says. If a company doesn’t list the type of meat, they might “chop and change their source.” she explains. So one week it has chicken, but the next turkey, which could be problematic for dogs with sensitive stomachs. “We also want to avoid meat byproducts, which can be made from things like offal, blood, and bones.”
- Doesn’t contain artificial colors, flavor, and preservatives like BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin. They’re not good for you, and they’re not good for your pooch! “They aren’t needed and could have harmful effects long-term,” Simon says. “Some are even classified as carcinogenic, meaning they may cause cancer in some individuals.”
- Has grains and veggies“and perhaps some legumes and fruits too,” Simon says. Don’t forget that dogs are omnivores like you and me! They need a well-rounded diet to stay healthy.
- Has added benefits like probiotics and joint supplements for optimal health, Simon says. This is just a bonus, but a good one if you can afford it.
- Has an AAFCO label. An AAFCO label on your pup’s food means it meets basic nutritional standards for your doggo.
Ultimately, though, before pet food shopping, Whittenburg first and foremost recommends visiting your vet. Let’s face it — they’re experienced. “Every pet is different with different nutritional needs, and your vet is the best resource for help with choosing their food.”
Both dry and wet food are legit dog food sources.
Vets say wet is better for ease of eating, better hydration, and better satiety and palatability with fewer carbs. Meanwhile, dry food is better for convenience and oral health benefits at a much lower price point.
A combo of both can also be ideal. Basically, what’s best for Fido boils down to your pal’s unique preferences and needs.