The Best Cheap Dog Food

Calling All Chowhounds!

To find the best cheap dog food, be it kibble in a bag or wet dog food in a can, Cheapism nosed deep into reviews by pet owners and experts to find wallet-friendly labels that earn enthusiastic endorsements from both dogs and their humans. In our full buying guide, we’ve also provided insights from the pros on what pet owners should look for when choosing high quality yet affordable dog food.

Our picks and estimated costs represent the wide assortment of flavors and formulas each brand offers. Cost per ounce for dry food is based on the smallest bag size available. Prices and availability may vary.

See full Buying Guide

Our Top Pick

Canidae All Life Stages

Canidae All Life Stages Review

Our Picks
Canidae All Life Stages

Canidae All Life Stages Review


  • High in protein from quality sources.
  • Salmon and flaxseed oil provide omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are beneficial for the skin and coat.
  • Carbohydrates come from oatmeal, peas, barley, millet, and brown rice; no wheat, corn, or soy.
  • No byproducts or fillers.
  • Added probiotics for digestive health as well as glucosamine and chondroitin, said to ease arthritis pain and joint inflammation in older dogs.


  • Fairly high in carbohydrates.
  • Some owners say their dogs don’t seem to find it extremely tasty.
  • Kibble might be a little hard for older dogs, according to reviews.

Takeaway: Canidae All Life Stages is a good option for multi-dog households, because its mix of ingredients is intended to offer benefits to dogs of any age. Reviewers who feed this food to more than one dog report that all enjoy silky coats, healthy joints, and general good health. The taste may not appeal to every dog, and some require a wet food mixed in to make it more appetizing, but pet owners say it’s worth the extra coaxing to be confident their dogs are getting the nutrition they need. The kibble size is good for all but the smallest of pups, although some say it is on the hard side. There are a few reports of dogs suffering from gas or other digestive distress, but on the whole, this food actually seems to have cleared up many pre-existing gastrointestinal issues. Canidae All Life Stages is available in several blends, including Chicken and Rice, Lamb and Rice, and Multi-Protein, and there are also varieties for less active dogs and large breeds, as well as canned versions to complement dry mixes. Pet owners who prefer to go grain-free might also consider the brand’s limited-ingredient Canidae Pure line.

Taste of the Wild

Taste of the Wild Review


  • Several kinds of primary-source animal proteins.
  • Carbs come from fruits, vegetables, and potatoes or sweet potatoes, depending on variety.
  • Probiotics and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.


  • Some reports of gas or gastrointestinal issues after switching to this food.
  • “Exotic” meat choices, like bison and wild boar, may raise eyebrows.
  • Several reviews ding the salmon recipe, complaining of the pungent smell; apparently many dogs are not fans of the fishy taste, either.

Takeaway: This grain-free dog food line tops Dog Food Advisor’s list of best wet dog foods. Experts there praise Taste of the Wild for its high protein content from high-quality sources, low carbohydrate content, lack of fillers and controversial ingredients, and good sources of omega-3 and omega-6. Dogs eat it happily, and some reviews suggest that the nutrient-dense food discourages overeating — good for the budget and for avoiding weight issues. It also seems to help with a variety of allergy problems, and is said to have brought relief to dogs suffering from dry, itchy skin. While some owners may prefer paté-style canned dog foods, pet owners claim these stew formulas have less gravy in them than many wet formulas, and a substantial amount of actual meat and vegetables filling up the cans. In reviews of most varieties, owners of small dogs say the chunks are the right size and are suitable even for puppies, although a few do claim the meat is a little bit too hard for their dogs to chew and digest with ease. Taste of the Wild grain-free wet dog food comes in a number of flavor options, and the brand makes several dry formats, as well, that are extremely popular.

Pedigree Choice Cuts in Gravy

Pedigree Choice Cuts in Gravy Review


  • Very affordable; good for households with multiple dogs.
  • Contains real meat for protein, higher-quality ingredients, and fewer fillers than some other cheap brands.
  • Chunks are soft enough for older dogs with dental problems.
  • Gravy makes it a welcome addition to kibble to add moisture.


  • Contains both wheat flour and wheat gluten, to which some dogs might be sensitive.
  • Beef recipes do contain beef, but not among the first few ingredients.
  • Byproducts, gums, and flavorings are on the ingredient list.

Takeaway: The most attractive feature of this Pedigree dog food is its price. Owners say this cheap dog food is also a crowd-pleaser that satisfies most dogs, making it an easy, affordable way to feed a whole houseful of pets. Of course, the super-low price comes with sacrifices on the ingredient list. No matter the flavor on the label, the main protein sources in this canned recipe are chicken and meat byproducts, and there are a few other fillers in the mix that don’t win the full endorsement of experts. But reviews from owners who back the brand say there’s still a lot to recommend it, particularly for dogs who need to gain weight: Even the pickiest eaters like it, so they’ll happily eat more. Owners also feel that the chunks are a good size, and the gravy makes it easy to eat. In the end, those who are concerned about the debatable nutritional value of this food suggest a good compromise is to use it in conjunction with a healthier dry food. Pedigree Choice Cuts comes in several varieties and flavors, including pouches rather than cans and a kibble format.

Wellness Core

Wellness Core Review


  • High in protein, with animal-source proteins dominating the first five ingredients.
  • Coated in probiotics.
  • Carbs come from vegetables, including kale and broccoli, and fruits.
  • Nothing artificial; no preservatives, gums, or byproducts.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health.
  • Often recommended by vets; does not appear on the FDA’s list of grain-free dog food brands potentially associated with canine heart disease.


  • Some buyers say it was hard for their older dogs to chew.
  • Some reports of stomach problems.

Takeaway: Most varieties of Wellness Core grain-fee dog food receive 5-star ratings from experts at Dog Food Advisor, and this vet-recommended brand is enthusiastically endorsed by pet owners and equally beloved by dogs. Pet parents say it has kept their dogs healthy and energetic. Their skin is free of hot spots, coats are silky, and shedding seems to be reduced. While a few pet owners have questioned whether there have been changes in the brand’s formulas after dogs who’d been fed this food for years suddenly exhibited gastric issues, a majority of reviews, including recent ones, are very positive. Also, for dog owners concerned about a recent Food and Drug Administration report suggesting there may be a link between grain-free diets and heart disease in some dogs, Wellness Core’s absence from the list of popular brands flagged by the FDA may provide some peace of mind. (Of course, speak to your vet if you have concerns.) This Wellness Core product line includes a wide range of flavors and formulas, for large and small breeds, puppies, and weight reduction. It also comes in cans.


Merrick Grain Free Review


  • Some varieties, like the 96% recipe, contain very few ingredients aside from protein.
  • Carbs come from vegetables such as sweet potatoes and peas, as well as fruits.
  • Flaxseed, sunflower, and salmon oil provide omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • No artificial ingredients; no fillers, colors, or preservatives.
  • Most recipes are suitable for all breeds and all life stages.


  • Some complain it does not look like the pictures on the labels.
  • Reports of dogs disliking the texture of some varieties.
  • Reviews suggest that few flavors seem to generate bowel problems.

Takeaway: Merrick Grain Free is very highly recommended by Dog Food Advisor for its high protein content from quality sources and lack of any artificial ingredients or fillers. And most varieties have visible chunks of meat, although there were some complaints of recipes having a soupy or mushy texture. While it may take some trial and error to find the perfect fit for your pet, with the wide variety of flavors in the four food types that comprise the brand’s signature grain-free line — from chunky recipes to new Slow Cooked BBQ options like Carolina Style with Smokey Sausage — there’s sure to be something to please most dogs. When the brand was originally purchased by Purina in 2015, some consumers worried that the acquisition might be detrimental to the quality of products, but Merrick has continued to produce the healthy, nutritious, and budget-friendly foods that first made it so popular with dog owners, and the company continues to craft its recipes in the Hereford, Texas, kitchen where it all started. Merrick Grain Free comes in a dry format, as well, and includes recipes geared toward larger breeds, puppies, and senior dogs. The brand also makes limited-ingredient dog food and a raw-infused Backcountry line, meant to mimic ancestral diets.

Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet

Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet Review


  • Choice of grain-free and “healthy grains” options.
  • No recipe contains more than 9 ingredients; each boasts single-source animal protein.
  • New formulas do not contain lentils or chickpeas, ingredients some believe could put dogs at risk for heart disease.
  • Flaxseed and sunflower oil provide omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to help with skin disorders.
  • High levels of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health.
  • No artificial ingredients; no fillers, colors, or preservatives.


  • Some complain the texture can be crumbly.
  • Owners of dogs with potato allergies are not happy the brand reverted to including sweet potatoes in recipes.

Takeaway: Pet owners claim that Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet dog food, with ingredients limited to a single animal protein source and legumes, has cleared up both skin and gastric issues. Many reviews say it has taken the place of veterinary diets and serves as an affordable alternative to homemade food that’s easier to store and easier for dogs to eat. The lack of chicken-based proteins in many recipes is a boon for dogs who are allergic to it, especially as dog parents say it is sometimes difficult to find a food that does not have chicken somewhere in the ingredient list. A recipe change has eschewed chickpeas and lentils, given the recent FDA report on the rise of heart disease in dogs on grain-free diets, which cites them as potential culprits. Sweet potatoes have been reinstated in mixes as an alternative carbohydrate source that’s both delicious and healthful. Consumers with food-sensitive dogs who want to limit ingredient exposure while avoiding any complications associated with grain-free food might want to try the new Merrick limited-Ingredient formulas that come with brown rice, oatmeal, and barley baked in. Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet is also available as a wet food, but those options are grain-free only.

Natural Balance L.I.D.

Natural Balance L.I.D. Review


  • High-quality animal protein and meal.
  • No fillers, artificial ingredients, or preservatives.
  • Limited ingredients center on single-source protein and select carbohydrates.
  • Fish oil for omega-3; particularly good for dogs with dry, itchy skin.
  • Also available in 6-ounce cans for smaller dogs; buyers say they’re handy while traveling, as well.


  • Even grain-free varieties, which contain a lot of potato and sweet potato, are fairly high in carbs.
  • Not all dogs are crazy about the paté texture.
  • Some owners complain of an unappetizing smell.

Takeaway: Many concerned pet parents who were searching for an affordable alternative to expensive prescription diets for their dogs with skin ailments or sensitive stomachs assert that Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets is one of the best foods for dogs with allergies — and several say that their vets approved the choice. The soupy texture of this canned food does not appeal to all canines, but that can be resolved by mixing it with dry kibble, and many owners contend that the softness of this food is a particular boon for older dogs and dogs with dental problems. The high carbohydrate content is maligned by some, who say the grain-free formulas seem more like sweet potato mush than meat products, but, again, people with older pets that have been put on lower-protein diets by vets actually see this as a plus, as do owners looking for lower-fat options. Despite the opposing camps, a majority of reviewers insist that this comparatively inexpensive food keeps dogs healthy, energetic, and coming back for more, even as they age into double digits. Natural Balance L.I.D. is available in several flavors, including one lamb-based recipe that incorporates brown rice, and it can also be purchased in a dry format.


Fromm Gold Review


  • Good for all breeds.
  • Contains named proteins with no byproducts.
  • Nutritionally dense, so dogs eat less food.
  • Probiotics for stomach health and oils containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for skin, coat, and heart health.
  • Nothing artificial; ingredients are locally sourced.


  • Not as widely available as some other foods.
  • Some dogs develop stomach issues, owners report.
  • Contains barley, brown rice, and oatmeal, which are healthy but high in carbohydrates.

Takeaway: Fromm Gold formula is often recommended by vets and breeders as a great all-around food, and pet owners concur. Buyers feel confident that they’re feeding their pets the best possible ingredients they can for the price, and this holistic dog food is formulated to provide just the right nutritional balance dogs need. Owners say even the pickiest dogs love it, and are as healthy and active as they can be. Better still, dogs with sensitivities and allergies tend to get better after switching to this food. Many pet owners even report that dogs eating Fromm Gold have to make fewer visits to the vet. Lack of online availability — and steeply inflated prices at some outlets — can be a problem, as the family-owned and -operated brand authorizes only a select group of retailers to sell its products, but many loyal fans say they’re absolutely fine with buying this food at local pet stores despite any inconvenience. Fromm Gold comes in several different formulas, all holistic, for dogs from puppies to seniors, large breeds and small. There are also specialized blends for targeting issues like weight management and reduced activity. Fromm makes two grain-free Gold lines, as well: a lower-calorie ocean fish-based recipe, aptly named Gold Coast, and Heartland Gold, for red meat lovers.

Nutro Ultra Senior Formula

Nutro Ultra Senior Formula Review


  • High-quality protein; no chicken byproduct meal or soy protein.
  • No artificial colors or flavors; no preservatives; made with non-GMO ingredients.
  • Formulated especially for older dogs, with antioxidants and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to promote heart health as well as healthy skin and coat.
  • Naturally sourced glucosamine and chondroitin to help maintain healthy joints.
  • Carbs come from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; no corn or wheat.


  • Some concern that the amount of protein might be too high for very senior dogs, although many experts say mature dogs actually require more protein.
  • Kibble size might be too large for very small dogs.

Takeaway: Pet owners are crazy about Nutro Ultra and so, it seems, are dogs. Many claim this senior dog food has solved practically all their pets' energy and digestive problems: We read numerous reports of elderly dogs walking more quickly (or running), skin problems clearing up, and allergies showing serious improvement. Nutro’s inclusion of superfoods also wins many fans, who feel the proprietary mix of greens, such as kale and spinach, alongside pumpkin and chia seeds and antioxidant-rich fruits like blueberries, is good for heart health. For dog owners concerned about the possible negative side effects associated with grain-free diets, this formula’s inclusion of brown rice and whole grain oatmeal may add a measure of relief, as will the fact that it remains wheat and gluten free, for those who worry their dogs may have sensitivities. This nutritious and gobble-worthy kibble is also pretty easy on the wallet, although some buyers may be disappointed to find that only the small-breed version can be purchased in a bag that’s less than 15 pounds, which can make a trial run with this food a bit of a financial commitment. Both the small breed and standard versions of Nutro Ultra Senior Dog Food come in only one flavor — a mix of chicken, lamb, and salmon — but the Ultra line includes a variety of dry and wet, paté-style formulas for adult dogs and puppies, small and large breed dogs, and weight management.

Primal Freeze-Dried Nuggets

Primal Freeze-Dried Nuggets Review


  • All organic and sustainable ingredients; nothing artificial.
  • Contains organ meats and bone.
  • Very low in carbs, which come solely from vegetables, fruits, and seeds.
  • No grains, gluten, or soy.
  • Sunflower and pumpkin seeds, along with fish oil, provide plenty of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.


  • Very expensive compared with other commercial dog foods; not practical for larger dogs.
  • Reviewers complain that some varieties are too hard and difficult to crumble.
  • Some say the food is too rich to be served as a stand-alone meal.

Takeaway: Want to try a raw food diet for your pampered pooch, but don’t have the time or patience to make it yourself? Primal Freeze-Dried Nuggets are about as close to raw food as it gets without actually being raw, and these recipes are chock-full of top-notch ingredients sourced with both healthfulness and sustainability in mind. The freeze-drying process mitigates the cost somewhat and also adds convenience, as the food can be stored without refrigeration and easily ported for travel. The nuggets can be mixed with water or simply served as is, which many dogs seem to prefer, and they also work well as treats. Given the high cost, however, this food may not be an option for those with larger dogs: Based on the manufacturer’s guidelines, a 20-pound dog would be fed approximately eight nuggets a day, which would translate to about six or seven servings from the largest 14-ounce bag, which sells for a whopping $32. Still, a lot of owners say this “clean” food is well worth the extra outlay, and many who have dogs who are allergic to practically everything find that their pets eat this happily with no ill effects. Primal Freeze-Dried Nuggets come in several flavors, including venison, duck, and rabbit.

Buying Guide

Buying Guide

Some dogs will eat anything put in front of them and some are picky. Many dog owners take a trial-and-error approach to learn which food their pet likes best, but others appreciate a little guidance along the way, particularly when it comes to finding affordable dog food that’s nutritious and won’t be met with turned up noses. To determine the best cheap wet and dry dog foods we read what veterinarians and professionals had to say about health standards and the brands they considered best in show, and we also turned to reviews by pet owners to see which foods their furry friends deem winners for taste.

Expert sites we consulted included Dog Food Advisor, Healthy Pets, Whole Dog Journal, Pet MD, and Vet Nutrition (hosted by Tuft University’s Cummings Veterinary Medical Center). For feedback by pet owners we checked vendors such as Amazon, Chewy, Petco, PetSmart, and Walmart, and we also looked at posts on dog forums, and manufacturers' websites. In addition, we spoke with several pet parents to see what food brands they were serving up in their own homes.

Expensive vs. Cheap Dog Food Brands

The world of cheap dog food is dominated by a few dog food brands. Purina, which in addition to its eponymous products, also makes Mighty Dog, Alpo, and Beneful. Mars (the candy company) produces Royal Canin, Nutro, and Pedigree, among others, and Diamond Pet Foods is responsible for dog food varieties bearing its own name as well as Taste of the Wild, Costco's Kirkland Signature dry dog food, and more.

What keeps prices relatively low with the cheapest of foods? The protein sources might be unidentified meal and by-products rather than a primary, or named animal protein, such as beef or chicken, and the carbs might be mostly fillers like corn gluten, wheat flour, and soybeans. Frugal pet owners who still want to do their best by Fido should pay very close attention to the labels on these inexpensive offerings to make sure they’re not scrimping on nutritional value.

Mid-priced brands are made by smaller companies. Product lines generally contain more primary-source protein and better-quality carbohydrates (e.g., fruits and vegetables) and incorporate fewer fillers; fillers that are used tend to be more palatable, digestible, and nutritious than those found in less costly chow.

At the high end of the price ladder (often $2 an ounce and up) are raw and organic foods that claim to mimic the ancestral diet dogs would eat if left on their own. Brands in this bracket usually boast formulas that are extremely high in protein from animal sources, frequently free range, wild caught, and sustainably sourced. These products tend to be rich in human-grade, steroid- and antibiotic-free organ meats and often include antioxidant-rich produce as carbohydrate sources as opposed to grains. Raw dog food comes frozen or freeze dried. Even more upscale than these packaged foods are those that are custom made. Newer brands like Ollie, Nom Nom, and The Farmer’s Dog among others are delivering “crafted” pet food to people’s doors, and Petco has partnered with affordable fresh food brand JustFoodForDogs to open kitchens at locations nationwide to serve fresh food for dogs on the spot.

Dry Dog Food vs. Wet Dog Food

Dog owners often fret about whether to offer kibble or canned food. Of course, dry dog food is cheaper and far more convenient than wet dog food. It can be left in the bowl for days without spoiling while wet food must be used within a day or two of opening, with leftovers stored in the refrigerator. There are also far more choices for dry food in terms of special formulas and blends for fussy eaters, different life stages, and health issues. Additionally, vets point out that chewing kibble can help keep dogs’ teeth healthy. Proponents of wet food counter that it's closer to ancestral diets, it includes more meat protein, is lower in carbohydrates, and contains lots of moisture, which is important to good health and increasingly critical as a dog ages. One easy solution is to offer pets both types of food, either one at each meal or a mix of the two.


There is no single best diet for dogs. Experts all agree that plenty of animal protein is essential, as is some fat. Beyond that, recommendations vary. According to at least one vet at Healthy Pets, the absolute ideal is a homemade regimen of raw foods; supermarket brands rank near the bottom of what this expert site deems acceptable. The American Kennel Club, on the other hand, says commercial dog food is fine as long as it supplies the minimum nutritional requirements. The AKC also notes that dogs' nutritional needs differ by size and age; puppies require foods that optimize growing bones, for example. The Merck Veterinary Manual offers a helpful guide to required nutrients at all life stages.

The appearance of generic (source unspecified) meal, by-product, or by-product meal on the ingredients list is a cautionary signal. Dog Food Advisor explains that these inputs are the processed remains of animals after the human-grade parts have been removed; generic by-product might even come from sick or dead animals. Our cheapest choice in our roundup, Pedigree, falls toward the lower end of our rankings due to the use of unidentified meal or by-product meal among its top ingredients.

The label "complete and balanced" or "100 percent nutritious" is affixed to nearly every manufactured dog food, which means it meets standards set by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) for nutritional adequacy. By law, pet food labels specify ingredients in order of relative weight, a guaranteed analysis indicating minimum percentages of protein and fat and maximum percentages of fiber and moisture, and a statement of nutritional adequacy for a given life stage. (Note: The percentage of protein content listed for dry dog food is always higher than for canned because moisture accounts for a large portion of wet formulas. To get a better sense of content percentages on a "dry matter basis," requires only a simple calculation that removes moisture from the equation.)

Dog Food Ingredients

Animal protein is the most essential ingredient in dog food. In kibble it should be the first ingredient listed on the nutrition label; in canned food it might be second behind water or broth. Some proteins are better than others, though. Veterinarians note that protein from primary sources such as chicken, lamb, fish, beef, egg, or bison are preferred and easiest to digest. Animal-based by-products and meal are okay (as long as the source is identified) but not ideal, experts say, while plant-based protein, usually from legumes, is less nutritious. How much protein a dog needs depends on size, life stage, and lifestyle. Kibble often contains meat or fish meal (meat/fish that's been rendered and dried), sometimes in place of and sometimes in addition to a primary-source protein among the top ingredients. High-quality meal is packed with protein and linked to a specified animal.

Carbohydrates & Grains
While the popularity of grain-free dog foods rests in the conviction that dogs do not need carbohydrates in their diets and that high-protein, grain-free foods are closest to mimicking dogs’ ancestral diets, some carbs do have their benefits, as used for energy, as fiber, and as a foundation for other nutrients. In fact, even grain-free dog food formulas do usually contain carbohydrates of some sort. That said, as with protein, the type of carbohydrate matters. In addition to certain types of grains, quality sources of carbs include some grain flours, rice, sweet potatoes, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

Dry dog food, in particular, is dependent on carbs as a filler used for texture and density. Experts say there is no standard for what constitutes too much carbohydrate, but they scoff at anything above 50 percent. Carbohydrates are not part of foods’ "guaranteed analysis," however, and can generally only be estimated by taking stock of the percentages of a food's other contents and assuming that carbs account for the remaining gap between these calculations and a 100-percent content total. Or, assuming that strict carb counts aren't required as part of a pet's special diet, simply look for products rich in protein and fat.

Corn and gluten, along with inputs like soybean meal and corn gluten meal are fillers that provide limited nutritional value. There is much debate surrounding their inclusion in dog foods, with many industry professionals scorning them while others suggest they are not as bad for pets as may be imagined and they help keep prices low. Regardless, it's generally agreed that a meat protein source should be the primary ingredient in a good quality food.

It should be noted also, given recent attention in the news, that a completely grain-free diet may be a contributor to heart disease in dogs. Veterinary cardiologists, warn of potential links between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy, particularly in certain breeds, and a 2019 report from the Food and Drug Administration named several grain-free, mostly dry, dog foods as suspects in a rise in cases of DCM in breeds that are not naturally prone to it. The American Kennel Club counters that this alert is inconclusive, based on a very small sample, and that there may have been other contributing factors. For example, one reason for the supposed increase in these cases of DCM might be a connection between grain-free diets and taurine deficiency, an essential amino acid. Some experts have also suggested that the issue is not the lack of grains in certain foods, but instead the specific legumes often used to replace grains in these recipes. Still others point to the exotic meats, fruits, and vegetables sometimes used in “boutique” foods as possible culprits.

With no firm consensus or definitive findings on the true health risks of grain-free dog foods — and with many vets holding that there are often good reasons to prescribe limited-ingredient diets, many of which are grain-free (see below) — the standard advice is to stay informed and consult closely with your dog’s veterinarian to make the best decisions about what specific blend of food is right for your individual pet.

Other Additives
Two additives that veterinarians and pet owners welcome in dog foods are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Dogs don't produce these nutrients, so incorporating them into the foods they eat is important. They help promote smooth skin and shiny coats, reduce inflammation, and boost the health of internal organs and the immune system. Dogs who suffer from hot spots, dermatitis, or other skin ailments are often helped by the addition of these nutrients in dog foods. They are derived from oils such as olive, canola, walnut, and flaxseed, as well as from fish and fish oils.

Other additives, such as tomato pomace and carrageenan, found in many dog foods, are somewhat controversial. Tomato pomace, the remains after processing, is considered by some experts to be a filler of no nutritional value, while others contend it adds needed fiber, as well as antioxidants. Carrageenan is a binder found in many pet foods (and some processed human foods). It's generally regarded as safe but some argue that it is a carcinogen.

Most dog food contains supplements of some kind, such as probiotics, glucosamine and chondroitin, or taurine. Some of these supplements occur naturally, but not necessarily in the foods included in particular mixes. So adding them is a good way to get these beneficial nutrients into the dog. Artificial flavors and colors — many with unpronounceable names — often show up as well, although most higher-priced foods advertise that they do not use these additives.

Limited-Ingredient Diets

Many dogs suffer from skin or gastric issues. While there are a variety of sources for these problems, some are caused by food allergies. Dogs with food allergies are frequently allergic to a specific source of plant or animal-based protein, vets say. One way that pet parents deal with such problems is by offering their dogs a limited ingredient diet. Although there is no specific definition of what constitutes a limited ingredient diet food, they often have just one protein source and one carb source. With the protein named on the can or bag, it is, theoretically, easier to know exactly what the dog is eating, so it is easier to pinpoint allergens and avoid those that are already known. That’s why limited ingredient foods are very frequently grain-free — despite the fact that vets insist that grain allergies are actually quite rare in pets. If your dog is exhibiting signs of sensitivity to certain foods, it’s beneficial to work with your vet, and potentially experiment with elimination diets to try to determine the source of the problem. Many suggest starting with a vet-prescribed diet before moving to over-the-counter limited ingredient foods.

Special Dietary Needs

Many dog food producers offer a range of blends and formulas to accommodate large breeds and small, in addition to different health needs and life stages. Senior dogs, for instance, have specific dietary needs that are geared to maintaining muscle, heart and organ health. While it was at one time believed that too much protein was bad for older dogs, because it had an adverse effect on the kidneys, experts say that this myth has been dispelled and point to studies that show that older dogs require up to 50% more protein than younger dogs do. (Dogs officially diagnosed with kidney disease will typically be placed on low-protein diets, however.)

Aside from breed and age-specific diets, consumers will find a variety of foods targeting everything from sensitive stomachs and skin problems, to low activity, dental health, and weight control. Hill’s Science Diet, which offers a wide range of specialized recipes and is a well-known staple at many veterinary offices, may be an attractive option for dog owners looking for a relatively affordable alternative to pricier prescription foods.