The Best Organic Dog Foods on the Market
Is there anything we wouldn’t do for our sweet pups? We’re pretty devoted to making sure they live their very best lives, and of course we want them to live as long as they can and stay healthy as long as possible — which means good nutrition is essential. On the whole, organic dog food brands provide the healthiest diets for dogs, but with so many to choose from and often misleading packaging, finding the best organic dog foods for our furry friends isn’t always easy. That’s why we worked with two nationally recognized veterinarians to help us narrow down the search.
What matters for dog nutrition
We can think of dog nutrition very much like we think of our own. A diet rich in lean proteins and vegetables is obviously healthier than one full of processed meats and artificial flavors. Even so, everyone’s body has different need — and the same goes for dogs. According to Hunter Finn, DVM and Integrative Veterinary Expert, “there is no one-size-fits-all diet for dogs. In my opinion, the optimal diet is one that is balanced and allows that dog to thrive and have the best quality of life. Every dog is a little different in terms of genetics, lifestyle, life stage, and nutritional needs.”
This can be confusing because foods that contain all the basic elements of a dog’s nutritional needs — water, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals — aren’t necessarily healthy or meet all the specific needs that a dog may have. For example, a puppy will inherently require a diet different from an older dog or one with medical issues.
“Growing dogs, besides needing enough energy to perform their standard puppy behaviors like playing to exhaustion and chewing on your furniture, also need enough energy to get bigger and stronger. So make sure your little one is getting a diet labeled ‘puppy’ or one that is indicated to support growth,” says Lindsay Butzer, DVM. “The rule of thumb is that they should get such a type of nutrition until they’re about 90% of their adult weight.”
However, be careful if you have a Bernese mountain dog or another pup that’s going to grow to the size of a small house. “Larger breeds can grow so fast that they’re at higher risk of developing skeletal abnormalities, such as hip dysplasia and osteochondrosis,” Dr. Butz says, suggesting a formula formulated for large breeds to help regulate their calorie and calcium intake, which will minimize the risk of these issues.
What to look for and avoid when choosing dog food
While there are organizations that regulate the definitions of dog food ingredients and nutrition labels, like the AAFCO, their approval alone of any given brand should not be the basis of choosing the right food for our pets. Standard commercial dog foods may technically meet all of the basic requirements of dog nutrition, but pets won’t be able to thrive like they can with healthier options. At the end of the day, organic dog food brands are overall the best choice for pets, animal welfare, and the environment. But there are some specific factors to be aware of.
When we shop for our own foods, we are trained to look at the nutritional labels. Red flags like high saturated fat or buckets of sugar can help us quickly decide whether or not a food is good for us. We also often make that determination by reading the first few ingredients listed. And when it comes to choosing our pet’s food, we likely do the same, assuming that because the first ingredient is, say, chicken, it’s a better choice than one where perhaps rice is listed as the first ingredient. Generally speaking, that may be true, although as Finn reminds us, “in reality, that first ingredient can be up to 70% water because the ingredient list is in decreasing order by weight, which includes the water weight. Sometimes the ingredients adding the most nutrition are actually lower on the ingredient list due to this order of listing.”
We should also be aware of the fillers that make their way into standard commercial dog foods, avoiding them wherever possible. “Some ingredients to look for in an organic diet that will be beneficial to your dog are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which promote healthy skin and coat, and glucosamine and chondroitin to support healthy cartilage and joints,” Butzer says. “Also look for ingredients that have undergone a lower level of processing and include fewer fillers (rice bran, modified cornstarch, oat hulls, etc.).”
How to choose the best organic dog food
Now that we know what to look for and avoid, and have narrowed down that organic dog food brands are much likelier to align with these standards, we can take a look at a few metrics we used to guide us in creating our list of the best dog foods so that you can make the healthiest choice for your dog’s nutrition, whether you choose from our top picks or begin your own search.
- Look for the USDA Organic seal
- Primary ingredients should be organic lean proteins
- Secondary ingredients should include nutritious vegetables (sweet potato, carrots, peas)
- Uses healthy grains (brown rice, barley, oatmeal)
- The food should contain a healthy mix of acids, minerals, and vitamins
Dog foods we love
Organic and non-GMO, the Castor & Pollux Organix line of dog foods are produced in the US without chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, artificial preservatives, added growth hormones, or antibiotics. They are also free of corn, soy, and wheat, instead using ingredients like organic, free-range lean proteins, vegetables, and flaxseed to provide dogs with the best nutrition possible. They offer both wet and dry options for dogs of all breeds and ages. We also love that they partner with nonprofit pet rescue organizations around the country to help better the lives of pets in need.
Here are a few things that caught our eye when we came across the Tender & True brand: “Humanely raised,” “USDA organic chicken,” “no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors,” and “organic flaxseed.” A deeper look into their story sealed the deal for their Organic Chicken and Liver Dry Dog Food to make it on our list. Their strict sourcing and supply methods that rely on strong relationships with growers and fisheries makes their products truly farm-to-table.
Newman’s Own has long been known for donating 100% of their profits to charities, especially those that benefit children. So we were excited to find that in addition to their salad dressing staples, the brand also offers a line of dog foods. And among them, we found their Turkey & Brown Rice Dinner for Dogs to check off everything we were looking for. With the top ingredients including organic turkey, organic chicken, organic brown rice, sweet potatoes, oat bran, cranberries, and flaxseed, we think it’s a meal fit for a king — or dog!
A word on fresh dog foods
Many brands that offer “fresh” dog foods have surfaced over the past few years. While our focus was on organic dog foods, we confirmed with our veterinarian sources that these too can be a healthy option — like The Farmer’s Dog, that offers personalized meals for dogs made from fresh, never frozen, whole foods — so long as they meet the essential criteria for healthy dog nutrition discussed throughout this article.
Good food brings people together. So do good emails.