What Makes the “Best Dog Food” the Best?

by Hannah Roundy

Dry dog food, fresh dog food and Sundays air-dried dog food on pedestals

There isn’t one singular best dog food, because all dogs are different. Instead, you’ll find a multitude of good, better, and best dog food products.

Tired of reading reviews to find the best dog food on the market? Cut your research time in half and read on to learn how to decide if a dog food is truly “the best”. 

What is the best dog food?

Depending on who you ask, the answer to this question is going to vary. Dry kibble has been the classic doggy diet for decades – but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. Some diehard dog parents swear by homecooked dog food or raw diets, but there are nutritional risks to that, as well. So what is the best dog food? 

There isn’t one singular best dog food. Instead, you’ll find a multitude of good, better, and best dog food products. The upside of this is that you have options and can find the best dog food that specifically meets your dog’s individual needs. The downside to this variety of qualities is that it’s difficult to tell the best dog food from the worst. 

Don’t worry – we’re here to help you on your doggy diet journey! We’ll teach you everything you need to know about pet food products before you decide to buy. 

The Label is Everything 

No matter what category of dog food you choose, you should always read the ingredient label. Think of an ingredient label as your dog food cheat sheet. You can easily catch red flags about the product simply by scanning the label. 

AAFCO Approval 

Pet food sold in the United States is monitored by the Associated of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Their role is to set the nutritional standards for dog food so pet parents know if a product meets their pup’s dietary needs. 

For dog food to meet AAFCO standards, the recipe needs to be “complete and balanced”. “Complete” means the food contains all required nutrients for a dog of that life stage. “Balanced” signifies that the recipe has the correct amount of each nutrient. 

AAFCO also takes age into account with their nutritional requirements and has set standards for different life stages. 

  • Growth - This life stage is specifically for pregnant or lactating female dogs and young puppies. 
  • Adult Maintenance - The best dog food recipes for fully grown adult dogs. 
  • All Life Stages - Suitable for small and large breed puppies, adult dogs, and seniors. 

A product does not need to be tested, approved, or certified by AAFCO to be sold in the US. You’ll find plenty of pet food products for sale that aren’t balanced enough to be a complete meal. Buying AAFCO-approved dog food ensures your dog is getting a truly complete and balanced diet.

Beware of Artificial Additives 

What is the best dry dog food made with? Opt for recipes with real food ingredients. Dogs don’t have the same dietary requirements as humans, but both species benefit from eating natural whole foods. 

Even some of the best dry dog food brands make their products with fillers, artificial flavoring, and synthetic ingredients. The production of kibble puts the food under extreme heat and pressure, which cooks out the natural nutrients in the ingredients. Brands add artificial vitamins and minerals to supplement the loss of nutrients in their recipes. 

Instead, the best dog food is made with real fruits, vegetables, meat, and whole grains. Gently cooking the food preserves the natural vitamins, minerals, and flavors of each ingredient. This gives your dog direct access to the nutrients in whole food instead of adding cheap supplements.  

Ingredient Red Flags 

As mentioned before, whole food ingredients are essential to creating the best dog food. Pay extra attention to the list of ingredients on a dog food label as some of the terms can be misleading. 

Frenchie dog breed sitting by empty bowls

Ingredients are listed in descending order based on the weighted amount that’s in the food. Since dogs require a protein-rich diet, real meat (not meat meals) should always be listed as ingredient #1. 

What is the best dry dog food free of? Keep an eye out for real food ingredients that have little or no nutritional value for dogs. We recommended avoiding dog food recipes made with the following ingredients: 

  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Rice
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Potatoes

Non-whole grains, corn, potatoes, and legumes are popular ingredients in grain-free dog food diets. These ingredients were added to fill the nutritional gap that happens when dogs don’t eat enough whole grains. Instead, these ingredients act as anti-nutrients that block the absorption of other essential vitamins and minerals. 

Grain-free dog food rose in popularity over the past decade right in tow with humanity’s gluten-free diet craze. But in 2019, the FDA shared their learnings from an investigation on grain-free dog food. It proved that there was a link between grain-free pet food and a form of heart failure in dogs called dilated cardiomyopathy. 

Whole grains like oats, millet, or quinoa are packed with essential nutrients that dogs need to stay healthy. The best dog food should include whole grains in their recipes for this reason. 

Best Dog Food Buzz Words

Apart from the ingredient label, pay attention to the words and phrases used to describe a dog food product. Knowing the definitions of these terms can help you decide what is the best dog food for yourself. 

Real Meat vs. Meat Meals 

Real raw beef ingredient for Sundays dog food

Your pup is probably getting little real meat if the first ingredient on their food includes the word “meal”. Meat meal is animal meat that’s been rendered, dried, and crushed into a powder. But it’s not just meat – pretty much anything on the slaughterhouse floor is rendered with the animal’s meat. That includes tissue, hair, manure, hooves, hide trimmings, and blood. 

Meat meal is a much more affordable ingredient than real meat, which is why it’s a common ingredient in dog food. The array of contaminants in meat meals depletes dog food of nutrients that real meat provides. Your dog’s health will by far benefit more from eating real meat dog food. 

Vet-Recommended Dog Food 

Selecting vet-recommended dog food is essential. Veterinarians are trained to identify what’s good and bad for your dog’s health. Most brands have vet-recommended dog food products, so they aren’t too hard to find. 

You can even go the extra mile and choose vet-made dog food brands like Sundays for Dogs. Vet-recommended dog food is great, but vets aren’t typically the people formulating big-brand pet products. Get peace of mind by feeding dog food that was founded and formulated by a practicing veterinarian to boost her own dog’s health. 

Human-Grade vs. Feed-Grade 

Human-grade dog food has become quite popular in recent years. The term “human-grade” means that something is safe for human consumption. So feeding your pup human-grade dog food ensures your dog is eating less processed ingredients that their pet parents could eat themselves. 

When pet food isn’t safe for human consumption, it’s called “feed-grade” or “feed-quality”. It might be safe for your dog to eat, but it’s definitely not safe for you. That’s a sign the dog food formula is packed with artificial ingredients. 

Made in the USA 

We recommend feeding your dog food that is made in the USA. While it’s cheaper for brands to outsource food production, other countries have fewer manufacturing regulations compared to the United States. Made in the USA dog food ensures your pup is eating ingredients that are up to par with the same food you eat. 

Keep in mind that “made in the USA” is a little different from “made in America”. Some dog food that’s labeled as “made in America” is manufactured in Canada or Mexico. But “made in the USA” means the food is produced within the boundaries of the United States of America.  

Limited Ingredient Diet 

The shorter the ingredient list, the better. Limited ingredient diets (LIDs) are just that – dog food recipes with a short list of clean ingredients. With fewer ingredients, there is less risk that your dog is exposed to foods or additives that they’re allergic to. For that reason, we consider the best dog food to be recipes with limited ingredients. 


German Shepherd dog sitting next to bowl of real food ingredients


Beware of dog food brands that advertise their product as “organic”. Due to a lack of regulations, there are many words used to market pet products that don’t have an official definition. “Organic” is one of those words. 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets guidelines for whether a product is partially or certified organic. The USDA has rules for organic human products but hasn’t set a definition for organic pet food. This means that organic dog food needs to be fully set to human food standards. 

Until the USDA defines requirements for “organic pet food”, you can pretty much guarantee that no dog food is fully organic. Instead, we suggest looking for food that is 100% human-grade or made with human-grade ingredients. 

What is the best dry dog food? 

You’ve done your research on the building blocks of the best dog food and now it’s time to shop. Curious what is the best dry dog food? Call us biased, but we believe the best dry dog food is Sundays. 

Our air-dried dog food checks all the boxes. It’s 100% human-grade food for dogs that’s made with real meat as the first and most prominent ingredient. Choose from our turkey, beef, or chicken recipes where you’ll find a blend of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

Slowly air-drying preserves the nutrients in each real food ingredient. Plus, more natural flavor stays intact to give your pup a tastier complete and balanced meal. That’s just one reason why picky eater dogs love Sundays! 

Sundays is the best dry dog food because it’s just that – dry. Another benefit to air-dried dog food is that it’s shelf-stable and easy to store. It’s one of the only fresh dog foods that you can store outside the refrigerator and serve anytime without prep, defrosting, or clean-up.

Last but certainly not least, Sundays was founded by practicing veterinarian, Dr. Tory Waxman. She formulated the food to help her sick dog, Mabel, eat a healthier diet. Now, Dr. Waxman and Mabel have helped pups all over the United States benefit from eating the best dry dog food on the market. 

Try Healthy, Easy Sundays