Canned food isn’t as popular as kibble, but there are lots of good reasons to feed wet food to your dog:
- Canned dog food is high in moisture, which more closely resembles a natural diet for dogs.
- It’s also either much lower in carbohydrates than dry food, or contains no carbohydrates. (You are aware that dogs have zero nutritional requirement for carbs, yes? They can obtain all of their nutritional needs from protein and fat sources.)
- The vast majority of canned foods are made with fresh (or fresh-frozen) meats instead of meat meal, which has been highly processed before its potential inclusion into a secondary food-production process. Overall, the ingredients in canned foods are subjected to much less processing than those in dry foods.
- Canned foods are shelf-stable at a wider range of temperature than dry foods. They retain their full nutritive value far longer than dry foods, too.
For all of the reasons above, canned dog food tends to be highly palatable to most dogs. That, and its physical properties (spoonable, spreadable, freezable), makes it highly convenient for use in behavior-change or -maintenance applications (filling Kong or Toppl toys, lick mats, and other time-consuming food puzzles).
We used our usual canned food selection criteria to make our top picks for canned foods in eight different categories.
Best Canned Dog Food By Category
Best Canned Foods for Adult Dog Maintenance
Foods that are formulated for adult dog maintenance usually (but not always) contain lower levels of protein, fat, and many minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and iron than the amounts of those nutrients in foods that are formulated for “all life stages” (which includes pregnant or nursing females and puppies). That’s because the minimum requirement for each of these nutrients is lower in foods that are formulated for adult dogs only.
WDJ’s Top Pick: Fromm Family Adult Turkey & Rice Pâté
Things we like:
- Single source of animal protein
- Moderate protein and fat levels for less-active adult dogs
- Manufactured in Fromm’s own family-owned canning facility
First 10 ingredients: Turkey, turkey broth, white rice, turkey liver, potatoes, carrots, dried beet pulp, dried yeast, salmon oil, dried egg product
Protein: Min 6.5%
Calories: 363 Kcal/can
Best Canned Foods for Puppies
The minimum levels of protein, fat, and many minerals (including calcium and phosphorus) in canned dog foods that are formulated for “growth” –puppy food – are higher than the amounts of those nutrients in foods that are formulated for adult dogs only. However, when buying canned food for a puppy, check the nutritional adequacy statement (a.k.a. the AAFCO statement) to see whether the food is appropriate for large-breed puppies (those expected to grow to 70 pounds or larger as adults). The amounts of protein, fat, calcium, and phosphorus that should be fed to large-breed puppies are higher than those for adult dogs, but lower than those for puppies of smaller breeds. When feeding a large-breed puppy, make sure you see this statement on the food label: “(Name of food) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth/all life stages including growth of large-size dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult).”
WDJ’s Top Pick: Instinct Real Chicken Recipe for Puppies
Things we like:
- Three meats in the top four ingredients
- Amount of DHA (important for puppy development) as well as omega 3 and 6 levels on the guaranteed analysis
- Loaf style food means pups won’t “eat around” the carrots and peas
First 10 ingredients: Chicken, chicken broth, beef liver, salmon, carrots, peas, flaxseed, egg product, salt, potassium chloride
Protein: Min 10%
Calories: 468 Kcal/can
Best Limited Ingredient Canned Dog Foods
Dogs who have food allergies or are intolerant of a variety of food ingredients can often benefit from eating only limited-ingredient foods. These products can also be helpful in determining which specific ingredient may be triggering a sensitive dog’s symptoms. Most pet food makers call foods that contain only one species of animal as a protein source and one carbohydrate source a limited-ingredient food, but be aware that there isn’t a legal definition for this appellation; some so-called limited-ingredient foods may contain more than one animal species or carbohydrate source. We favor those with a truly very short ingredient list.
WDJ’s Top Pick: Inception Chicken Recipe
Things we like:
- Super simple formula: one animal species, one carb source
- “All life stage” food but with moderate protein and fat
- Moderately priced
First 10 ingredients: Chicken, chicken broth, oats, natural chicken flavor, agar-agar, potassium chloride, vitamins
Protein: Min 8%
Calories: 363 Kcal/can
Best Budget Canned Dog Foods
When compared to kibble, canned dog foods are expensive. Containing a lot of moisture, they are heavy, making them expensive to ship. The ingredients used in canned foods are often more costly than those used in the production of dry food, too. The lowest-cost canned foods usually contain unnamed animal proteins and fats, animal by-products, and by-products of human food processing. When choosing our favorite budget canned dog foods, we did not consider any products with those traits; that would go against our usual food-selection criteria. Our choices still meet that criteria, but may contain more carbohydrates than most canned foods.
WDJ’s Top Pick: Purina Beyond Organic Chicken & Sweet Potato
Things we like:
- Use of organic ingredients
- Very simple formula
- Non-GMO Project Verified
First 10 ingredients: Organic chicken, organic chicken broth, organic chicken liver, organic sweet potatoes, minerals
Protein: Min 7%
Calories: 449 Kcal/can
Best Lower-Fat Canned Dog Foods
Canned dog foods tend to be high in fat – often, far too high in fat for overweight or sedentary dogs, or those who are prone to pancreatitis. You may have to look harder, but you can find good-quality canned dog foods with lower fat levels.
WDJ’s Top Pick: Stella & Chewy’s Cage Free Chicken Stew
Things we like:
- Made with human-grade ingredients in a human-food facility
- Inclusion of bone broth
- Simple, meat-rich formula, no legumes
First 10 ingredients: Cage-free chicken, chicken bone broth, organic carrots, tapioca starch, organic kale, tricalcium phosphate, sunflower oil, calcium carbonate, potato starch, salt
Protein: Min 9%
Calories: 243 Kcal/box
Best High Protein Canned Dog Foods
Meat-rich canned foods are a good medium for delivering a relatively high-protein diet to dogs – and the best foods use very high-quality sources of protein, too.
WDJ’s Top Pick: Rawz 96% Chicken & Chicken Liver Dog Food
Things we like:
- Clean, simple recipe; just a lot of meat included, with liver to boost the protein
- Expanded nutrient analysis available on company website
- Fenugreek seeds used as thickener instead of gums
First 10 ingredients: Chicken, chicken liver, chicken broth, fenugreek seeds, potassium chloride, calcium carbonate, tricalcium phosphate, choline chloride, salt, taurine
Protein: Min 11%
Calories: 446 Kcal/can
Best Grain-Free Canned Dog Foods
There are more grain-free canned dog foods than grain-free dry dog foods, but this makes sense when you consider that meat is the featured ingredient in canned dog foods – meat is mostly what you are paying for! However, lower-cost and lower-quality canned dog foods often contain grain, as it’s less expensive than meat. When looking for a grain-free canned dog food, avoid those with legumes used as alternative sources of carbohydrates – or perhaps avoid foods with any source of carbs whatsoever (remember, dogs don’t require carbs in their diets!).
Things we like:
- No reliance on (and typical over-representation of) legumes to replace grain
- Amount of taurine on the guaranteed analysis
- Complete nutrient analysis on website, including calorie distribution for protein, fat, carbs
First 10 ingredients: Turkey, turkey bone broth, turkey liver, duck, sweet potatoes, carrots, cranberries, agar-agar, minerals
Protein: Min 10.5%
Calories: 343 Kcal/box
Best Canned Dog Foods Containing Alternative Protein
The major advantage of canned dog food is its ability to provide a diet with a high meat inclusion in a long-lasting, shelf-stable container. But this is a highly specialized category for what is likely to be very few dogs: those who are allergic to or intolerant of most animal proteins, but who would benefit from a high-moisture food.
WDJ’s Top Pick: Health Extension Vegetarian Entrée
We prefer non-legume carbohydrate sources. Our top pick is the only one we found that lacks legumes.
First 10 ingredients: Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, water sufficient for processing, brown rice, carrots, olive oil, peas, blueberries, cranberries, kale
Protein: Min 7%
Calories: 276 Kcal/can
WDJ’s Canned Dog Food Selection Criteria
Here’s the criteria we use to choose the products that we include on our “Approved Canned Foods” list, as well as our selections for the overall “Best” canned foods.
Top-quality canned dog foods exhibit these hallmarks of quality:
- Named animal protein sources at the top of the ingredients list. Ingredients in pet food are listed in order of the weight of that ingredient in the formula, so you want to see a named animal protein source or sources in at least one of the top two spots on the list of ingredients. (“Named” means the species is identified: chicken, beef, lamb, etc.)
- Water or broth may be first or second on the list, as the addition of water is often necessary for processing. But the animal protein source or sources should appear immediately after that.
- If plant proteins are present in the food, we like to see them play a supporting role, appearing lower on the ingredient list – no earlier than the fifth or sixth position. The amino acid profiles offered by animal proteins suit dogs better than those of peas, potatoes, corn, soy, etc.
- Named fat sources. Just as with the animal protein sources, any animal fat sources should be identified by species (i.e., chicken fat, beef fat, pork fat, etc.).
- Whole foods. When vegetables, fruits, grains, and/or other carbohydrate sources such as chickpeas, peas, or sweet potatoes are used, to the extent possible, they should be whole.
- Ingredients that have already been processed, shipped, and stored before they are mixed with other ingredients and processed again (canned) lose more of their nutritive value along the way than those that are shipped and stored whole before their inclusion into the wet food mix.
- Ingredients that are certified as organic, humanely raised, or sustainably farmed. Companies will use wiggle words to lend the impression that they are using the best ingredients available. Certifications give these claims credibility.
Here are the things we look out for – undesirable attributes that indicate a lower-quality food:
- Animal products that are not specified by species. Meat, meat meal, poultry, poultry meal, animal fat, poultry fat: If your dog is intolerant of or allergic to certain ingredients, you have to know what you’re feeding him.
- Animal by-products. This includes meat by-products and poultry by-product. We would strongly prefer to know what, exactly, is being included in the food, instead of “by-products” being used as a catch-all term for whatever. In some cases, the “by-products” used may well be nutritious chicken liver, chicken kidneys, and chicken hearts – well, say that then!
- Ingredient splitting. This is where two or more very similar food “fractions” appear on the ingredients list. Because the ingredients are listed in descending order of their weight, a manufacturer can make it appear that a high-quality ingredient is represented in the food in a greater amount than it is. If all the iterations of an ingredient (to use a common example, brown rice, white rice, brewers rice) were combined or reconstituted, they would outweigh and push the higher-quality ingredient down on the ingredients list.
- Added sweeteners. Sweeteners are sometimes used in low-quality foods to increase their palatability. In canned foods, the protein- and fat-rich meaty ingredients should be enough to tempt the appetite of any dog. If sweeteners are needed in a canned food, we’d be highly suspicious.
- Artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. None of these are needed (or common, thankfully) in canned food.
Each of the canned dog foods we have included in our “Best Canned Dog Food” selections, and all of the foods on our “Approved Canned Dog Foods” list, meet our selection criteria for top-quality canned foods (described above) – but we’ve also included some softer criteria in our choices for these “Best” selections, including:
- Past experience with the company. (Have they been, in our experience, easy to reach and quick to respond to questions? Have they invited us or allowed us to personally tour their production facilities or speak to their formulators?)
- A company’s demonstrated willingness to provide its location, qualifications of the person/people who formulated the company’s products, complete nutrient analyses, digestibility studies, and other technical information about its products. (The more of this information that’s on a company’s website, the more brownie points they get from us.)
- Past performance of the company (i.e., few or no serious recalls).
Choosing the Best Wet Dog Food for Your Dog
Perhaps you are now convinced that you should give canned food a try – or at least add some to your dog’s diet. We’ve told you what to look for in a wet food and shared our favorites. So which should you choose?
You should take into account all of your dog’s individual needs, as well as your own needs:
- Dog’s age (puppies need products that are formulated for puppies or “dogs of all life stages”). Protein and fat levels are usually lower in foods that are formulated for “adult maintenance.” Most adult dogs have their nutritional needs met by foods formulated for adult maintenance only. The exceptions would include very active or working dogs.
- Dog’s size (small dogs require more daily calories per pound of their body weight than larger dogs).
- Dog’s fitness and activity level (overweight and inactive dogs need lower-fat foods; dogs who are highly active or too thin need more fat and more protein).
- Dog’s ability to tolerate and digest ingredients (careful label review is needed for dogs who are allergic to or intolerant of certain ingredients).
- Your ability to find the food locally (or receive shipments) and to afford the food and/or the cost of its shipping.
Any time you make changes to your dog’s diet, we recommend that you keep these things in mind:
- Unless your dog has very special needs, don’t pick one food and feed only that food forever. Switch often for nutritional “balance over time.”
- You have to pay attention to your dog’s response to any food change. Keep track of any adverse reactions, and write down the details (maker, protein and fat levels, ingredients). Let your dog’s response guide your future purchases.
- Unless your dog has a specific requirement necessitating it, avoid “extreme” foods, such as those with the highest or lowest levels of protein or fat, six different legumes or grains, novel proteins (alligator, brushtail, kangaroo?!), or 10 different animal species. Most dogs’ needs fall in the middle ground.
Use Our Canned Dog Food Search Tools
With your dog’s specific needs in mind, we recommend searching among the pet food companies on our list of “Approved Canned Foods” (available to WDJ subscribers only). We’d also like to recommend using the tool to search our list of more than 800 individual foods and add as many filters as you want to find the most appropriate candidates for your dog. Looking for a higher-protein, lower-fat food without chicken or peas? Add the filters and search!
And don’t forget: One-size-fits-all recommendations don’t work when it comes to diet. Feed each of your dogs what works best for him. It’s great when you have more than one dog and they can thrive on the same variety of food, but don’t take this for granted.
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