Canned Dog Foods and Refrigerated or Frozen Cooked Foods
- Selecting the Best Commercial Foods
- Dry Dog Foods
- Dog Food Mixes
- Adding Fresh Foods to a Commercial Diet
There are several reasons why canned food may be a better choice than kibble if you are feeding your dog a commercial food. First, canned foods contain far fewer chemical additives than dry foods. Artificial colors and flavors are much less common, and preservatives are unnecessary due to the canning process itself (however, this also means that canned food will quickly spoil if left out at room temperature). Second, canned foods generally have much less grain than dry foods. Kibble must be at least 50% carbohydrates in order to be extruded without gumming up the machinery; canned foods have no such requirement. Fewer carbs also means more protein and fat, both of which are good for most dogs. And third, canned food has more moisture and is better for the kidneys, which makes it easier to digest -- you can achieve the same result with kibble by soaking it first, but remember that soaked kibble will also spoil quickly if left out at room temperature.
Here are some of the better canned foods that I have heard about. This is not a complete list of the high quality foods available, which is growing all the time. For a more detailed list, see the Whole Dog Journal, which publishes an article on the best canned foods every other January in odd-numbered years. You can also write to me for comments on any individual food you may be interested in (my email address is at the bottom of the page). I have added links to Amazon and other online sources for many of these foods if you are unable to find them locally, though shipping will add substantially to the cost.
Note there are some drawbacks to canned foods as well. Many canned foods use carrageenan as a thickening agent (also called emulsifier). Carrageenan has been associated with intestinal ulceration, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and acid reflux. While most studies have been done on carrageenan, it's possible that other thickening agents, such as carboxymethyl cellulose, polysorbate 60 and 80, guar gum, xanthan gum, and agar agar, may also contribute to digestive problems in sensitive dogs. Look for stews and other more liquid (not formed into a pâte or loaf) canned foods to avoid these ingredients. See the following for more infomation:
- Why Carrageenan Can Be Dangerous to Your Pet
- Carrageenan Just Don't Do It
- What’s this ingredient in my pet’s food? Carrageenan?
- Review of Harmful Gastrointestinal Effects of Carrageenan in Animal Experiments
- Common ingredient in packaged food may trigger inflammatory disease
Most cans are lined with Bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been associated with certain problems in humans, although at this time there does not appear to be a viable alternative. See The Controversy Over BPA-Free Dog Food Containers for more information.
Some of these companies offer vegetarian diets, but I do NOT recommend feeding your dog a vegetarian diet. See Don't Bite on the Veggie Dog and Vegetarian Diets for Dogs? for more information on this topic.
|Addiction||High quality ingredients. Grain-free, limited-ingredient diets that use mostly unusual proteins such as venison, rabbit, duck, buffalo, unagi [eel] and brushtail. Ideal for feeding to dogs with severe food allergies, but I would not recommend feeding exotic proteins to healthy dogs, as it's better to reserve them for future use in case your dog ever develops food allergies.|
|Artemis||Available in Europe and Asia, as well as the US. Human-grade, antibiotic- and hormone-free meats|
|The company claims to use high-grade ingredients, though this claim has been questioned, and the company has admitted to using lower-grade ingredients (poultry by-product meal) in their foods. Wilderness and Freedom lines are grain-free. Basics offer limited-ingredient options for dogs with food allergies.
Blue recalled certain lots of its foods in October 2010 due to concern that these lots may contain higher levels of vitamin D than are specified, which can be life-threatening. The company was not as forthcoming as they should have been about the problem that led to this recall. See Another Blue Buffalo fail for more information. Another problem was found with the wrong food in a package in 2013, and once again, the company's attitude was poor; see Blue Buffalo Kibble Change? for more info.
|Organic line appears to be discontinued; other lines make no mention of using human-grade ingredients. Both the 95% line and the Stew are high in protein with no grains. Foods vary widely in the amount of fat, ranging from low (2.5% as fed, 13.9% dry matter) for the Beef & Salmon Stew, to high (6.5% as fed, 36.1% DM) for the Lamb & Duck stew, for example.|
|California Natural||See Natura below.|
|Canidae||Human-grade, hormone- and antibiotic-free ingredients. All ingredients are tested for melamine and cyanuric acid.
Grain Free Pure line of foods offers higher-protein, grain-free formulas that were reformulated in 2014 to use fresh meats and whole foods.
|Castor & Pollux Organix||Over 70% certified organic ingredients. In addition, chicken and turkey are free-range. Products are tested for melamine and cyanuric acid. Natural Ultramix line also appears to be high-quality, though not organic and it's not clear whether ingredients are human-grade.|
|Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul||High quality, hormone- and antibiotic-free ingredients. Offers higher-protein senior diet.|
|Doctors Foster & Smith||High-quality ingredients, high meat content.|
|Dogswell||Uses antibiotic-free, cage-free chicken and duck. All canned foods are grain-free. Products are inspected for melamine. Note that the duck products contain other meats (chicken, salmon), so cannot be used as a novel protein for an elimination diet.|
|Eagle Pack Holistic Select and Super Premium||On the original web site, chicken and duck are listed as hormone- and antibiotic-free. Ingredients appear to be human-grade. Eagle Pack recently split off its Holistic Select label. The new Holistic Select web site has no specific information about ingredients. The following information appears on the original web site only, not on the Holistic Select web site: "Eagle Pack Super Premium formulas are nutritionally balanced so pet owners can mix up to 25% raw food with the Eagle Pack formulas." Eagle Pack and Wellness are now owned by the same company, called WellPet.|
|EVO||See Natura below.|
|FirstMate||Offers a number of grain-free, limited ingredient diets that may be beneficial for dogs with food allergies. All ingredients sourced from North America (except Australian lamb) and "are 100% ethoxyquin free." Canned foods are manufactured in a human-grade facility in British Columbia. No carrageenan or other gums used. Poultry is free-range; fish is sustainably sourced.|
|Fromm Family Foods||Human-grade, USDA inspected meats, high-quality US-sourced ingredients. "We pay more for our fish, whitefish, and salmon to not be treated or preserved with ethoxyquin." Several varieties are limited-ingredient and grain-free, with unusual proteins, which can help dogs with food allergies. Fromm has replaced their canned foods in the Four Star Nutritionals line with Shredded Chicken, Shredded Pork, and Shredded Beef (as of 2/11), all grain-free. Their Gold Nutritionals line also includes canned foods.|
|Go! Natural (Petcurean)||Human-grade ingredients. Now available in Germany, Israel and several Asian countries.|
|Halo Spot's Stew||Human-grade ingredients. Note these foods are higher in moisture (broth) than many canned foods, meaning you'll probably have to feed more than you would of other foods.|
|Holistic Select||See Eagle Pack above.|
|Homestyle||See Nature's Variety below.|
|I and Love and You||New company founded in 2012 by the owner of Only Natural Pet Store. Human-quality ingredients; the company says, "Select Wild-Caught, Grass-Fed, Free-Range and Cage-Free meats raised without the use of antibiotics and growth hormones when available." Canned foods are grain-free. Appears identical to and is likely replacing Only Natural's EasyRaw below.|
|Innova||See Natura below.|
|Instinct||See Nature's Variety below.|
|Lotus||Human-grade ingredients. All ingredients are sourced in North America (USA and Canada) except for lamb and green mussel, which come from New Zealand. Fish is ethoxyquin-free. No gums (carrageenan, guar, or xantham) used as thickeners. Canned at their own facility. See An Admirable Model: Lotus Pet Foods and An Inside Look at How Canned Dog Food is Made for more information about this company and their facility.|
|Merrick||Offers several grain-free varieties in both their Classic and Grain Free (formerly Before Grain) lines, including a tripe variety.
Merrick has had treats recalled in 2010 due to salmonella contamination. While I don't consider salmonella to be a big concern and this doesn't affect their foods directly, the company's poor handling of the recall is an issue. See Friday-night dump-and-run recalls for more info.
|Natura: California Natural, EVO and Innova||All foods are tested by an independent laboratory for melamine and cyanuric acid (see press release).
Natura was purchased by Proctor & Gamble in May 2010. The company claims that no changes have been made as of July, 2011. They no longer state on their web site that their foods use human-grade, hormone- and antibiotic-free ingredients, or that none of their ingredients are sourced from China, but they say this has to do with corporate policies rather than changes to ingredients sources. The company settled a lawsuit in 2011 regarding human-grade claims, filed before the buyout, which had to do with prohibitions against such claims for pet food, not any problems with their foods or ingredients.
California Natural: A limited ingredient diet that can be helpful for dogs with food allergies.
EVO: Grain-free, high in protein and fat (both of which are good for dogs, though fat should be limited to more moderate amounts for inactive dogs) and low in carbs. Now offering beef, chicken/turkey, duck, rabbit and venison varieties.
Innova: Original line of foods.
|Natural Balance||Human-grade ingredients. Products are tested for melamine and cyanuric acid. L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets are grain-free and may help dogs with food allergies. Also see the new Eatables line.
Natural Balance was bought by Del Monte in 2013. Del Monte was renamed Big Heart Pet Brands in 2014, which was sold to the J. M. Smucker Co. in 2015.
|Nature's Variety Instinct, Prairie and Homestyle||Instinct is higher-protein, lower-carb and grain-free. Instinct now offers limited-ingredient diets for dogs with food allergies as well.
Nature's Variety offers a number of recipes with unusual proteins (pork, bison, venison, duck, rabbit), but these are mixed with more common proteins (chicken, turkey, beef), so not appropriate for dogs who need a limited-ingredient diet, and remember to save some of those exotic proteins for the future in case they're needed if your dog develops food allergies.
|Newman's Own Organics||Now offering grain-free Beef and Liver varieties that are 95% organic meat, with no carbs.|
|Party Animal "Organic" Gourmet Dog Food||Uses organic (hormone- and antibiotic-free) meats and other high-quality ingredients. Several varieties are grain-free.|
|Performatrin Ultra||Human-grade, hormone- and antibiotic-free ingredients.|
|Pet Promise||Hormone- and antibiotic-free ingredients from animals raised humanely on family farms.
Note the company that makes this food has discontinued the line as of January 2010, though you can still find it on shelves.
|Prairie||See Nature's Variety above.|
|Solid Gold||In addition to their regular canned foods, they also offer a Green Tripe canned dog food with very limited ingredients, which can help dogs with food allergies.|
|Spring Naturals||Products use meat (not meal) plus eggs, whole vegetables, fruits, and grains. Also offers grain-free and organic varieties. Grain-free dinners (not stews) are 95% meat. All ingredients are from the U.S.|
|Tiki Dog (Petropics)||Human-grade ingredients, most appear to be from Thailand. All foods include fish that is sustainably caught.|
|Timberwolf Organics||Offers four new canned foods, all high-protein and low-carbohydrate. Despite the name, these foods are not organic.|
|VeRUS Pet Foods||Human-grade ingredients. Chicken is antibiotic-free.|
|Vets Choice Holistic Health Extension||Human-grade ingredients, but no mention of antibiotics and hormones. I have been told third-hand that this company is privately owned in Long Island, NY. Limited availability.|
|Wellness||Human-grade ingredients. Products are tested for melamine and cyanuric acid. Now offering their high-protein, grain-free CORE formulas in two canned varieties. Also offers 95% Meat Formulas (see Mixers and Toppers category on their web site) that are not complete diets but can be used as a mixer, similar to adding plain meat. Eagle Pack and Wellness are now owned by the same company, called WellPet.|
|Weruva||Approved for human consumption. Chicken is antibiotic-free. Some varieties are grain-free. Non-Kobe varieties are very high moisture percentage (lots of water), so you will likely have to feed more than with other canned foods.|
|Wysong||Wysong also makes Au Jus all meat diets that are not complete diets but can be used as a mixer, similar to adding plain meat. They include some exotic proteins (duck, rabbit, venison) that can be used in an elimination diet to test for food allergies. Check out their new Uncanny dehydrated products, which are high-protein and low-carb, with low heat processing, but very expensive and designed for supplemental feeding only (not a complete diet).|
|ZiwiPeak||New Zealand food made from human-grade, free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free meats. Products are 85% meat-based and grain-free. Limited ingredients, may be good for dogs with food allergies. Varieties include Lamb, Venison, and a mixture of those two meats with lamb and venison tripe. "Where to Buy" link indicates it is available at limited locations in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.|
Allergies for more information on elimination diets.
All meat diets can also be used to supplement dry or canned dog food (as can fresh meat, cooked or raw). If you do this, I would stick to the more common meats rather than feeding exotic proteins, which should be reserved in case they are needed in the future for food allergies. See the section on Adding Fresh Foods for more info.
See Dog Food Mixes for mixes and supplements that can be used to balance an all-meat diet.
|Canine Caviar||Makes a canned Beaver diet that is nothing but processed beaver meat (from animals harvested to control their population). This company also makes canned Duck (with sweet potato), Turkey and Venison Tripe all meat varieties with nothing else added. Beaver variety is available by the case at Whole Pet Foods.|
||100% Meat Classic and Game Meats lines.|
|Merrick||Grain-free varieties, including Tripe. Formerly called Before Grain.|
|PetKind||PetKind Venison, Duck and Salmon has fish oil added, but is still not a complete diet. Due to having three different proteins plus fish oil, it would not be a good choice to use to test for food allergies. There is no mention of using human-grade ingredients.|
|Tripett|| Offers canned beef and lamb tripe with very little added (just garlic and vegetable gum, plus fish oil and glucosamine/chondroitin in the lamb variety).
Warning: tripe smells awful, but dogs love it.
|Wellness||Makes 95% meat formulas designed to be added to kibble (they are not complete diets) -- see Mixers and Toppers category on their web site. They add natural flavors, cassia gum, and carrageenan, which should be avoided if you're trying to feed a true elimination diet to test for food allergies, but are otherwise OK. Varieties include chicken, beef, venison, salmon and turkey.|
|Wysong||See their Au Jus varieties.|
Country Pet Naturals is a frozen, cooked diet made from hearts, lungs, livers, kidney, meat and bone from range-raised lamb, beef, chicken and poultry, free of antibiotics and hormones. One variety has a small amount of veggies. No grains. Made in New Zealand and available at some retailers such as Whole Foods. Meets AAFCO guidelines for all life stages. Note that Country Pet is made by Canz, who also make Butch (New Zealand only) and Real Meat labels. The Real Meat line is now dehydrated.
freshfetch A relatively new company located in Southern California (cooking is done in Palm Springs; offices are in LA). They make complete diets that meet AAFCO and NRC guidelines. Options include Beef, Chicken, Turkey, Salmon, Lamb and Meatless (includes eggs, so is OK to feed). All varieties except meatless (which contains rice) are grain-free. Foods are lightly cooked. Can be shipped anywhere in the US and Canada. Shipping costs around $20 to Southern California; $20-$35 to adjacent areas (Arizona, Nevada, and as far north as Sacramento). Anything further must be shipped by air to ensure food stays cold, so it costs more, around $50+. Costs will vary depending on the amount purchased, but generally the more you buy, the less the cost per package. Add foods to your shopping cart and begin checkout process to see exact shipping charges (no registration required; costs will be shown before checkout is complete). If you live in Southern California, you can make arrangements to pick up the food locally.
Freshpet makes several fresh (not frozen) refrigerated products: Freshpet Select, Vital, and Nature's Fresh. All are pasteurized and "gently cooked with minimal heat" (Vital also offers a Raw option). Some varieties are grain-free, some are high in meat and low in carbs, and some limit ingredients for dogs with food allergies or sensitivities. All ingredients are human-grade, hormone- and antibiotic-free. Some varieties are available at Costco, grocery stores, Petco, PetSmart and other stores.
Nature's Kitchen is a cooked, frozen complete diet from Maverick Pet Foods, who also makes Genesis Raw (frozen raw). All ingredients are human-grade, and are cooked at low temperatures to preserve nutrients. Food is flash-frozen after preparation so that no preservatives are needed. I tried this food with my dog, and found it to have less moisture (just 67%) than most similar products, meaning it is more nutrient-dense and therefore more cost-effective to feed (and to ship). Billed as "the raw diet alternative providing the high fresh meat content of raw, with the convenience and safety of cooked foods," all varieties are 80% meat (including bone), plus approximately 8% organs.
Caru makes boxed stews that are shelf stable but require refrigeration after opening. All ingredients and processing are human-grade; meats are also antibiotic- and hormone-free. Stews are grain-free and gluten-free. Foods have moderate to high amounts of protein (minimum 3.5-5.5% as fed, which converts to 22-34% on a dry matter basis, used to compare to kibble). Turkey Stew is extremely low in fat (1% fat as fed, 6.25% DM), while Beef Stew and Pork Stew are moderately low in fat (2% as fed, 12.5% DM) and Chicken Stew is relatively high in fat (4%b as fed, 25% DM). No AAFCO statement on the web site, but foods appear to be complete. Available in the U.S. and Canada.
VibraPet makes a frozen, cooked product using human-grade ingredients that meets AAFCO guidelines. Delivery available and carried in a number of stores in the greater Sacramento CA area. Will ship to other areas, but shipping of frozen foods is generally prohibitively expensive.
My Perfect Pet makes frozen, cooked diets prepared with human-grade standards. Diets meet AAFCO guidelines, including some approved for puppies. Several grain-free varieties available. Most blends have moderate amounts of fat (appropriate for most pet dogs). The company also makes Snuggles Blend (low phosphorus for dogs with early kidney disease), Kidney Support Blend (for dogs with later stage kidney disease), and two Ultra-Low Glycemic (ULG) blends (suitable for dogs with diabetes), and will prepare custom blends as well. Complete nutritional analysis provided for all foods. Available from many retailers, use their Find a Store locator. Shipping is also available.
JustFoodForDogs makes frozen, cooked diets made with high-quality, human-grade ingredients. Each recipe uses its own customized supplement blend. The company also offers their JustDailyMeals supplement blends and recipes in JustDoItYourself kits so that you can make the food at home if you choose. All daily diets meet AAFCO guidelines, and two can be used for puppies (though their Fish recipe is quite low in fat for a puppy). The food is made in Southern California, where delivery is available, or it can be shipped anywhere in the U.S. This company also offers prescription JustVetSupportDiets and customized diets. Unfortunately, they do not offer JustDoItYourself kits for their prescription diets, but for their customized diets, you can choose to make them yourself or have the company make them for you. See my article, Better Choices for Home-Prepared and Special Needs Recipes, for more information.
The Farmer's Dog offers cooked diets made with high-quality, human-grade ingredients. The food is available by delivery in the New York City area, and can be shipped elsewhere. "We have formulated all of our meals to meet AAFCO and NRC requirements using natural, minimally processed, whole foods." They also offer a DIY (do it yourself) option using their recipes and supplement mixes, which run about $3-$7 (including shipping) per bag, each of which makes about 5 pounds of food. There is a single sample Beef + Sweet Potato Recipe on the website to get an idea of what their foods include.
Rayne Clinical Nutrition makes a line of wet "peel and serve" and frozen limited-ingredient diets using exotic proteins. They come in two forms: an incomplete diet that consists of just one protein and one carbohydrate and nothing else, suitable for use as an elimination diet for diagnosing food allergies; and a complete form of those diets that add supplements. They also make treats using the same limited ingredients. These foods are very expensive (estimate $4-$11.50 per day for a 30-pound dog) plus shipping ($5.95 per case for "peel and serve;" frozen is more).
Update: One person reported that their two dogs experienced severe gastrointestinal upset from the Cod & Sweet Potato Maintenance diet. The food looked different than it had before, but the company told them that nothing had changed. Another person later reported finding sticks in three different batches of food, with the company not being very responsive about the problem (see Possible Rayne Clinical Nutrition Recall May Be Imminent, posted April 25, 2015, for more info). Please let me know if anyone else experiences similar problems.
Evermore Pet Food offers a frozen, cooked complete diet in chicken and beef varieties using high-quality, human-grade, antibiotic- and hormone-free ingredients from humanely raised animals and organic or sustainable produce. Meets AAFCO guidelines for adult dogs. Food is produced in a USDA inspected human food facility using a low-temperature, vacuum-sealed cooking process. Currently available along the East coast as well as Tennessee, Alabama, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Will ship to the Continental U.S. for $10-$15.
Frenchie's Kitchen offers frozen, cooked diets made in a USDA human food facility in California with 100 % USDA approved human grade ingredients. The ingredients look very good, and the foods are low in fat. The following statement appears on their website: "Frenchie’s Kitchen entrees are formulated to meet or exceed AAFCO nutritional guidelines for All Life Stages." The company is located in Corpus Christie, Texas, with retailers in many states (including some Unleashed Petco stores by late 2015, according to the company).
Rudy Green's Doggy Cuisine offers homemade, human-grade cooked and frozen foods, but these are not a complete diet, as no supplements (not even calcium) are added. Fine to feed occasionally, or to add as top dressing to kibble, or to feed short-term to an adult dog, but long-term feeding of this food only would lead to nutritional deficiencies.
You can contact me if you have any comments, but I regret to say that I can no longer respond to questions about individual dogs. See my Contact page for more information. My name is Mary Straus and you can email me at either or