Dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th Century that ‘dog food’ existed as a product in itself. Dogs made do with table scraps and lesser cuts of meat, as well as the occasional ‘street treat’. Nowadays, we recognize the impact a dog’s diet can have on their health and, more recently, many of us have started to examine the environmental impact and ethics of dog food.
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Raw, BARF, Vegan – What to feed your dog
First things first, it’s important to note that dogs and humans share many similarities in terms of nutritional needs but that our digestive tracts are a little different. Dogs have a far shorter digestive tract, meaning that they have a shorter period of time in which to extract nutrients from food. In practice, this means that high fiber diets are not typically a good idea. That said, a diet without any fiber at all (i.e., a meat-only diet) can cause constipation and other digestive problems.
Indeed, while some folks think of dogs as being outright carnivores, this isn’t actually the case. Like humans, dogs are omnivores and under normal circumstances can meet their nutritional needs by eating a combination of plant and animal-derived foods (R). A meat-only diet is unbalanced and won’t meet a dog’s nutritional needs.
Raw dog food usually means raw meat, which has its own set of health problems. As you’d expect, raw meat is a great breeding ground for undesirable bacteria, so you’ll need to be very stringent about washing your hands, kitchen surfaces, food bowls, and such to avoid contamination. Fortunately, some companies, including my top picks, Steve’s Real Food and Primal, make it easy and fair safer to feed your pup a BARF diet if that’s your preference.
Making dog food at home
As with humans, dogs can also benefit from a varied diet rich in plant polyphenols. Some human foods are toxic to dogs, however. So, if you’re considering making your own dog food at home or topping up a meat-only diet with plant foods, make sure to check for possible problem foods with a resource such as the SPCA.
My pup is now 11 years old and for a couple of years, a good while ago, I made her homecooked meals. I have a degree in human nutrition and was working with veterinarians at the time for a start-up dog food company, but it was still hard to be sure I was giving my pup everything she needed to be happy and healthy. Sure, I had the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods from AAFCO in front of me but, boy howdy, was it a lot of work to figure out vitamin and mineral content for every batch, especially when I’d sub, say, quinoa for rice or chickpeas for peanut butter to give her a bit of variety.
And this is key: variety. Just as humans are more likely to develop food allergies when eating the same thing over and over again, so too are dogs. And for some dogs, they eat the same thing every day for their whole lives.
I’m not advocating feeding them something completely different every day. That’s a sure fire recipe for tummy upset. Instead, consider adding a small amount of a range of healthy foods to your dog’s regular diet of an AAFCO approved dog food. This can help provide them with a wide variety of beneficial natural compounds they might otherwise miss out on.
If you do want to switch your pup to a totally new food, do it slowly. This means transitioning them gradually over a week to ten days. Substitute a little of their current food each day for the new food and slowly increase the amount each day until the switch is complete.
‘Meat meal’ and the 4Ds
If you feed your pup animal products, look out for ‘meat meal’, ‘animal by-products’, and other euphemisms on labels. Meat meal is a processed form of dried meat commonly used in kibble. It can comprise low-quality cuts of meat, bones, hooves, feathers, and other parts of animals. And, because it is cooked at high temperatures, this ‘meal’ becomes very hard to digest and considerably less nutritious than fresher, higher quality types of meat and fish. You’ll also want to consider what have come to be known as the 4Ds of meat (dying, dead, diseased, or disabled). Companies who don’t have traceable ingredients may be using poor quality animal products.
In summary, here are a few key things to consider when looking for a sustainable, healthy dog food:
- Avoid meat-only diets (these are nutritionally incomplete, among other things)
- Don’t add too much fiber (this can upset your dog’s digestive tract)
- Avoid dairy (dogs produce very little, if any lactase enzyme)
- Add a little variety to your dog’s diet (small amounts of chopped kale, steamed carrots, peas, peanut butter, mashed chickpeas, blueberries, for example)
- Avoid overly salty foods or foods very high in potassium, such as coconut water
- Avoid overly fatty foods, such as coconut oil
- Check that foods aren’t toxic to dogs (common problem foods include garlic, onions, chocolate, and grapes/raisins)
And, finally, as a Leaf Score reader, you’re probably already considering the environmental and ethical impact of the food you feed your pup. Meat and dairy require far more in the way of land, water, and energy resources to produce. They’re also responsible for far higher amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, displacement of people, loss of biodiversity, and damaging sewage run-off, antibiotic resistance, psychological damage to those working in slaughterhouses, and other unintended negative consequences. If you adopt a pup and then feed them other animals, I’d take a moment to think about why.
So, when choosing an eco-friendly dog food, consider:
- Ethics and animal welfare – how are workers and non-human animals treated in the production of this food? Is animal testing involved? How about factory farms? Is fish MSC-certified?
- Ingredients – what’s in it and how are ingredients sourced and processed
- Carbon footprint – how far away is the food produced (food miles) and how are production facilities powered? Is transport and packaging efficient? Does the food itself have a large environmental impact?
- Packaging – does the company use recycled and recyclable packaging from sustainable and renewable materials and eco-friendly inks?
- Organic and non-GMO – is food produced using organic agriculture, i.e. without pesticides and artificial hormones? Are crops non-GMO or are they potentially contributing to a loss of biodiversity and poor conditions for suppliers?
You’ll also want to consider how transparent a company is in its branding and communication and whether the company has gone to the effort and expense to gain certifications and to produce environmental impact assessments and reports. These can help us avoid being taken in by greenwashing.
The best non-toxic, organic dog foods: our top picks
Let’s take a look at some of the best brands for sustainable, healthy dog food to keep you, your pup, and the planet happy. You can read about our unique research process here.
Highlights: Totally vegan dog food made in Illinois using solar power by a B Corp that is Climate Neutral Certified. Suitable for all adult dogs and contains 50% organic ingredients. Free samples available!
Petaluma is light years ahead of most dog food brands in terms of eco-friendliness. New to the market in 2021, this B Corporation’s focus is sustainability. Petaluma is a 1% for the Planet member and is Climate Neutral Certified, offsetting 100% of all its greenhouse gas emissions. It bakes its kibble in Illinois, using solar power, and has a goal to build a better future for pets, the planet, farmworkers, and farm animals.
Petaluma offers a baked, plant-based formula for adult dogs of all breeds, with more than 50% organic ingredients and all ingredients from non-GMO sources. This dry food is suitable for adult dogs of all breeds (9+ months for small breeds, 12+ months for medium, and 1.5+ years for large breeds).
Every scoop provides more than 33 grams of protein from foods such as organic chickpeas, peanuts, brown rice, and yeast. Petaluma tests its food using both a (cruelty-free) model of dog digestion and using volunteer dogs that are family members rather than lab dogs. The test found that dogs digest around 80% of nutrients in Petaluma, including protein-specific digestibility of 80%, which is similar to meat-inclusive formulas.
In the company’s taste tests, two out of three dogs actually preferred Petaluma Roasted Peanut Butter & Sweet Potato Flavor food to their standard food. To make sure your dog loves it, before you commit to a big bag, Petaluma will even send you a free sample!
Petaluma’s range was put together by veterinary nutritionists and meets AAFCO guidelines. The kibble provides a minimum of 28% crude protein and 13% crude fat, and a maximum of 6% crude fiber and 9% moisture.
Compared to a conventional 18 lb. bag of kibble, Petaluma estimates its food uses 54% less fresh water (saving 2,200 gallons) and produces 75% fewer greenhouse gas emissions (saving 185 lbs. of CO2, or around 200 miles of driving). It also uses 89% less land, or the equivalent of 5,300 square feet of conserved farmland. This information comes from the company’s lifecycle assessment.
The kibble bags are not easily recyclable as they contain a plastic laminate to keep the food fresh. Petaluma has chosen to use kraft paper instead of polyethylene on the outside of its bags, however, which reduces the environmental impact significantly. It is also working to develop recyclable or compostable barrier materials from renewable sources. Petaluma got its start in 2019 in Oakland, CA, and offers free shipping for subscriptions or orders over $50. Its food is a little pricier than conventional food but the subscription model helps bring the cost down. Petaluma currently only delivers to the U.S., so I haven’t had a chance to try my pup on this kibble.
Ingredients (Roasted Peanut Butter & Sweet Potato Flavor):
Organic chickpeas, potato protein, organic oats, dried brewer’s yeast, pea protein, organic peanut butter (organic peanuts), organic sweet potato, organic barley, organic flaxseeds, sunflower oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), peanut oil, organic brown rice syrup, carrots, miscanthus grass, baking powder (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, corn starch, monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulphate), dried parsley, calcium carbonate, marine microalgae, organic kelp meal, vitamins (vitamin E supplement, vitamin A supplement, niacin, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin D2 supplement, riboflavin, thiamine mononitrate, vitamin B12 supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid), minerals (zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, copper sulfate, manganese sulfate, sodium selenite), turmeric, choline chloride, dl-methionine, cinnamon, allspice, taurine, salt, potassium chloride, ginger, L-carnitine, and rosemary extract.
We tested Petaluma dog food with our Border Collie, Kali. Read our full review, here.
Best Eco-Friendly Runner-Up – The Honest Kitchen (Kindly)
Highlights: Top choice, dehydrated high-quality food mix. Can be ordered nutritionally-complete, or ordered to support the addition of extra protein. 7-pound box expands to about 29 pounds when rehydrated.
The Honest Kitchen is nearly tied at the top of the list when it comes to sustainable, healthy, and ethical dog food. Established in 2002, this company has grown from a kitchen table business to an internationally renowned brand. The founder, Lucy Postin, started The Honest Kitchen after beginning to make dehydrated food for her own dog, who had allergies.
Dehydrated, high-quality food mixes are the mainstay of The Honest Kitchen. Some of these are nutritionally complete in themselves, while others, such as the Kindly Grain-Free Veggie, Nut & Seed Base Mix and the Fruits and Veggies Base Mix need added protein to meet AAFCO standards.
Top of my list for sustainable, ethical, healthy foods, the Kindly variety (View Price on Amazon) is entirely plant-based, meaning it has minimal environmental impact compared to meat, dairy, and fish products. And, as it is dehydrated, shipping costs and greenhouse gas emissions are also reduced.
A 7 lb. box of these mixes usually expands to around 29 lbs. when rehydrated. So, you can also skip the drive and pick this up at the store on foot or by bike far more easily! To use the base mixes, add warm water and a protein, wait 3 minutes and serve.
The Honest Kitchen’s products have been verified non-GMO by the Non GMO Project and are made in the USA in a human food grade processing facility. All of The Honest Kitchen’s products are made with 100% human grade food, with no fillers or undesirable animal by-products (feathers, waste, etc.), or the 4Ds (see above). There’s no wheat or soy and no artificial preservatives. Instead, this product is totally vegan and features a wide variety of nutritious foods alongside added vitamins and minerals.
The Kindly mix is antioxidant rich and pretty darned similar to the homecooked food I used to make for my pup. I’d add mashed chickpeas, peanut butter, tofu, lentils, or other sources of protein to round it out, though.
The Kindly mix is great for those who are vegetarian or vegan, as well as for anyone with a dog who has known sensitivities to certain types of meat. Simply add in a protein of choice and switch it up to keep allergy risk minimized. Ideally, this would be locally sourced protein. Honest Kitchen only appear to recommend meat or fish as sources of protein, so if you’re opting for a variety of plant-proteins you might also want to add some good fats, such as from algal oil.
Ingredients (Kindly Veggie, Nut & Seed Mix):
All ingredients dehydrated: Carrots, organic flaxseed, parsnips, peas, celery, organic coconut, pumpkin, chard, organic kelp, marjoram, garlic, tricalcium phosphate, choline chloride, zinc amino acid chelate, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, potassium iodide, potassium chloride, iron amino acid chelate, copper amino acid chelate, sodium selenite, thiamine mononitrate.
Highlights: Certified plastic-neutral company offering carbon-neutral shipping on sustainable dog food and dog treats made with crickets and silver carp (a wild-caught invasive species of fish).
Chippin is a dog food company on a mission to shake things up. This innovative, woman-owned company makes dog treats and food from crickets and silver carp (an invasive species) as well as vegan dog treats from spirulina. It is certified plastic-neutral, ships everything in somewhat recycled packaging (which isn’t recyclable, though), and offers carbon-neutral shipping. The wholefood formulas are free of dubious fillers and made in the U.S. Sharon offers a full review of Chippin’s sustainable dog treats here. Suffice it to say that she’s a fan!
Chippin was founded in 2018 by Haley Russell and Laura Colagrande and is based in Arlington, Virginia. The two women enlisted Doctor Beth Hamper, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at VCA Advanced Veterinary Care Centers in Indiana, to oversee product development, with a focus on vegetarian foods for dogs. All Chippin products are free of proteins or byproducts from mammals.
The basic idea behind Chippin was to find novel protein sources that dogs could digest easily and that helped minimize the carbon footprint of their food. The result? Crickets, spirulina, and silver carp.
Chippin offers its Wild-Caught Silver Carp dry dog food as a sustainable alternative to more carbon intensive kibble. It gets its carp from Kentucky and can trace the carp back to individual fishers.
Why carp? Because silver carp is an overpopulated fish, making up 90% of the biomass in parts of the Illinois and Ohio Rivers. Chippin aims to help restore biodiversity to American waterways and protect the Great Lakes by using these fish in its dog food. Silver carp is also on the lower end of the fish food chain and doesn’t accumulate the same levels of toxins as, say, tuna.
This dog food is suitable for adults dogs a year or older, as per the AAFCO nutritional requirements for Adult Maintenance diets.
Chippin’s packaging comprises 28-29% recycled post-consumer materials and the company is Certified Plastic Neutral through repurpose Global, meaning that it removes as much plastic from the environment as its uses throughout its supply chain. The packaging is not recyclable itself though, which is a shame.
Chippin partners with Pachama to offset carbon emissions from shipping through forest conservation projects. The company offers a money-back guarantee, monthly contests, and a friend referral scheme to help spread the word and save you money.
While it’s great that Chippin sources protein sustainably, it would be nice to see the other ingredients in its dog food formula come from more sustainable sources. None of the other ingredients are organic, nor are they certified non-GMO. I also don’t see any robust testing
Silver Carp dog food costs $32.99 for a 3.5 lb. bag, $71.99 for a 10.5 lb. bag, and $129.99 for a 21 lb. bag.
Ingredients (Wild-Caught Silver Carp formula):
Silver Carp, Oats, Pumpkin, Ground Flaxseed, Dried Chicory Root, Dried Tomato Pomace, Brewers Yeast, Dried Cranberries, Calcium Carbonate, Dried Spinach, Sunflower Oil, Taurine, Rosemary Extract, Choline Chloride, Salt, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin E Supplement, Copper Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, dCalcium Pantothenate, Niacin Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Sodium Selenite, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Ethylenediamine Dihydroiodide, Folic Acid.
Best Fish-Based Dog Food – The Honest Kitchen Zeal Dog Food
Highlights: Wild fish-based dehydrated dog food mix with no flaxseed, potatoes, grains, or gluten. Made entirely from human-grade food in a US facility, and the product is also free from artificial preservatives.
AAFCO complete and balanced, Zeal (View Price on Amazon) is a wild fish-based dehydrated dog food mix that includes whole foods but no flaxseed, potatoes, grains or gluten. It is high in protein and low in fat, and features line-caught Icelandic Haddock, wild Blue Whiting caught in Scandinavia and the Arctic, and wild salmon.
Although my personal ethics steer me away from recommending fish, this product seems to be about as sustainably and responsibly sourced as can be, so if you’re keen to feed your pup fish, try Zeal.
This mix contains 35.5% protein, 8.5% fat, 5.8% fiber, and 8.9% moisture, amounting to 437 calories per cup (more than with the Kindly mixes). To use this mix, add warm water and wait 5 minutes before feeding to your pup.
Again, this one is made only with human grade food in a facility in the USA and is non-GMO and free from artificial preservatives. The white fish is certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
The Honest Kitchen also make a Love mix (View Price on Walmart) which includes beef as well as mixes featuring turkey (View Price on Amazon) and chicken (View Price on Amazon). Given the risk of protein sensitization and the environmental and animal ethics of these mixes, I’m not explicitly recommending them, even though they are arguably healthier and more sustainable than almost all other dog food featuring animal products.
Ingredients are dehydrated: MSC certified white fish, sweet potatoes, eggs, organic coconut, alfalfa, apples, pumpkin, parsley, cabbage, bananas, wild Salmon, cranberries, garlic, tricalcium phosphate, choline chloride, zinc amino acid chelate, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, potassium iodide, potassium chloride, iron amino acid chelate, copper amino acid chelate.
Highlights: Ocean caught fish-based dog food from a company that is ahead of the pack when it comes to sustainability. Open Farm has a robust Climate Strategy with a clear commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and sources most ingredients in the US and Canada under the Certified Human program.
Open Farm is a Canadian company based in Toronto. The company manufactures its non-GMO dog food in Minnesota, however, to take advantage of locally sourced ingredients from audited and certified partner farms. This company is ahead of the pack when it comes to sustainability, with a robust Climate Strategy and a clear commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.
A few years back, Open Farm analyzed its Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. This allowed the company to set ambitious but realistic and meaningful targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years. Open Farm also committed to offsetting direct operations and manufacturing emissions while working towards those reductions. Importantly, the company has said it will disclose all emissions data publicly and annually. Their current goal is to reduce absolute Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 42% over 10 years, in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Open Farm supports offset programs that help protect and preserve forests, waterways, and ecosystems and sequester carbon for longer. It also reduces its climate impacts by sourcing most of its raw ingredients from Canada and the US, with no ingredients from China. Open Farm does source some vitamins and minerals from Europe, however, as well as coconut oil comes from Indonesia, the Philippines or Thailand, and lamb from New Zealand. There’s no information on where Open Farm sources its wild-caught fish.
Open Farm isn’t an organic certified dog food. Instead, it focuses on the Certified Human program for meat ingredients. This program is similar to USDA Organic, with no animal by-products in animal feed, no antibiotics or artificial growth hormones, and animals fed a vegetarian diet. Certified Humane has standards for feed and animal care and welfare (USDA Organics doesn’t). Farmers must meet certain space minimums, handling requirements and slaughter standards for the animal products in Open Farm foods.
Of course, that means Open Farm still make dog food using animal products that are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but this system is far better than the regular system and arguably better than USDA Organic.
Open Farm dog food is also free from high glycemic foods such as corn, rice, sugar, tapioca or potato starch. This makes the food low on the glycemic index, with complex carbohydrates such as garbanzo beans, green lentils, field peas and sweet potatoes used to provide carbohydrates and soluble and insoluble fiber. Open Farm food contains no corn, wheat, soy or fillers. They also offer potato free recipe options, and there are no artificial preservatives or flavors. The natural flavor ingredient is dehydrated whitefish preserved with mixed tocopherols (Vitamin E) and salt.
All of the turkey and chicken in Open Farm dog food is 100% Certified Humane® and the fish is exclusively ocean caught using sustainable fishing practices in accordance with Ocean Wise and Seafood Watch standards.
For fruits and vegetable, Open Farm has a policy of sourcing fresh, local and Non-GMO, with nearly 40% of vegetable ingredients grown in the same town as the manufacturing facility. Open Farm estimates that around 90% of the formulas’ fruits and vegetables are grown locally.
Every ingredient is fully traceable, with certificates of origin for each and every ingredient. Every product is sent to a third-party lab for independent testing for salmonella, e-coli, and other mycotoxins. You can use the lot code on any given bag to see the results from these lab tests.
One final reason to favor Open Farm is that the company created the first nationwide pet food bag recycling program, through TerraCycle. To date, Open Farm claims to have successfully collected and recycled over 100,000 Open Farm bags.
Arguably the most eco-friendly option of the Open Farm products is the dried or freeze-dried dog food as this cuts down on shipping bulk and related transport emissions. Orders over $50 ship free across most of the continental US. Below $50, there’s a flat rate shipping fee of $5.99 for your order. The company does not currently ship to Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands.
Sample ingredients (Open Farm Wild-Caught Salmon & Ancient Grains Dry Dog Food):
Salmon, oats, ocean whitefish meal, sorghum, quinoa, coconut oil, herring meal, natural flavour, millet, pumpkin, salmon oil, apples, chia seed, potassium chloride, salt, chicory root, choline chloride, vitamin E, calcium pantothenate, niacin, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin D3, vitamin B12, thiamine mononitrate, folic acid, zinc proteinate, calcium carbonate, iron proteinate, copper proteinate, manganese proteinate, selenium yeast, calcium iodate, taurine, mixed tocopherols (preservative), cinnamon, turmeric.
Highlights: Well-sourced ingredients free of derivatives, filler, and preservatives. The dry food formulas include built-in joint care nutrients that make it a top choice for those of us with senior dogs.
Lily’s Kitchen are another good option if you want your dog to enjoy food that is made with fresh, well sourced ingredients and no derivatives, fillers, or preservatives. Their dry food formulas include built-in joint care nutrients, making this one of the best all-in-one options for senior dogs. They also offer a Veggie Feast option and encourage Meatless Mondays for dogs, which is nice to see (though this one contains cheese and eggs, so isn’t vegan). The majority of their range is meat-based foods.
Lily’s Kitchen is one of my top picks because in addition to making healthy dog food, they consistently achieve a 100/100 Ethical Company Index Score by the Good Shopping Guide, are a founding member of B Corp in the UK and are the first and only pet food company certified as a B Corp!
Lily’s Kitchen ensure a living wage and good working conditions for all employees, and give staff time and flexibility to volunteer in their communities. They also have an Acts of Goodness initiative, through which they’ve given away 653,488 meals to cats and dogs in need at over 100 animal rescue centers in the UK. They also donate to animal charities and their latest impact report, from 2017, shows that they encourage their suppliers to track and report energy and water usage and implement initiatives to reduce waste and divert waste from landfills.
The company strives to use sustainable packaging, with 85% already made from compostable or recycled material, or recyclable. All food is made in the European Union, and their facilities are powered by 100% renewable energy. They also have FSC certification for packaging.
So, about the food. One good option is Lily’s Kitchen Organic Chicken and Vegetable Dry Food (View on Amazon). This comprises 26% Organic Freshly Prepared Chicken, plus a variety of organic fruits, vegetables legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains.
I like that this one features so many organic food sources and healthy plant foods as well as built in joint care supplements.
Lily’s Kitchen Chicken and Duck Dry Food (View Price on Amazon) is also decent option, comprising 31% freshly prepared chicken and 7% duck, alongside fruits, veggies, and herbs.
You might also want to check out Lily’s Kitchen Salmon and Trout dry food, although this seems to only be available in the UK currently. This formula is a great choice for senior dogs and those with joint issues because it includes green lipped mussels alongside the other joint care supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and methylsulfonylmethane. Unfortunately, I don’t see an MSC certification on this one, but I’ve emailed the company to check if this is in the works.
Lily’s Kitchen also make a range of wet foods in cans, including their delightfully named An English Garden Party. The wet food provides just 10.2% protein, however, so you’ll want to mix this with dry food with a higher protein content or add another protein source unless your dog is on a very low protein diet.
Ingredients (An English Garden Party):
Chicken (65%); Potatoes (2%); Strawberries (1%); Carrots, Green Beans, Spinach, Hemp Oil; and Herbs and botanicals: Golden Rod, Nettles, Aniseed, Rosehips, Marigold Petals, Cleavers, Kelp, Alfalfa, Milk Thistle, Dandelion Root, Burdock Root, Celery Seeds. There are also added nutrients: Vitamin D3 200 IU, Vitamin E 30 mg; and Zinc chelate of amino acids hydrate 25 mg, Manganous chelate of amino acids hydrate 3 mg, Iodine as calcium iodate 0,75 mg; and Natural Cassia Gum 1 g.
Ingredients (Lily’s Kitchen Organic Chicken and Vegetable Dry Food):
Organic Rice, Organic Barley, Organic Oats, Organic Rice Protein, Organic Fishmeal, Organic Brown Lentils, Organic Gravy, Organic Flaxseed, Organic Sunflower Seeds, Organic Sunflower Oil, Vitamins & Chelated Minerals, Organic Chicken Oil, Organic Carrots, Organic Spinach, Fructooligosaccharides 2.5g/kg, Mannan Oligosaccharides 2.5g/kg, Organic Peas, Organic Parsnip, Organic Pumpkin, Organic Broccoli, Organic Honey, Glucosamine 175mg/kg, Methylsulphonylmethane 175mg/kg, Chondroitin Sulphate 125mg/kg; Botanicals & Herbs: Alfalfa, Rosehips, Chickweed, Cleavers, Golden Rod, Nettles, Kelp, Celery Seeds, Milk Thistle, Dandelion Root, Burdock Root, Marigold Petals, Chicory Root.
The minerals and vitamins are: Vitamin A 15,000 IU, Vitamin D 2,250 IU, Vitamin E 100 IU; Zinc Chelate of Amino Acids Hydrate 333mg, Ferrous Chelate of Amino Acids Hydrate 333mg, Manganous Chelate of Amino Acids Hydrate 223mg, Cupric Chelate of Amino Acids Hydrate 150mg, Organic Selenium S. cerevisiae CNCM I-3060 130mg, Calcium Iodate Anhydrous 1.64mg.
Highlights: Steve’s Real Food chooses suppliers with US facilities who try to reduce their carbon footprint and are members of the Pet Sustainability Coalition. Ingredients are human-grade and USDA inspected meat from free-range animals.
While Steve’s Real Food (View Price on Amazon) make the mistake of calling dogs carnivores and have a questionable ‘Classroom’ feature on their site that promises a Raw U education, their AAFCO approved pet food does seem to offer an easy way of feeding your pup a raw food diet, and it’s great that their ingredients are sourced in the US (helping to cut down emissions). Steve’s Real Food also choose suppliers with US facilities who try to reduce their carbon footprint and are a member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition, with whom they work to try to improve their B Corp certification and sustainability practices.
They use only human grade, USDA inspected, meat from free-range animals alongside whole foods to create tater-tot sized nuggets that are nutritionally complete and balanced. Plus, they’ve been in business since 1998 as one of the first commercial raw pet food brands. They’re also a bit more affordable than most other heavily hyped raw brands as they pride themselves on keeping things simple with low overheads and no fancy marketing.
Although established by Steve Brown, who took four years to formulate the first products, the company is now woman-run, after Nicole Lindsley took over in 2010. She bought the company out from investors in 2014, with the intention of having greater freedom to run the company as an independent business. Happily, this seems to translate to implementing eco-friendly company policies, including using plant-based packaging materials or 100% post-consumer waste with the intention of switching to entirely biodegradable materials.
The company also claims eco-friendliness by way of manufacturing their products in Oregon, a state powered predominantly by renewable energy from hydroelectric. They also source all their red meat and poultry from animals raised on small farms in the Northwest US. These animals are raised without artificial hormones and antibiotics.
The fresh, pesticide-free, produce comes from Norpac, a farmer-owned cooperative including more than 200 farmers in Oregon. Formulas also feature salmon oil, coconut oil, flaxseed, raw goat’s milk, kelp, and sea salts to add healthy fats, probiotics, enzymes, and trace minerals.
Steve’s Real Food offer frozen and freeze-dried dog food formulas, including their Frozen Turkey formula (View Price on Amazon), which provides 142 calories per 100 g, comprises 80% meat and bone, and 20% produce. By weight, the BARF formula is 14.6% protein, 8.9% fat, 0.7% fiber, and 74% moisture.
To cut down on transport costs, and keep your freezer free of dog food, I’d recommend the freeze-dried option though. The freeze-dried Turkey formula (View on Amazon) provides 514 calories per 100 g, has the same meat to produce ratio (80% to 20%) as the frozen formula, but contains just 4.8% moisture. Almost half of the weight is made up of protein (49.51%), with 35.12% fat, and 2.4% fiber.
From an environmental point of view, this one is far better for reducing greenhouse gas emissions related to shipping. Steve’s Real Food also offer a ‘Prey Diet’ formula that comprises 95% meat and 5% supplemental ingredients such as kelp, eggshell membrane, and raw goat’s milk. Each 20lb. box contains 40 paper-separated patties, with this diet best suited to super active dogs who need a lot of calories.
Ingredients (Freeze-Dried Turkey Formula):
Ground Turkey, Turkey Necks, Turkey Liver, Romaine Lettuce, Celery, Turkey Hearts, Watermelon, Broccoli, Raw Goat’s Milk, Flaxseed, Dried Kelp, Salmon Oil, Coconut Oil, Inulin, Taurine, Chia Seeds, Mixed Tocopherols, Eggshell Membrane, Dicalcium Phosphate.
Ingredients (Frozen Turkey Formula):
Ground Turkey, Turkey Necks, Turkey Liver, Romaine Lettuce, Celery, Turkey Hearts, Watermelon, Broccoli, Raw Goat’s Milk, Flaxseed, Dried Kelp, Salmon Oil, Coconut Oil, Inulin, Taurine, Chia Seeds, Mixed Tocopherols, Eggshell Membrane, Dicalcium Phosphate
Highlights: Widely available, nutritionally complete, 100% vegan dog food offering a high protein content and plenty of superfoods. Not organic and not (yet) available in recyclable packaging.
Wild Earth is a cruelty-free dog food brand offering vegan, superfood-packed, nutritionally complete dog food. Now available through Walmart and Amazon, Wild Earth is one of the most widely available vegan dog foods in the U.S.
Wild Earth’s formula includes omega fatty acids, all essential amino acids (complete protein), enzymes to support digestion, prebiotics, and superfoods alongside supplemental vitamins and minerals. The protein component comes largely from specialized dried yeast, chickpeas, peas, oats, and potatoes. This formula provides 31% crude protein, 10.5% crude fat, and 5% fiber.
Wild Earth’s treats and supplements come in recyclable packaging but the kibble bag is a multi-layer laminate plastic that cannot be recycled currently. The company is working on finding a bag that is recyclable and keeps the food fresh.
Unfortunately, Wild Earth isn’t organic, though the company claims its GMO ingredients are more sustainable. This argument rests on the idea that farmers get higher, more stable yields from GMO crops, resulting in more efficient land use. This is an interesting argument but not one that flies with me, given that some GMO crops require significant chemical inputs that have an adverse environmental impact. Organic agriculture is also far better for biodiversity and healthy land management. Furthermore, GMO crops sometimes put power in the hands of big chemical companies, preventing small farmers from earning a sustainable livelihood.
Dried Yeast, Chickpeas, Peas, Oats, Pea Protein, Potato Protein, Canola Oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), Sweet Potato, Flaxseed Meal, Sunflower Oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), Dicalcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Natural Flavor, Marine Microalgae, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Dried Aspergillus oryzae Fermentation Product, Inulin (from chicory root), Potassium Chloride, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Fructooligosaccharides, Tocopherols (preservative), Salt, L-Carnitine, Vitamin E Supplement, Blueberries, Cranberries, Pumpkin, Spinach, Wheat Germ, Vitamin A Supplement, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyroxidine Hydrocholoride, Vitamin D2 Supplement, Calcium Iodate, Folic Acid, Rosemary Extract
Highlights: Choice to consider for those looking to feed their dog a raw diet. Rather than spending time carving up chunks of meat from the store, these freeze-dried nugget formulas serve to offer convenience for a BARF approach.
Primal (View Prices on Amazon) make feeding your dog a raw food diet far easier and, let’s be honest, less gross, than hacking up a chunk of meat from the store. Their formulas also include fresh veggies and other plant foods to help round things out for a nutritionally complete diet. Formulas are gluten free and grain free and contain no artificial ingredients, no synthetic vitamins or minerals.
Their offerings include Raw Frozen and Raw Freeze-Dried Chicken, Beef, Duck, Lamb, Pheasant, Pork, Rabbit, Turkey and Sardine, Venison, and Quail Formulas. All meat is from cage-free animals or grass-fed, free-range animals, or wild caught fish. Products are manufactured in a human food grade facility and animals are raised in the US and New Zealand on farms and ranches that practice agriculture in as sustainable way as possible when dealing with animals. This means no use of added hormones, steroids or antibiotics.
The Turkey & Sardine Raw Freeze-Dried (View Price on Amazon) formula comprises 40% protein, 23% fat, 2% fiber, 4% moisture, and is made up of 77% turkey, 10% sardine, 11% produce, and 2% supplements. Organ meat makes up 9% of the formula, and 11% of the ingredients are organic. There’s around 10% bone content in here too. The Primal Pet Foods Raw Canine Turkey & Sardine Freeze-Dried Formula is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for All Life Stages.
That said, the company is transparent about how the formulas were created by the owner of Primal, who isn’t a vet or a nutritionist, albeit with the help of a registered veterinarian. They offer full nutrient profiles of every formula and are somewhat transparent about where they source their ingredients (by country only).
I’d like to see some certification to back up the claims that, for example, fish is wild caught and meat is organic, and I’ve emailed the company for clarification on this issue. Still, Primal looks like a good option if you’re keen to use a BARF diet for your dog (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) but want to avoid having to grind, chop, pulverize, measure, and process raw foods daily.
Ingredients (Turkey & Sardine Raw Freeze-Dried):
Turkey, Turkey Necks, Whole Sardines, Turkey Hearts or Turkey Gizzards, Turkey Livers, Organic Collard Greens, Organic Squash, Organic Cranberries, Organic Blueberries, Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Celery, Organic Sunflower Seeds, Montmorillonite Clay, Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Organic Cilantro, Organic Ginger, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Quinoa Sprout Powder, Organic Ground Alfalfa, Dried Organic Kelp, Organic Rosemary Extract, Vitamin E Supplement.
Highlights: Concentrated, air-dried dog food created by a veterinarian. Suitable for adult dogs and large-breed puppies. Mainly cow-based and entirely natural and human food grade.
Sundays is a family-owned American company that offers jerky-like dog food based largely on cow components. The beef, cow bones, and organ meats come from a local family farm in the Midwest and are 100% human grade. Sundays makes its food in a USDA-monitored kitchen using processing methods that meet FDA safety standards for human food.
Sundays formula meets AAFCO guidelines for complete and balanced nutrition using natural sources only. This dog food is suitable for adult dogs and for large-breed puppies that will weigh more than 70 lbs. as adults. It provides a minimum of 35% crude protein, 20% crude fat, and a maximum of 2% crude fiber, with just 15% moisture.
The air-dried processing makes Sundays about twice as dense as most kibble, meaning you feed about half the amount you’d expect. Alongside the ‘clean’ ingredients list, this is the main reason Sundays makes the cut, given the savings in shipping thanks to the smaller bulk.
The formula includes pumpkin and ginger to support digestion and the cow constituents provide a natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin to help support joint health. The air-drying helps preserve a lot of the nutrients in the fruits and vegetables and this formula includes omega 3 and 6 fatty acids from natural sources (flaxseed and wild salmon oil), and prebiotics.
Sundays is free of gluten, legumes, wheat, soy, rice, corn, and potatoes. It is also free of chicken or dairy, has no meat meals, added colors, artificial flavors or preservatives, and no ingredients from China. This formula is shelf-stable, needing no refrigeration nor any fancy preparation.
The company makes a big deal about having no ‘anti-nutrients’ in its formula. This term isn’t regulated, however, and you could argue that spinach is an ‘anti-nutrient’, given its oxalic acid content which hinders the absorption of iron and calcium.
USDA Beef, Beef Liver, Beef Bone, Pumpkin, Millet, Wild Salmon Oil, Sunflower Oil, Kale, Flaxseed, Zucchini, Sea Salt, Parsely, Kelp, Chicory Root, Turmeric, Mixed Tocopherols, Ginger, Selenium Yeast, Blueberries, Carrots, Apples, Tomatoes, Shiitake Mushrooms, Broccoli, Oranges, Cranberries, Spinach, Beets, Tart Cherries, Strawberries.
Best vegan dog food runner up – Benevo Organic Dog Food by Vegeco
Highlights: Nutritionally-complete and balanced dog food that’s entirely vegan. Certified organic by the Organic Food Federation UK. The product is wheat-free, non-GMO, and contains no artificial flavors or colors.
Benevo Adult Organic Dog Food (View Price on Amazon) is a nutritionally complete and balanced adult dog food from a company that’s been around since 2005. This dry kibble is certified organic by the Organic Food Federation UK and manufactured under license from the Organic Farmers and Growers UK. This dog food is wheat-free, non-GMO, and contains no artificial flavors or colors.
Benevo is a dry kibble that provides 20% protein and has an added prebiotic to support digestion. Yes, it’s plant-based, or as Benevo put it, “Animal friendly animal foods”. It’s also certified by the Vegan Society and the company get excellent marks from Ethical Consumer magazine for their environmental and humanitarian record, as well as product sustainability and animal-friendliness.
So, what’s in Benevo Organic Adult Dog Food? The kibble provides:
As vegan-friendly dog food goes, this is one of the best. That said, its top ingredient is a common allergen (soy), so I’d make sure to keep an eye out for any allergy symptoms in your pup if you switch to this from a soy-free food. This product also features omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Benevo also make their Adult Original Dog Food (View Price on Amazon), to which they recently started adding the amino acids taurine and L-carnitine. These amino acids tend to be more of an issue for cats eating a plant-based diet, but aren’t such a problem for dogs. As such, I’d definitely choose the organic option from Benevo, especially because I’m not too jazzed about the original recipe, where the top two ingredients are soy and corn. The original recipe does feature peas though and provides a higher ratio of protein (27%). Still, I’d go for the organic and add another protein source at home if you have a growing puppy or a senior dog at home.
Benevo also have a canned moist dog food, which looks fine and is nutritionally complete, organic, non-GMO, and vegan-friendly. However, as it’s designed for both dogs and cats, who are quite different animals (!), I’d be a bit wary of using this food exclusively for long stretches of time. And, if you’re looking to feed a puppy, Benevo offer a tailor-made Puppy Food providing a more concentrated source of nutrients needed for those early months of rapid growth.
Organic soya bean, organic rice, organic barley, organic oats, organic sunflower oil, brewers yeast, beet pulp, vitamins and minerals, fructooligosaccharides (prebiotic FOS; min. 0.1%), yucca schidigera extract (min. 0.05%).
Vitamins and minerals: Vitamin A (as retinyl acetate) 17,224 IU, Vitamin D2 (as ergocalciferol) 2,392 IU, Vitamin E 120 IU; Iron (as Ferrous Sulphate Monohydrate) 159 mg, Zinc (as Zinc Sulphate Monohydrate) 133 mg, Manganese (as Manganous Sulphate Monohydrate) 105 mg, Copper (as Cupric Sulphate Pentahydrate) 45 mg, Selenium (as Sodium Selenite) 0.6 mg, Iodine (as Calcium Iodate Anhydrous) 1.5 mg. Linoleic Acid (Omega 6) 6.54%, Linolenic Acid (Omega 3) 0.46%.
Highlights: Offer four varieties of dog food as wet food and dry kibble, with the fish variety certified sustainably caught by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Downside: only available in the UK.
Beco makes one of my top picks for sustainable, safe dog balls as well as healthy and sustainable dog food. Unfortunately, the food is not currently available in the US, which is why they’re only a runner-up on this list.
Beco offers four varieties of dog food, as wet food and dry kibble, all of which contain animal products: chicken, boar, fish, and turkey. The fowl are all free-range (though this term is far from reassuring) and the boar are caught in the wild. The fish variety is the only one of these I’d recommend, given that it’s certified sustainably caught by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Rather than coming in a can, the wet food is packed in an eco-friendly recyclable Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) tetrapack made from 70% renewable resources. The food itself comprises 50% Sustainably Caught MSC Tuna, Green Peas (7.5%), Pumpkin (4%), Sunflower Oil, Algae, Minerals, and Lignocellulose.
The dry food is sustainably caught cod and haddock with kale, chickpeas and a few other healthy ingredients. This food provides a good amount of omega 3 and 6 but is otherwise low-fat and grain-free. This dry kibble provides 22% protein, 10% fats, 3.5% fiber, 8% moisture, and 333.5 kcal per 100 gram.
Wannabeco Ltd., the company behind Beco, is well rated by Ethical Consumer Magazine for its responsibility to people, the environment, and animals, as well as for company politics and product sustainability.
The company donates 5% of profits to charity, organizes things like litter-picks and other planet-friendly events, make dog toys and chews out of recycled and upcycled materials, and even offer compostable poop bags made from corn. It would be great if they also provided a plant-based food option, so get in touch with their team if you want to give them a little encouragement.
Sadly, Beco has no U.S. distributor. So, if you’re keen on this one, do us all a favor and set up an import business!
40% Freshly Prepared MSC Cod & Haddock, Potato, Peas, Chickpeas, Potato Protein, Pea Protein, Sunflower Oil, Brewer’s Yeast, Lucerne, Minerals, Vitamins, Salmon Oil, Fresh Free Range Egg, Broccoli, Kale, Vegetable Stock, Chicory, Bilberry, Mulberry, Chamomile, Rosehips, Milk Thistle, Burdock Root, Stinging Nettle, Cleavers, Fennel, Marigold, Aniseed, Fenugreek, Grapeseed Extract, Spirulina.
Nutritional additives (per Kg): Vitamins; Vitamin A 14,400 IU, Vitamin D3 2,160 IU; Trace Elements: Ferrous Chelate of Amino Acids Hydrate 320 mg, Manganous Chelate of Amino Acids Hydrate 224 mg, Zinc Chelate of Amino Acids Hydrate 320 mg, Cupric Chelate of Amino Acids Hydrate 144 mg, Calcium Iodate Anhydrous 1.57 mg, Organic Selenium S. cerevisiae CNCM 1-3060 125 mg/kg.
More runners-up for the best dog food!
Some other companies worthy of mention as good options for dog food include Instinct (View Price on Amazon). This company sources meat from cage-free poultry and pigs, and free-range bison and cows, all from US farmers, as well as free-range lamb and venison from Australia and New Zealand and rabbit from Italy and France. The rest of their ingredients are mostly sourced in the US.
Vital Essentials (View Price on Amazon) are also worth checking out. This company claims to use only suppliers who adhere to humane and ethical handling and slaughter practices, with beef sourced from cows raised on pasture in Wisconsin, fish and boar caught in the wild, and rabbits raised on Amish family farms.
As mentioned earlier, my top recommendation for eco-friendly, healthy dog food (if you want to feed your dog meat) is to use the Honest Kitchen base mixes and add locally sourced, high-quality meat. To really reduce the environmental impact, though, transition your pup to a balanced plant-based diet.