What Is The Best Dog Food in Australia?

Last Updated January 2024

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski, BVSC (Hons) and last updated by Dr Gillian Hill, BVSC (Hons)

With so many different types of pet food available these days, and with so many conflicting opinions out there, it can be difficult to know what food is truly best for your pet.

The food you provide for your dog plays a crucial role in their health and wellbeing, both in the short term and the long term. And the truth is, not all pet foods are created equal.

What are the Top Dog Food Brands in Australia?

One pet parent's definition of 'best' can be different to another's: it depends what you value most. Some place value in Australian made food, while others may prefer foods which are grain free or made using natural or raw ingredients. To make the process clear, we've collated 4 key categories below: 'High Meat Content', 'Tailored & Scientific', 'Natural Ingredients' and 'Australian Made'.

1. High Meat Content 2. Tailored/Scientific 3. Natural Ingredients 4. Australian Made

For puppies

Open Farm

Royal Canin

Black Hawk

Advance

For all breeds

K9 Natural

Hill's Science Diet

Open Farm

Vetalogica

For large breeds

Wellness Core Large Breed

Advance

Black Hawk

Pro Plan

For small breeds

Ziwi

Pro Plan

Hills Science Diet

Savourlife

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What Foods Do Vets Not Recommend?

Supermarket pet foods are often complete and balanced but lack the additional benefits and nutritional analysis seen in Premium Brand Pet Food. We all want value for money and it is easy to think that the cheapest product on the shelf will give you the best bang for your buck. While many pet parents may be deterred from premium quality brands due to their upfront costs, when you look at the 'price per meal' you may be shocked to realise that more expensive premium brands may overall be better value for money. Take a look at the Real Cost of Supermarket Food for more information.

Many budget products are not specific when listing their ingredients, often including an "and/or" between meat proteins and cereals. If an ingredient is written as beef and/or poultry and/or lamb, this means the manufacturer can use any combination of those ingredients. This is a common loophole used by cheaper brands as it gives the manufacturer greater flexibility with the formula of the food. Depending on supply and demand costs, the formula can change per batch. This can create issues for your dog - sudden changes to their diet can cause digestive upsets such as bloating, vomiting, diarrhoea, flatulence and constipation. Plus, if your pet has a sensitivity to one particular protein, there is the potential for a reaction if the recipe changes. In contrast, premium foods are designed to be highly digestible (which means smaller, firmer stools) and do not change ingredients batch to batch like grocery type brands, which means less tummy upsets.

Premium foods also tend to contain higher levels of added beneficial nutrients, such as omega fatty acids for joint and skin health, and are backed by testing to ensure they deliver the results they promise. Short term effects of feeding a cheap, poor-quality food include dank or dull hair coat, large smelly 'landmine' poos due to reduced digestibility of the ingredients, skin issues, a weak immune system, and gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhoea. Long term effects can include poorer joint quality, obesity, urinary issues, quicker aging, and a reduced lifespan.

How do our Vets assess dog food

There are several factors which go into assessing the quality and suitability of a food for an individual dog. Primarily, the most important consideration is that the diet is complete and balanced for a dog's stage of life. Ensuring that it meets AAFCO or FEDIAF pet food control guidelines is crucial to ensure that dogs receive all the nutrients they require in the correct ratios.

Then, the quality of the ingredients and the digestibility of the nutrients they provide is the next consideration. High-quality sources of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals are preferred, with specific attention to meat or meat meals as primary protein sources. Learning how to read pet food labels and knowing the ingredients in your dog's food is a crucial part of knowing what is the best food for them.

Our Vets also consider the food's manufacturing process and whether it adheres to quality and safety standards to prevent contamination or degradation of nutrients, and ethical, sustainable and humane methods of ingredient sourcing.

In addition, our Veterinarians often rely on their clinical experience to evaluate how different dog foods impact dogs' health and well-being. Observing how dogs respond to specific diets in terms of coat quality, energy levels, and gastrointestinal health is informative.

What To Consider When Choosing Food For Your Dog

When assessing what is the best dog food on the Australian market, there are a number of criteria we need to look at.

1. Animal protein content: more meat, fewer 'fillers'

2. Optimal nutrients, and thorough testing

3. Specific ingredient names

4. Free from artificial nasties

5. Place of manufacture: is it locally made?

6. Breed Specific Diets

7. Wet vs Dry Food


1. Animal Protein Content

While it's not a sweeping rule, generally pet food that is higher in animal protein (as opposed to cheaper plant-based protein) is considered more digestible for our furry friends, and better quality overall.

How can you tell if your pet food is high in meat? In the pet food industry, all ingredients are required to be listed on the label in order of weight. This means that the ingredients listed first make up the largest proportion of the recipe.

Why Meat is Important: Are dogs carnivores?

Strangely enough, the question as to whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores is actually unclear and frequently debated. Many people assume that dogs are carnivores because they evolved from wild, wolf-like ancestors.

The truth is, modern dogs are actually omnivores. Fifteen thousand years spent living alongside humans has resulted in the development of a highly adaptive canine metabolism, and the evolution of three new genes related to starch and glucose digestion. Domestic even dogs produce carbohydrate-digesting enzymes in their digestive tract which other carnivores, such as cats, do not.

Plant-based ingredients are in fact an important part of a dog's diet as they contribute fibre, as well as important vitamins and minerals that dogs need for longevity. Read more here about the benefits of grains in dog food.

However, while dogs can digest grains and plant-based proteins, they are still best suited to a diet high in meat and animal protein.

This means, when looking at ingredients, it's generally best to look for foods that list meat or animal proteins as the first ingredient, if not the first few ingredients.

An easy rule to use is that if the food contains two out of the first three ingredients as whole-meat sources, it's a winner. However, note that some cheap pet food brands tend to 'split' their carbohydrate ingredients to make them seem like a smaller portion. An example of this is by listing 'wheat' as a second ingredient, and then 'wheat bran' lower down the list. This avoids having to list 'wheat' as the first ingredient and therefore makes another ingredient, such as meat, seem more prominent.

Top Diets with High Meat Content


2. Balanced nutrients, thorough testing and quality assurance

'Nutrients' are not the same as 'ingredients'. An ingredient is something like 'chicken' or 'wheat', whereas a nutrient is a measurable element such as 'protein' or 'Vitamin C'. Every individual ingredient contains all nutrients in varying amounts. It might help to think of nutrients as the 'building blocks' of ingredients. Nutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, fibre, and water.

Why is this important to know? Well, it's all well and good to have a beautiful selection of nice-sounding ingredients, but if the nutrients are all out of whack, your dog won't get everything they need.

International guidelines are set out for pet food manufacturers which detail minimum levels of nutrients required for each life stage. The most widely used guidelines are those set out by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). However, it's important to note that these are guidelines only, and usually only detail 'minimum' requirements. If a food contains too much of a nutrient, it may still qualify as 'meeting standards', but may in fact provide your dog with too much of a nutrient (and in the case of some nutrients, this can potentially do damage over time).

Many of the higher-end premium pet food brands conduct laboratory analyses and studies to determine the optimum levels of nutrients in their food, as well as regular batch testing to ensure consistency. (So, it's not just the high quality food you pay a little more for - it's the extra attention to safety standards too!)

Top Foods for Nutrients, Research, and Quality Assurance


3. Consistent Recipes

Another way to judge whether a pet food is of a high quality is by determining whether the recipe is consistent and specific, or 'open' and likely to change between batches.

What is an 'open' recipe? As a method of cost-cutting, many cheaper pet food brands opportunistically source ingredients based on availability at the time. Perhaps there are more chicken carcasses available from the human chain this month? Poultry it is! Next month there'll be a lot produced by the pork industry, so it'll be pork by products next month!

On the other hand, high quality pet foods always stick to the same recipe, using the same quantity of each ingredient every time. This makes for an honest recipe with no surprises, and is particularly important for dogs with food allergies.

Common examples of vague terms found in ingredient lists include 'meat and their by-products', 'cereals and their by-products', 'vegetables', and that ever confusing term 'and/or'. If you see these words in an ingredient list, you can almost guarantee their recipe is ambiguous and may change opportunistically batch by batch.

To compare, ingredients from a high quality pet food tend to name the specific meat, grain or vegetable. You will see words like 'lamb', 'barley', or 'sweet potato', rather than 'meat', 'cereal' or 'vegetable'.

What is 'meat meal'?

Many people cringe at the term 'meat meal', as they assume it is similar to a 'byproduct'. However, the word 'meal' is not anything to bawk at - it basically means 'dehydrated meat', and it just implies that the meat protein could be derived from other parts of the animal. However, do keep in mind that 'beef meal' is more specific than 'meat meal', likewise 'chicken meal' compared to 'poultry meal'. (Remember what we said about specific names before?)

Ultimately, if your pet has no food allergies, 'open' recipes won't do them any harm. But the consistency of a recipe is an easy way to determine the integrity and quality of a pet food overall.


4. Avoid artificial colours, preservatives, flavours, or sweeteners

Most people prefer to avoid artificial 'nasties' in their own food, and it's no different for our furry friends. While many additives may be harmless, some can cause deleterious effects over time. And with so many natural alternatives, artificial additives are simply unecessary nowadays.

Some cheaper pet foods still add artificial colours to their food. We're sorry to say it, but this truly is unnecessary - rest assured, your dog doesn't mind what colour their food is. Artificial colours are only added to appease pet owners.

Likewise, some cheaper pet food companies also add sweeteners such as corn syrup, sucrose, or ammoniated glycyrrhizin to cheaply increase the calorie content, or to improve the taste (because even cardboard tastes good if you cover it in syrup!). This can lead to weight gain and nutrient imbalances.

What about preservatives? Artificial preservatives to steer clear of include ethoxyquin, BHA, or BHT. Instead, look for a recipe that uses natural preservatives, such as tocopherols (such as Vitamin E), vitamin C, and rosemary extract. However, note that because they are natural, of course they don't work for quite as long as artificial preservatives, so always check the expiry date!

Top Dog Foods for Natural Ingredients



5. Is the food locally made?

While this shouldn't be used as a black-and-white rule when judging the quality of a pet food, it can be useful to check the place of manufacture. Buying locally can have major benefits both for you and your pup.

Why buy Australian Made dog food? Considering recent pet food recalls due to deficiencies or contaminated food, one can never be too careful. Many dog owners find it comforting to know they're buying food from trusted, 'first world' Australian facilities (with nationally controlled manufacturing factories, quality assurance, and OH+S standards).

There is also a financial benefit: buying locally avoids unecessary import costs. This all adds up to a better good quality pet food for a much fairer price. Plus, buying locally produced pet food ultimately helps support our economy!

Below we've listed which pet foods are Made in Australia, and which are not.

MADE INTERNATIONALLY:

See our list of Australian-made pet products.


6. Breed specific diets

Since different breeds of dogs often have different health and conformation issues, targeting a dog's food towards their specific breed requirements is one of the best ways to support their health and vitality on a day-to-day basis. Certain premium food brands such as Royal Canin and Advance have formulated particular breed or dog-group specific diets, designed to support common health and conformation issues in those breeds. They achieve this through the inclusion of particular ingredients for different breeds or groups, such as glucosamine, chondroitin and green-lipped mussel powder for joint support in large breed dogs, omega fatty acids for skin and coat health in dogs prone to skin issues or with luxurious coats, and adapted calorie content for dog breeds prone to weight gain. Some also have adapted kibble shapes and sizes to make it easier for dogs to pick up and chew, making the dining experience more enjoyable!

Among many others, Royal Canin produce breed specific diets for Labradors, French Bulldogs, Schnauzers and Boxers.

In the Advance line of breed-group specific foods, there are foods for Retrievers, Oodles, Shepherds, Maltese crosses and Terriers.

A breed specific diet is by no means necessary, but knowing your specific breed's ideal nutritional requirements is important, to ensure that they are reaping the maximum benefit from their food. Check out some of our breed specific dietary recommendations in our 'Best Of' articles, like:
Best Food for German Shepherds
Best Food for Poodles
Best Food for Staffies
Best Food for Golden Retrievers


7. Do Dogs Need Both Wet & Dry Food?

Dogs can thrive on a diet that includes either wet or dry food, or a combination of both, depending on their individual needs and preferences. Both wet and dry dog foods offer unique advantages.

Dry Dog Food Benefits:
  • Convenience: Dry food is convenient to store, handle, and serve. It has a longer shelf life and doesn't require refrigeration once opened.
  • Dental Health: Some types of dry food can help maintain dental health by promoting chewing and reducing plaque buildup.
  • Cost-Effective: Generally more cost-effective than wet food due to its longer shelf life and lower production costs.
Wet Dog Food Benefits:
  • Hydration: Contains higher moisture content, which can be beneficial for dogs that don't drink enough water or those with urinary issues. It can help keep dogs better hydrated.
  • Palatability: Often more palatable due to its aroma and texture, making it appealing for picky eaters or dogs with dental issues.
  • Variety: Available in various flavors and textures, providing options for dogs with specific tastes.

Combining both wet and dry food can offer a balanced diet while providing variety and addressing different nutritional needs. Some dog owners mix wet and dry food to create a more enticing meal or to provide additional hydration without compromising the convenience of dry food.

So which pet food brands make the cut?

Open Farm

Open Farm Pet Food hits the mark in both ethics and nutrition. This new-to-Australia brand is the first ethically raised and sourced pet food, and each formula is complete and balanced in accordance with veterinary nutritionists. Open Farm recipes use 100% Certified Humane meats, ocean-caught fish sourced in accordance with Seafood Watch standards, and their entire supply chain is audited and certified by third party organisations which ensure humane and sustainable farming practices. They also partner with TerraCycle to create the very first pet food bag recycling program.

Instinctive Bite

Instinctive Bite is designed with a high meat content to nourish your dog's carnivorous side. With varieties both with and without grains, Instinctive Bite caters to all types of dogs. And with no soy, wheat, tapioca, or corn, all recipes are gluten free. Instinctive Bite is also made in Australia from Australian ingredients.

Advance

Advance Advance's super premium, Australian made pet food is produced alongside Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition; a principal authority in the latest pet food research. Advance makes all their food in Australia, between their two sites at Albury-Wodonga and Bathurst, and design their recipes with the Aussie climate in mind. Advance has recently had a complete facelift with new packaging and improved formulas tailored to small, medium or large breed dogs.

Ivory Coat

Ivory Coat is highly premium and Australian-made. The food is high in protein (but not too high!), and always contains meat or specified meat meal as the first ingredient. Their formulas are free from artificial nasties and often contain beneficial ingredients such as coconut oil, flaxseed, fibre sources and prebiotics. Their seafood dry dog variety has a strong reputation as being a 'miracle' for dogs with skin issues.

Savourlife

Savourlife has a reputation for their dedication to rescue dogs, with 10% of all profits donated to shelter dogs. But goodwill aside, their food is also seriously great quality. With single-protein formulas - which are great for dogs with suspect food allergies - they are also Made in Australia, high in protein and completely balanced. Their formulas are free from artificial nasties and often contain beneficial ingredients such as coconut oil, flaxseed, and prebiotics.

Canidae

Canidae pet foods contain high quality ingredients, and in particular most of their 'Pure' range lists meat or animal protein as their first three ingredients. Free from artificial preservatives, colours, flavours, and sweeteners, and fully in line with nutritional guidelines for different lifestages, Canidae definitely exceeds all criteria.

Hill's Science Diet

Hill's Science Diet is known for its research in the field of pet nutrition, and has always been a leader in the therapeutic diet space. Produced with high quality ingredients (and with animal protein usually coming first in the ingredients list!), Hills food is completely balanced and stringently tested to ensure quality. Hills focuses on purposeful nutrition, which means they produce diets to specifically help certain aspects of your pet's health, without compromising on the ingredients.

What foods should a dog not eat?

We all want to show our dogs that they're loved, and a very common way to do this is through food. However, it's very important to be aware that some foods can be toxic to dogs, particularly chocolate, grapes, onions and garlic, avocado, products containing xylitol, alcohol, macadamia nuts, high fat foods and cooked bones.

Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are toxic to dogs and can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures, and even death.
Grapes (and their dried forms: raisins, sultanas and currants can lead to kidney failure in dogs, causing symptoms like vomiting, lethargy, and decreased urine production.
• Onions and Garlic contain compounds that can damage a dog's red blood cells, leading to anaemia and other health issues.
• Avocado contains persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs.
• Xylitol is found in many sugar-free products like gum and candy. It is highly toxic to dogs and can cause a rapid release of insulin, leading to low blood sugar levels and liver failure.
• Alcohol, even in small amounts can cause intoxication, vomiting, coordination issues, coma, and death in dogs.
• Macadamia Nuts can result in weakness, tremors, vomiting, and hyperthermia in dogs.
• High fat foods like bacon and fat trimmings can lead to pancreatitis and digestive upset in dogs.
• Cooked bones can splinter and cause internal injuries or obstructions in a dog's digestive tract. Raw bones also carry risks including bacterial contamination, broken teeth and constipation - you can read more here about the benefits and risks of raw bones for dogs.


All in all, choosing a dog food is a personal choice. If you can equip yourself with a keen eye and the ability to read a label, you can help take the guesswork out of which pet food is best for your pet.

Further Reading

Premium pet food: Is it worth it?

Does your dog have a food allergy?

How diet can help your senior pet

What's in your pet's food?

How to read the label on a bag of pet food

Exploring Grain-Free Pet Food

Ethically-Made and Sustainable Pet Food

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