If you can’t consistently afford a 5-star or a 4-star dog food, then a 3-star dog food might be a good option. A 3-star dog food might not be quite as high in protein and it might rely a little more heavily on plant-based ingredients, but it should still meet your dog’s nutritional needs and you can definitely find 3-star dog foods that are perfectly adequate. Don’t just pick a 3-star dog food because it is cheap, however – you still need to take a look at the guaranteed analysis and the ingredients list to make sure it will meet your dog’s needs.

What Does It Take for a Dog Food Brand to Earn 3 Stars?

As long as the product is verified by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as complete and balanced for dogs, you can assume that a 3-star dog food will meet your dog’s nutritional requirements. The difference between a 3-star dog food and a higher rated brand is in the quality of the ingredients and the use of fillers. Many 3-star dog foods will list a fresh meat or meat meal as the first ingredient and primary source of protein, but that won’t always be the case. Some 3-star dog foods use by-product meals and generic proteins (like poultry meal instead of chicken meal). These ingredients are not necessarily bad, but it is more difficult to judge their quality. It is also fairly common for 3-star dog foods to include plant protein concentrates like pea protein to increase the crude protein value without adding more expensive meat ingredients.

Another difference between a 3-star dog food and a better brand is that the 3-star dog food may use corn, wheat, and soy ingredients. These ingredients are usually used as fillers to bulk up the product without significantly increasing the cost for the manufacturer. Fillers like this may also be used as supplementary sources of protein, though you wouldn’t guess by looking at names like “corn gluten meal”. In many cases, a 3-star dog food will make fairly heavy use of plant-based ingredients and supplementary fibers, so the crude fiber content will almost definitely be over 5%. Some 3-star dog foods are made with whole grains and there are gluten-free and grain-free options as well. In most cases, however, the primary carbohydrate is either white rice or white potatoes which some animal nutritionists believe are low-quality grains in terms of nutrition.

When you are looking at the ingredients list for a 3-star dog food, you might notice that it is longer than a 4-star or a 5-star dog food. In many cases, that will be because lower quality brands tend to make heavier use of synthetic supplements. Dog foods that are heavy in low-quality fillers often require additional supplementation to bring the food up to AAFCO nutritional requirements. Some 3-star dog foods will include chelated minerals, but many do not and most do not include probiotics. You might also see more extracts as well as artificial additives like colors, flavors, and preservatives, though not in all cases. In general, you can assume that many of the synthetic supplements used are necessary to replace nutrients that were lost when the product was subjected to high-heat cooking processes.

Top Recommended 3-Star Brands

When it comes to choosing a dog food, you might have to make a compromise and choose a mid-quality brand if that’s the best you can consistently afford. A 3-star dog food is not going to be as good as a 4- or 5-star brand, but some of the 3-star dog foods on this list are made with quality ingredients and offer decent nutritional value. Just remember that you need to be extra careful about evaluating the quality of dog food brands that have lower star ratings to ensure that they will still meet your dog’s minimum nutritional requirements. Here are some of the top-rated dog food brands on the market that get our 3-star rating:

We don’t all have bottomless pockets and you have to be practical when it comes to choosing your dog’s food. Choosing one of the brands on this list might not be as good as a 4- or 5-star brand, but you’ll still be meeting your dog’s nutritional needs in the best way you can afford. It might be worth it, however, to see if you can find one of the brands from the 4-star list at a similar price to the brand you’re currently buying. You might be surprised!

Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate holds a certificate in fitness nutrition and enjoys writing about health and wellness trends — she also enjoys crafting original recipes. In addition to her work as a ghostwriter and author, Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.

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