Once upon a time there was something called “dog food.” You went to the store and you had a few brands to choose from. It didn’t matter much which dog food you bought because nobody thought much about dog food or what they fed their dogs. In fact, a lot of people were just as likely to feed their dogs scraps or leftovers. If you lived on a farm, you might feed your dog some eggs and feed leftover from feeding the stock, along with some leftover meat from the kitchen. Most dogs didn’t live as long back then but whether that was because of nutrition or disease or because most of them ran loose, it’s hard to say.
Times change. Beginning in the 1980s and ’90s, dog food manufacturers began looking for ways to gain greater market share. They all had basic dog foods but they wanted to find ways to get more people to buy their brands. Soon after, some of the big dog food companies, such as Eukanuba, Purina, Hill’s-Science Diet, and Waltham began spending more money on research and development. They were producing veterinary formulas and prescription diets for dogs with allergies and other health problems. Little by little, dog food companies began using some of their research and making “premium” pet foods that were geared toward owners who wanted to buy what was sold as a healthier dog food.
Lamb and rice dog foods were some of the first foods to appear on shelves as “premium” foods at this time. Cooking lamb from the butcher or grocery store and rice had been recommended by veterinarians for dogs with skin problems and food allergies for years. Once premium dog foods came along, lamb and rice began appearing as a regular option for dogs that you could buy on the shelf. Soon nearly every company had lamb and rice dog foods. Today lamb and rice dog food is so widespread that some dogs are allergic to lamb.
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Other foods followed and soon “premium” wasn’t good enough anymore. Every dog food company claimed that their food was premium. Marketers created the term “super premium” or “ultra premium.” Dog foods claimed to be “natural” and “holistic” – terms that have virtually no meaning when it comes to dog food. Corn, wheat, and soy have been banished from most ordinary dog foods, replaced by other carbs or different grains. “Grain free” is popular now, though not every dog needs to eat a grain free diet for health reasons.
Terms like “super premium” are really just marketing terms, though you may find it convenient to lump together certain kinds of dog foods in this category. These foods are usually more expensive and sometimes will have better ingredients – but not always. Some foods have more meat protein, but not always. Many of the foods will not use artificial preservatives, sweeteners, or colorings. Other things super premium foods may have in common include increased testing of the food before, during, or after production. Some of the foods will contain some organic ingredients or human grade ingredients before manufacture, but this varies from company to company.
Dog food companies want you to see their foods as belonging to this higher echelon category but it’s really something that they have created. What’s really important is reading the label and understanding the ingredients yourself so you know what you are buying for your dog. Terms like “super premium” are much less important than what is actually in the food.
In fact, the dog food market is currently saturated with “super premium” dog foods and the term has lost much of its meaning, leaving dog food companies looking for other ways to try to prove that their foods are better than their competitors’ foods.
6 Best Super Premium Dog Foods
With all of the dog foods claiming to be “super,” “ultra” premium today, which ones are really the best? It’s always hard to select a “best” food since every dog is different. Small dogs, large dogs, puppies, working dogs, dogs with allergies – not every dog needs the same dog food even if the food has great ingredients.
Things we look for in a great super premium dog food include good sources of meat protein – and plenty of it; lower carbohydrates; foods that are gluten-free; antioxidants; omega 3s from fish sources; and some of the “extras” that make a food stand out like being pea-free or potato-free, or making their food in their own pet food facilities. We toss out foods that have things we don’t like. We also try to distinguish between the real facts about the foods and the hype.
Here are the six foods we believe actually live up to the hype. For the most part, these are not big name brands but we think they’re special. Be sure to check out Pawster.com for reviews if you need more advice.
Canidae Grain Free PURE Fields Small Breed Formula
Canidae has lots of good dog and puppy foods. Canidae Grain Free PURE is a limited ingredient line of formulas with fresh meat or fish as the first ingredient. The foods have 7-10 ingredients, along with vitamins and minerals. The Canidae PURE line has kibbles, canned foods, trays, and biscuits. They also have special recipes for small breeds. Canidae Grain Free PURE Fields Small Breed Formula is GMO-free, grain free, and made with whole foods for gentle digestion. It’s a limited ingredient diet for dogs that have had food sensitivities. Even for dogs who haven’t had any sensitivities, these are good ingredients for a healthy diet. The first five ingredients are: chicken, menhaden fish meal, peas, lentils, and potatoes. It has 30 percent crude protein and 12 percent crude fat with 520 kcal/cup. It’s formulated for adult small breed dogs and it is a maintenance formula so it’s not appropriate for puppies. With natural preservatives, chelated minerals, and probiotics, we think this is an excellent super premium dog food for small breeds. We like the entire line of Canidae Grain Free PURE kibbles.
Kasik’s Free-Run Chicken Meal Formula
Kasik’s is a Canadian company that also makes First Mate. In fact, you may find this food packaged as First Mate Free-Run Chicken Meal Formula. (Chewy.com lists the First Mate Free-Run Chicken Meal Formula as GMO-free while the Kasik’s formula is listed as gluten-free, but we’re not sure if they are really very different. Some of their canned foods also seem to have interchangeable labels and we’re not sure in what ways they are different.) They have long been known for making outstanding canned/wet dog foods. Their kibbles appear to be just as good. This formula is grain and gluten-free with a single meat protein, with antioxidants, high fiber, and it’s potato-free. Sixty percent of the protein in the food comes from free-run chicken meal which we consider a very good source of meat protein. Kasik’s has their own pet food facilities and makes their own foods in British Columbia. The first five ingredients in this food are: chicken meal, chickpeas, red lentils, green lentils, and green peas. It has 25 percent crude protein, 12 percent crude fat, with only 6 percent ash. It has 505 kcal/cup. This is an all life stage formula. We are happy to recommend Kasik and First Mate foods.
Sport Dog Food Elite Grain Free Beef Meal 30/14
Formulated for sporting and working dogs, Sport Dog Food cooks this food with low heat then sprays it with salmon oil, herring oil, probiotics, freeze-dried proteins, and other ingredients. This is a GMO-free, gluten-free, grain free, white potato-free, and pea-free formula. It has no corn, wheat, soy, or gluten. No chicken, rice, or eggs. It has a single source of protein – pasture-raised beef – which reduces the chance of allergic reactions. It has active enzymes, probiotics, antioxidants, and trace minerals, along with optimum levels of calcium and phosphorus. Omega 3 fatty acids come from the salmon oil and herring oil. All ingredients and packaging are sourced in the U.S. Seventy-six percent of the food’s protein comes from beef meal. This food has 30 percent protein, 14 percent fat, and 454 kcal/cup. It has 32 percent carbohydrates. The first five ingredients are: beef meal, freeze-dried sweet potato, freeze-dried beef liver, freeze-dried pumpkin, and freeze-dried blueberries. This is an all life stage food. If you are very picky about where ingredients are sourced or how foods are raised, we think you might like Sport Dog Foods. Check them out and be sure to read the details. They also have chicken and other recipes.
Farmina Grain Free Chicken
Farmina is an Italian pet food company though their foods have been available in the U.S. for several years. You can read about the company on their web site. Along with their grain free foods they also make some excellent low grain/ancestral diet formulas. They use human grade regional ingredients. Their foods are GMO-free and gluten-free and they use no meals or by-products. Their products are made with animal cruelty-free testing. They use no artificial preservatives and they are low glycemic. Their grain free foods are made with 70 percent meat or fish. The first five ingredients in their grain free chicken formula are: deboned chicken, dehydrated chicken (source of glucosamine & chondroitin sulfate), potato, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), and dehydrated egg product. This food is 37 percent crude protein and 18 percent crude fat. It has 467 kcal/cup. The food also includes glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support. This is an all life stage formula. Farmina makes foods for dogs of different sizes and puppy foods. They also have formulas in lamb, herring, wild cod, and boar. They have recently introduced skin & coat formulas made with quinoa. We think the Farmina foods, both grain free and the low-grain formulas, are some of the best super premium foods available in the U.S. today.
Wild Calling Western Plains Stampede Turkey Recipe
Wild Calling has lots of foods that are good for dogs with allergies or food sensitivities but you can certainly feed them to other dogs as well. They make both kibbles and canned foods. Their Western Plains Stampede line has a single source of protein. The foods can be fed as part of a rotational diet with other Wild Calling formulas. They have no grain or gluten, no chicken, egg, no corn, no soy, or yeast culture. Seventy-five percent of the protein comes from animal sources. The first five ingredients in the turkey formula are: turkey, turkey meal, sweet potato, lentils, and chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid). It has 25 percent crude protein and 18 percent crude fat with 405 kcal/cup. This is an all life stage food. We think this is a good food with good ingredients that avoids a lot of ingredients that can be problems for some dogs. If you’re not familiar with Wild Calling, take a look at them.
Nulo Freestyle Adult Dog Salmon & Peas Recipe
Started in Texas just a few years ago, Nulo has become a respected national brand with foods featuring grain free diets with lots of meat protein. Along with their popular kibble formulas they also make limited ingredient diets, wet/canned foods, freeze-dried foods, training treats, and jerky strips. Their Freestyle Adult Dog Salmon & Peas Recipe has 80 percent animal protein and it’s low in carbohydrates. It’s grain free with no white potatoes or tapioca. Nulo uses a patented, pure probiotic strain that supports gastrointestinal health. Their recipes have no eggs or chicken proteins. They have omega 3 fatty acids from real salmon which is great for your dog’s skin and coat. Their ingredients are low-glycemic to support steady blood sugar levels. You can read more about Nulo’s nutrition here. The first five ingredients in this food are: deboned salmon, turkey meal, menhaden fish meal, whole peas, and sweet potato. It has 30 percent crude protein and 16 percent crude fat with 424 kcal/cup. This is a maintenance dog food. We really like the Nulo foods and highly recommend them.
Choosing the six best super premium dog foods available today has to be subjective but these are foods we really like. They have good quality ingredients and they avoid using many ingredients that can cause problems for some dogs. You may have other favorites. We certainly had other foods that could have made the list if we had more space: Holistic Select, Earthborn Holistic Venture, Canine Caviar, Health Extension, Zignature, and Brothers Complete all have great foods, to name a few. We just didn’t have room to discuss all of the foods we like.
We encourage you to take this information and check out these brands, especially if you haven’t tried some of these foods before. And, remember, you can always check our reviews on Pawster.com for more suggestions!