Dog Food Buying Guide

Last Updated April 2024

Subscription dog food delivery companies have exploded—and so have their claims about the quality and nutrition of their food. There are now dozens of brands that will ship pet meals directly to your door, and each one promises to be the most nutritious, tastiest food that will have your dog setting world records for tail wags. 

So how can you know which one’s right for your best buddy? With this guide, of course! We’ll help you sift through all the different meal types, learn which ingredients are actually backed by science for your pet’s longevity, and see which doggie dinners match your budget.

We’ll also cover the basics of ordering dog food online—how much to order, whether it’s safe, and how much to feed your dog each day. When you’re finished reading, you’ll have the confidence to click “buy” on the pet food delivery or subscription that’s ideal for your pup.

Dog Food Delivery Buying Basics | Dog Food Safety | What to Look for in Dog Food | How Much Does Dog Food Delivery Cost? |Which Delivery Dog Food is Best for Me? | Time to Shop: A Buyer’s Checklist for Dog Food Delivery

 

Dog Food

Dog Food Delivery Buying Basics

Having dog food delivered directly to your home is a whole new experience. Let’s dive in with some basics to make the shopping experience—and the shipping and feeding experiences—simpler.

What Types of Dog Food Are Available for Delivery?

If you look at the various brands offering dog food delivery, the types of food can seem daunting—there are wet and dry dog foods like you’re used to, but there are also air-dried kibble, “fresh” meals made of meat and vegetables, and even raw food.

Here’s a quick primer on a few varieties that may be new to you:

  • “Fresh” meals are actually lightly cooked food—these meals are made of meats like chicken, turkey, beef or lamb that’s been mixed with vegetables, starches and vitamins and minerals. Most companies that make “fresh” meals use “human-grade” ingredients, which means that the ingredients have been approved for human consumption by the USDA—but they probably wouldn’t meet your tastes! The meals are cooked into a kind of hash. These meals need to be stored in the freezer until being served.
  • Raw meals are just that—raw meat mixed with raw vegetables. So why not just feed your dog raw ground beef from the grocery store? Companies that offer raw meals, like Darwin’s Pet, say their meals are more nutritionally balanced for dogs, and also make it easier to know how much to feed Fido. These also need to be refrigerated and frozen.
  • Air-dried kibble is made by dehydrating meat and vegetables instead of cooking the food or extruding nuggets of kibble. These options are usually shelf-stable, but not for as long as “regular” dry food.

    Ultimately, the best type of dog food for your furry friend is the one that meets your dog’s nutritional needs. Your vet is a great resource if you’re unsure which dog food type that is.

    For more details on the different brands of dog food, including a list of pros and cons as well as pricing info for each, check out this helpful guide.

How and Where is Delivery Dog Food Made? 

Many dog food delivery services that make raw or “fresh” meal types prepare their meals in “USDA-approved” kitchens in the United States. This means that the kitchen where the dog food is made is approved for the production of human food. Some of these companies have their own exclusive kitchens, where only their pet food is made.

When making these “fresh” meals, the meat and vegetable ingredients are usually cooked separately (since they need to be cooked for different amounts of time), and then combined into a hash with oils and other ingredients. These cooked meals are then flash-frozen to be packaged into plastic containers and shipped.

Air-dried kibble foods from dog food delivery services are made by mixing together raw meat and vegetables into bite-sized pieces, then drying them slowly at a relatively low temperature—it’s kind of like using a food dehydrator to make beef jerky at home, but on a bigger scale. Most of these foods are made in the U.S.

Traditional dry dog food is made by combining raw ingredients into a wet mix. This mix is then extruded—think of a pasta machine pushing out noodles—and then baked and dried. For most dog food subscription services that deliver in the U.S. that offer “regular” dry food, the food is produced at facilities in the U.S.

Dog Food Delivery: Serving Sizes

One of the best things about dog food delivery services is that many offer personalized meal plans. With these plans, your dog’s breed, weight, gender, age and activity level are all considerations that inform the type and quantity of food provided.

Most brands provide a quiz that asks you to input specific information about your dog. The answers you provide will help them determine the food type and quantity that’s best for your pup. Since the amount of food you order determines the cost of the meal plan, taking the quiz will also help you get a sense of the amount you will pay.

Many brands also allow you to set your shipping preferences. So once you determine just how much food your dog needs to eat every day, you can decide just how many days’ worth you want delivered at a time. Keep in mind that if the dog food you choose requires refrigeration or freezing, you’ll need to have enough space to store it.

For more details on dog food cost and serving sizes, check out this helpful guide

How Often Should I Order Dog Food Online for Delivery?

Dog food delivery subscriptions allow you to order more food as often as every week, or as rarely as every few months. Most companies allow you to customize your delivery frequency, so you can choose how often a new box of food is delivered to your door. But how often should you get a new shipment?

The right answer depends on how much food your dog needs, and how much storage space you’re willing to give up in your freezer or cabinet.

“Fresh” or raw dog meals both require freezer space, and then must be defrosted before serving. Defrosted meals last a few days in the refrigerator, while the frozen meals can usually stay in the freezer for up to six months. Bigger dogs will need more food, so getting your deliveries less frequently can take up a lot of freezer space. So if you don’t have a chest freezer, or want to save more room for human food, you may want to get deliveries more often.

Dry food options offered by subscription dog food companies won’t stay fresh as long as “traditional” dry foods: Air-dried kibble, for instance, is best within eight weeks of opening. Unopened bags can last longer, but you may want to order food more often than you might have purchased it in giant bags of “traditional” kibble.

Does My Dog Need Puppy Food or Senior Dog Food?

Dog food delivery companies’ food varieties are usually approved for “all life stages,” including when your dog’s a puppy, adult and senior. But younger and older dogs may need more (or less) food than adult dogs, because they’re growing as puppies, or they’re less active with a slower metabolism when they’re older. If you’re wondering how much food to feed a puppy or what portion to serve your senior, you’re in luck: When you take the quiz offered on most brands’ websites, you’ll include your dog’s age—this will help the company determine how much of their “all life stage” meals your dog needs in each meal, and how much per week. One exception: Raw foods. Raw dog food is not always recommended for dogs under four months old, or for seniors. Some raw dog food brands suggest cooking their food lightly before serving to little puppies or older dogs

Some brands also offer special formulas designed for the nutritional needs of puppies and seniors. Open Farm dog food, for example, has two puppy recipes and two senior dog recipes among its dry food offerings. Its puppy recipes focus on providing DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is associated with brain development. 

Dog Food Safety

Perhaps the most important consideration when changing your dog’s food is whether it’s safe to do so. Here’s what you need to know about dog food safety:

Is It Safe to Order Dog Food Online?

For meals that require refrigeration or freezing, dog food delivery companies ship their meals in refrigerated boxes, or boxes packed with dry ice or other cold materials. These boxes, like meal delivery kits for humans, can usually sit outside for many hours before being transferred into the freezer—the amount of time the box can be outside is different for each brand.

Many brands also allow you to adjust the delivery window so that it matches the time you’ll be at home to grab the box and freeze your dog’s food.

What If My Dog Has Medical Conditions?

Almost all pet food delivery companies have formulated their meals with help from veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists. As a result, many of them ask about your dog’s medical conditions in their initial feeding quiz, and can help guide you to the meal options that are safest for your dog.

If your dog has allergies, you can find full and complete ingredients list for each food—there aren’t mystery ingredients like you might find in “regular” dog foods, so you can be sure your dog is safe.

And for certain, more serious conditions, some brands have foods that can only be bought with a prescription from your vet. For example, the Just Food for Dogs brand has a “Vet Support” line that requires a prescription, and has foods for renal support, hepatic support, metabolic support, joint & skin support, and more.

If you’re worried about whether a specific food or brand is right for your dog’s medical condition, talk to your veterinarian before changing your pet’s food.

What to Look for in Dog Food

Your dog is family. And just like family, you care about what goes in his or her belly. When you’re shopping for the best dog food delivery service for your pup, there are a few things to look for:

It Meets or Exceeds AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies who maintain the process for defining ingredients used in animal feed and pet food. This organization establishes science-based nutritional standards. Most dog food delivery companies ensure that they meet or exceed these standards, but you’ll want to verify that before you make your purchase and compile a list of dog foods that meet AAFCO standards prior to selecting one.

It Contains Vegetables

Studies suggest that when dogs eat vegetables three times a week or more, their risk of cancer decreases. Whether you opt for dry dog food, wet dog food or raw dog food, it’s a good idea to make sure it includes vegetables.

It’s Fortified with Fish Oils

Dog food with fish oil includes Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help dogs with their coat and skin quality, allergies and heart health. Dogs can’t make these fatty acids on their own, so they’re included in the best dog food foods.

Additional Considerations:

If your dog suffers from allergies or has a medical condition, there are a few other things you’ll want to look for:

Dog Food for Allergies: If your pup is allergic to certain dog food ingredients, you’ll want to know everything that goes into their food. Luckily, most dog food delivery services provide clear lists of ingredients on their websites. Even better, many of these companies ask you to take a quiz that includes questions about allergies so they can personalize a menu for your dog without including any no-no ingredients. Ollie, Nom Nom and JustFoodForDogs all inquire about your pup’s potential allergies, making it easy to choose the best dog food for allergies.

Foods for Dogs with Medical Issues: Many brands ask those considering purchasing a meal plan to take a short quiz before ordering. In these quizzes, you’ll often find questions about your pup’s medical issues. The brands use your answers to help guide you to the safest option.

Most dog food delivery brands also include full ingredient lists on their websites, which you can refer to when determining whether your pup can safely enjoy the food. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to bring the ingredients list to your veterinarian for review.

For more details on the nutrition and ingredients you should look for in dog food, check out this helpful guide.

How Much Does Dog Food Delivery Cost?

The answer is, “it depends”—on your dog’s age, weight, activity level, breed and more. Dog food delivery companies often give dog owners a quiz to gather all of this info about their pets, and then use it to customize how much food your dog will need … and with it, the cost to feed your pet. So it’s not completely straightforward. But there are some similarities across the brands. Here’s what to know:

Average Daily Costs

Dog food delivery services are usually more expensive than “regular” dog food you’d get at the pet or grocery store—that’s because they’re often made of human-grade, organic or sustainably-raised ingredients. While the websites for these brands will say their meals start at around $2 per day, this is usually for a very small dog. For a slightly larger dog—around 40 pounds—most of these foods cost $4, $5 or more per day.

To bring the cost down, some brands offer “topper” plans. On these plans, you mix a smaller amount of the dog food delivery brand’s food with “traditional” food, giving the regular food a nutritional and flavor boost. With one brand that offers “topper” plans, Spot & Tango, the price to feed a 40-pound pooch drops from more than $60 per week to just about $20 per week when switching to a topper—but you’d need to buy the regular food, too.

Are these delivery foods worth the cost? That’s up to you: Reviewers of these foods say their dogs who are picky eaters enjoy these foods more, and other reviewers say their dog’s improved health (and lower vet bills) make the cost worth it. 

Shipping Costs

If you become a subscriber to these services, almost every dog food delivery brand ships their food for free to the contiguous 48 states. Many of the brands only sell their food in a subscription model, so there’s not a choice to buy it another way. For those that do allow one-time or non-subscription purchases, there can be delivery fees of $5 or more—though this is often waived if you spend $30 or $50 or more, depending on the brand. 

Discounts for Subscribing

Most dog food delivery brands will offer a discounted starter box, bag, or food kit, with two to four weeks of food in an introductory package at an introductory price: For some brands, this is 50 percent off the price you’ll eventually pay each week. These starter boxes include multiple flavors of the brand’s foods, so you can see which ones your dogs enjoy, and alter your future deliveries accordingly.

Brands that offer non-subscription purchasing also give subscribers discounts for setting up automatic re-orders. These can be 10 percent or more.

Which Delivery Dog Food is Best for Me?

Every dog—and every dog lover—is different. Depending on what you and your pooch need in a bowl of food, and in a subscription and delivery service, one of the many dog food delivery brands on the market today could be your pup’s perfect match. See if you (and your companion) fit any of the descriptions below and check out the example food for each.

If you don’t want any guesswork…

…choose an option that’s pre-portioned for your dog’s nutritional needs, like The Farmer’s Dog or Spot & Tango. Thanks to the quizzes offered on their websites, these brands know just how much food your dog needs—and they pre-package their wet food into those exact portions. So you can just open a pack, empty the whole thing without measuring, and know you’re giving your dog the right amount of food.

If you’re a sucker for scientific studies…

…choose an option that’s been independently studied, like Nom Nom. This brand of fresh meals continually conducts studies on its food. In one of those studies, after just four weeks eating Nom Nom, 61 percent of dogs saw an increase in appetite, 48 percent were more active and had better coats, and 58 percent pooped less often.

JustFoodForDogs also conducts studies of its food in conjunction with universities. The University of Illinois found that their food was 40 percent more digestible than regular kibble.

If you travel a lot, and don’t want to bring a cooler…

…choose a brand with shelf-stable options. JustFoodForDogs offers a preservative-free “Pantry Fresh” option that can be stored for up to two years without refrigeration. And many dog food delivery services make air-dried or traditional kibbles: Jinx, Open Farm, and Spot & Tango all make foods that don’t require refrigeration, which may be more convenient if your dog is often with you on the go.

If your dog has serious health issues…

…you may want to choose a brand that works with your veterinarian on a prescription. For instance, the JustFoodForDogs brand has a “Vet Support” line that requires a prescription, and has foods for renal support, hepatic support, metabolic support, joint & skin support, and more.

If you’re worried about whether any delivery dog food or brand is right for your dog’s medical condition, talk to your veterinarian before changing your pet’s food.

Time to Shop: A Buyer’s Checklist for Dog Food Delivery

If you think dog food delivery could be right for you—and your dog!—you’re ready to start shopping. You also know that there are lots of options for food and meal types, flavors, subscriptions and prices.

Answer the following questions for yourself, and keep your replies handy as you shop—see if the brand you’re looking at matches up to your answers and standards. If it does, you’ll know if the dog food delivery brand you’re shopping for is the perfect one for you.

  • What’s my weekly budget for dog food delivery?
  • How much is that per day?
  • How much is that per month?
  • What kind of meals do I want for my dog?
  • Fresh meals that need to be frozen?
  • Dry food or kibble?
  • Raw food?
  • Traditional wet food?
  • Do I need the food to be pre-measured or pre-portioned for my dog?
  • What do I need for this subscription to fit with my lifestyle? Such as:
  • How much freezer space can I use for my dog’s food?
  • Does this food need freezer space?
  • Do I need options for traveling, whether it’s shelf-stable options, or the ability to ship my subscription to another location?
  • Will I have trouble remembering to defrost frozen meals?
  • What kind of ingredients are a must for my dog?
  • Fresh vegetables?
  • Grains, or no grains?
  • Humanely-raised or organic proteins?
  • Human-grade ingredients?
  • Do I need a food that’s been independently studied by scientists?
  • Does my dog have medical conditions, allergies or other food needs? 

The right food for your dog is out there! We hope this guide has given you the knowledge you need to shop with confidence for your pup’s perfect meal. Good luck, and happy dog food delivery shopping!