As valued family members (and sometimes the primary beneficiary of their owner’s wills), dogs deserve to have the best food available to them—but knowing which brands and products are the healthiest for your four-legged friend can be difficult because there are so many options on the market.

According to Charli Burbidge, MRCVS, zoologist, and co-founder and nutritionist at Petz in the UK, many dog foods at grocery stores may contain ingredients you won't want your dog to eat, such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), an antioxidant preservative used to extend the shelf life of dry dog food. BHT is recognized as generally safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption, but it has been linked to cancer in animals and is banned in Australia, Japan, and Sweden, according to Wag.

It's important as a pet parent to do plenty of research before you introduce new foods to your furry pal. When it comes to looking for the right dog food, the most critical factor is that it contains high-quality ingredients that help support a balanced diet. Proteins and fats like chicken or salmon, which is loaded with essential omega-3 fatty acids, can be great. Carbohydrates like brown rice are an excellent source of fiber, along with carrots and apples, which dogs can actually have because, though they're thought to be carnivores, canines are actually omnivores.

Another good way to do your due diligence as a pet owner is to check out organizations like the FDA (which has information on things like food recalls) or Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which offers guidelines for pet-food safety and can help you determine which ingredients are suitable for your fluffy companion. Many popular dog foods comply with AAFCO guidelines, but to get a better sense of which ones are the best of the best, we spoke with six veterinarians over email to find out which dog foods they recommend for canines. (Just remember, it's important to talk with your vet before making any changes to your pet's diet.)

1. Hungry Bark

Hungry Bark/Amazon

If you’re looking for a dog food brand that delivers to your home, Dr. Georgina Ushi Phillips, DVM, author at NotaBully.org, recommends Hungry Bark. “They use quality meat sources and superfoods in their products,” Philips writes to Mental Floss. “They’re a great choice if it’s within your budget.” Four-pound bags of the brand’s dry dog food range from $20 to $23, and the 12-pound bags tend to go for $45.

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2. Nutro Natural Choice

The Nutro Company/Amazon

Burbidge likes Nutro Natural Choice because the brand has many options for dogs of all breed sizes and ages, from puppies to seniors. “Their food is also made with a combination of chicken and fish, so it is a complete protein,” Burbidge writes. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a complete protein is a protein source like eggs, edamame, or fish that contains all nine amino acids; they're considered the "building blocks" of proteins because they form a chain of polypeptides, which neither we nor our canine pals can make ourselves. The brand uses other natural protein sources like lamb and venison as well.

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3. Purina Pro Plan

Purina Pro Plan/Amazon

Both Burbidge and Dr. Jamie Richardson, BVetMed, USDA-accredited veterinarian and medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary in New York City, recommend Purina, but more specifically, the Pro Plan. Burbidge likes that it uses high-quality proteins, especially in the fish variety. “Fish is a great choice [of protein] because [it] is high in omega 3 fatty acids, which is good for all breeds of [dogs],” Burbidge says. She also likes that it doesn’t have additives like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which is a preservative similar to BHT that's considered carcinogenic for humans and, according to Wag, has caused tumors in laboratory dogs.

Richardson also recommends the brand’s Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets HA Hydrolyzed Vegetarian Formula dry dog food option as an alternative to the Royal Canin variety (more on that below). Dr. Stacy Choczynski Johnson, DVM, the veterinarian on staff at Pumpkin Pet Insurance, explains that hydrolyzed food, which is prescribed by your veterinarian, is best for dogs with food allergies and bowel diseases because the ingredients are broken down to a molecular level to help them digest the food without issues. “[It's] broken down to be so small that the immune system does not react to the allergen,” Johnson says. (There's even a similar version of food for human babies called Nutramigen, which she used with her daughter and that functions in the same way.)

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4. Wellness Complete Health

Wellness/Amazon

Another great pick? Wellness’s Complete Health food. Richardson notes that this brand is strict on quality control and uses a team of nutritionists to help create new dog food recipes and review current ones to make sure they provide balanced nutrition that meets AAFCO requirements. In addition, Richardson says this food line can help a dog’s digestion and promotes a healthy coat, skin, and energy levels.

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5. Hill’s Pet Nutrition

Hill's Science Diet/Amazon

Johnson believes that Hill’s Pet Nutrition, also known as Science Diet, is an excellent choice, and Phillips and Richardson both agree. If you’re worried about how food is kept and stored, Johnson thinks this brand is a good option, too: “The equipment in the factory is reported to be thoroughly cleaned to prevent cross-contamination of food allergens.” The brand also has a 180-acre Pet Nutrition Center where they care for 900 cats and dogs, and they analyze the food they eat to make sure it's high-quality, easy to chew, and ensures all animals get the right nutrients at each point in their lives.

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6. Royal Canin

Royal Canin/Amazon

Four of our experts recommended Royal Canin, saying it’s of the highest quality and utilizes premium ingredients; many of the experts actually feed it to their own pets. The brand has a variety of foods that support canines through every stage of life, from when they're puppies to fully grown adult dogs. You can also get food for specific types of breeds, which might require a prescription from your veterinarian. Richardson recommends the brand’s vegetarian option, as it provides enough vitamin B12 and protein for dogs without deriving any of it from a meat source. Because dogs are omnivorous, putting your dog on a vegetarian diet is easier than it might be with cats (the latter of which are carnivores) and could benefit the environment. However, it's also easier for them to miss out on crucial nutrients, so always consult your veterinarian before considering this option. “There are a few safe, healthy vegetables for dogs to eat, but it can be difficult to provide enough protein, and deficiencies in Vitamin B12 are often found in pets on these diets,” Richardson notes. Phillips also recommends this brand for puppies because it has breed-specific diets for growing dogs.

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7. Orijen

Champion Petfoods/Amazon

Dr. Joanna Cook, DVM, of Alii Animal Hospital in Hawaii, recommends Orijen dog food, specifically with grains. Many dog foods are going “grain-free,” but Phillips says grains can be perfectly fine in moderation. “But take grains and make them the main ingredient, instead of using an animal-based protein, and now you have a problem,” Phillips warns. When feeding puppies, Cook likes to top off this food off with Brutus bone broth: “Not only will it soften the food and make it easier to chew with their sensitive little teeth, [but] Brutus broth adds a number of nutrients, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, that are really important for growing puppies to maintain joint and gut health.”

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8. Nature’s Logic

Nature's Logic/Amazon

Dr. Tom Cameron, DVM, a contributor at Nature’s Logic, recommends this brand because it's the only pet food company in the U.S. and Canada that meets AAFCO and FDA daily nutritional requirements, using only foods as ingredients and no partial food ingredients like corn gluten or egg product. "Nature’s Logic [doesn’t] use synthetic vitamins, isolate minerals or legumes,” Cameron writes. As mentioned above, many brands are adding grain-free dog food options; one way they do this is by putting legumes like peas, lentils, and beans into the mix. This can be fine in moderation for dogs to consume, but when they’re the primary ingredients, it can potentially cause issues like heart disease. Cameron suggests making sure your dog foods use “human grade” ingredients, to ensure you’re getting the highest quality. Essentially, if you wouldn’t eat the ingredient, don’t feed it to your pet.

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This story was updated with additional information from Nature's Logic.

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