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9 Best (Healthiest) Dog Foods for Active Dogs in 2019

Obesity is a problem of epidemic proportions in both people and pets. Many pet owners fail to understand that their pets don’t need nearly as many calories as they do themselves, which results in overfeeding. Being overweight is extremely dangerous for a dog and can shave years off the lifespan and increase the risk for a whole host of health issues.

But what about dogs with the opposite problem? Dogs who have such a fast metabolism and high energy burn that it’s difficult to keep up with?

If you had to choose, you would probably prefer that your dog be highly active than overweight. But active dogs come with their own challenges, particularly when it comes to nutrition. Because they burn energy at a much higher rate, they need to be fed more and more frequently. Not just that, but certain nutrients become even more important than for the average dog. Understanding your active dog’s nutritional needs is extremely important so you can pick the best high energy dog food.

In this article, we’ll talk about what makes active dogs different from the average dog, both in terms of their activity and their dietary needs. We’ll talk about what goes into an ideal diet for active dogs and help you figure out what to look for. You’ll also receive our top picks for the best high energy dog food.

What Makes an Active Dog Different?

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What exactly qualifies a dog as being “active,” and how do you know if your dog meets the qualifications? Generally speaking, you can determine your dog’s activity level based on a couple of different factors – here they are: 

  • The time of year (most dogs are more active in spring and summer
  • Where you live (urban-dwelling dogs tend to be less active)
  • Whether he participates in dog sports or is a working dog
  • The amount of exercise and activity he gets each day

There is no perfect formula for determining your dog’s activity level, but these are some of the clues you can look to when you want to determine whether your dog needs an extra boost of calories to account for his high energy level. Active dogs may require anywhere from 5% to 25% more calories, depending on the type of activity they do and how much of it.

If you’re still not sure whether your dog qualifies as an active breed, here is a quick list of the top active dog breeds according to the American Kennel Club (AKC):

When in doubt, you can always talk to your veterinarian. After yourself, your veterinarian is one of the people who knows your dog best, so ask whether your dog might need a higher energy diet. Keep reading to learn what that diet might look like.

What Does the Ideal Diet Look Like?

Feeding your active dog properly doesn’t need to be complicated, but you do need to know certain things before you choose the right dog food. Very active dogs need a high-performance dog food that works as hard as they do. This means that it should be made from high-quality, natural ingredients with high bioavailability. Bioavailability is a term that describes ingredients which are easier for the body to absorb and utilize. For example, animal proteins are more bioavailable for dogs than plant proteins.

Here is a quick overview of a dog’s basic nutritional requirements: 

  • At least 18% crude protein (22% minimum for puppies)
  • A minimum of 5% crude fat (8% minimum for puppies)
  • Limited content of complex carbohydrates
  • Maximum of 5% dietary fiber

Again, these are the bare minimum requirements for the average dog – your active dog is a little bit different. Protein is essential for your dog to build and maintain lean muscle mass. If your dog doesn’t get enough protein in his diet, his body might start eating away at the protein in his muscles to fill the void. More protein is generally better for all dogs, but particularly for active dogs, and it should come from highly bioavailable sources like meat, poultry, and fish.

One of the biggest differences between a diet for active dogs and an average dog food is the fat content. Fat is the most highly concentrated source of energy available to a dog – it contains 9 calories per gram versus 4 calories for protein and carbohydrates. Increasing the fat content of your dog’s diet is the quickest way to boost the calorie (energy) content but it still needs to come from bioavailable sources. Again, animal products are more biologically valuable for dogs than plants.

Here are some other key differences you should know about a diet for active dogs:

  • An active dog food needs to be extremely nutrient-dense – you want your dog to get as many calories and nutrients as possible without him having to eat an excessive amount of food.
  • Many athletic dogs require up to 10,000 calories per day (think working sled dogs), so be prepared to feed your dog enough to meet those needs.
  • The timing of your dog’s meals might matter if he participates in dog sports – you also need to make sure he gets the right diet for weeks leading up to the event. 
  • Though the amount of protein and fat in your dog’s diet matters, the quality matters more – a dog food with high protein content from low-quality ingredients won’t do much good.
  • Protein and fat are more valuable sources of energy than carbohydrates – carbs are burned off quickly but protein and fat burns more slowly.
  • Highly active dogs can benefit greatly from whole grains and other complex carbohydrates in their diet – avoid grain-free dog foods unless your dog is allergic.
The more you learn about your active dog’s nutritional requirements, the better. When you are armed with knowledge, you’re better equipped to choose from the best dog foods on the market which is the perfect choice for your dog. Read on to learn more specifics about the best dog food for active dogs.

What to Look for in a Good Dog Food for Active Dogs

The worst thing you can do for your active dog is feed him a cheap dog food. These dog foods are typically made with low-quality ingredients and fillers that won’t meet your dog’s needs for protein and fat. You don’t just need a dog food that is high in calories – it also needs to have the right balance of protein and fat with optimal bioavailability so your dog can actually utilize the nutrients.

Here are some things to look for in a high energy dog food for active dogs:

  • Rich in premium animal protein. The average dog can get away with 18% to 20% protein, but active dogs need closer to 30%, ideally no less than 28% protein from animal sources. Look for whole sources of animal protein and not by-products to ensure bioavailability.
  • High levels of animal-based fats. Your dog needs a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat but fats also provide energy. Look for a food in the 18% to 20% range.
  • Low levels of complex carbohydrates. Whole grains and complex carbohydrates are not only more digestible for dogs, but also more nutritious. Avoid low-quality grains and fillers.
  • Fortified with essential nutrients. Any diet you choose for your dog should be complete and balanced with essential vitamins and minerals according to AAFCO nutrient profiles.

Now that you have a better understanding of your active dog’s nutritional needs, you’re ready to start looking for the best dog food brands to meet those needs. If you’re still not quite sure what to look for in the best dog food for active dogs, check out our recommendations below.

The 9 Best Dog Foods for Active Dogs

While there may not be a single best option in dog food for active breeds, there are certain things you should look for. Higher protein and fat content are essential, but it must also come from high-quality sources. Look for digestible carbohydrates like whole grains and sweet potatoes with essential vitamins and minerals for nutritional balance.

Here’s our top pick for the best dog food for Active Dogs:

Ollie Fresh Food Delivery Service

Overall Best Dog Food for Active Dogs: Your active dog requires above-average levels of protein, fat, and calories. More than that, however, they require a diet made up of high-quality sources for these nutrients. The higher the quality of your dog’s diet, the more nutritious it will be and the healthier HE will be. If you want to give your dog the best of the best, consider Ollies Fresh Food Delivery. Ollies delivers freshly prepared dog food right to your door. Simply fill out some information about your dog online and choose a recipe – the pros at Ollie will do the rest! You can customize your dog’s meals to his unique calorie requirements, and you can rest easy knowing that they use only the highest quality ingredients. Keep in mind that fresh food is fairly pricey, and you’ll be paying quite a bit if you feed your active dog Ollies as a staple diet, but it’s hard to beat the quality and the difference you see in your dog’s performance will be noticeable!

  • Pros: Premium-quality ingredients in every recipe, customized to your dog’s individual needs, delivered automatically on your schedule, prepared fresh from high-quality ingredients
  • Cons: Significantly more expensive than average kibble

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Food

Most Popular Dog Food for Active Dogs: When you’re at a loss for what dog food to pick, you can always go with a popular brand like Taste of the Wild. This brand is known for producing top-quality dog foods using premium ingredients in protein-rich formulas. This Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Food is a great option for your active dog because it contains 32% protein and 18% fat with 4% fiber. This recipe gets most of its protein from fresh buffalo, lamb meal, and chicken meal but also contains supplemental proteins like roasted bison and venison. You’ll find this recipe rich in healthy animal fats like chicken fat and ocean fish meal, and you can rest easy knowing it provides a rich blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This recipe contains fresh fruits and vegetables like blueberries, tomatoes, and raspberries to act as natural (and highly bioavailable) sources of key nutrients but there are still chelated minerals to ensure nutritional balance with optimal nutrient absorption. This recipe also contains prebiotic fibers and probiotic supplements to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.

  • Pros: Rich in premium animal proteins, digestible complex carbohydrates (like sweet potato), rich blend of omega fatty acids, fresh fruits and vegetables, chelated minerals, prebiotics and probiotics
  • Cons: Could be a little higher in fat (18%), not all dogs require a grain-free recipe

American Journey Landmark Plateau Blend with Angus Beef and Pork Dry Food

Most Affordable Dog Food for Active Dogs: When it comes to high-protein dog food, things can get pretty pricey. If you’re looking for an option that delivers on protein without costing a fortune, consider the American Journey brand. This brand offers several “protein first” recipes that contain 25% protein but this American Journey Landmark Plateau Blend with Angus Beef and Pork Dry Food contains a whopping 40% protein. This recipe rocks ultra-high protein levels from a premium livestock blend of 70% animal-source protein and natural fats. You’ll find this recipe loaded with USA angus beef and antibiotic-free, pasture-raised pork as the first ingredients. This recipe also contains zero grains, glutens, wheat, corn, or soy as well as by-products, fillers, and artificial additives. Keep in mind that it does contain lentils and peas as primary sources of grain-free carbohydrate, so be wary unless your dog is actually allergic or sensitive to grains (refer to the FDA investigation into grain-free dog foods made with high levels of legumes). Overall, this formula provides 40% protein and 15% fat with 423 calories per cup.

  • Pros: Contains a whopping 40% protein, premium animal proteins, rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, prebiotic fibers and probiotics, chelated minerals and vitamin supplements
  • Cons: Could be higher in fat, contains significant levels of legumes (lentils and peas)

Sport Dog Food Active Series Cub Buffalo & Oatmeal Formula

Best Dog Food for Active Puppies: Active adult dogs need a higher concentration of protein, fat, and calories than the typical adult dog but, for active puppies, those needs are even greater. If you’re looking for the best dog food for puppies of active breeds, consider this Sport Dog Food Active Series Cub Buffalo & Oatmeal Formula. This multi-protein recipe features premium-quality ingredients like buffalo meal, pork meal, and catfish meal to deliver a powerful punch of protein – 30% crude protein, to be exact. This recipe is made with wholesome complex carbohydrates like oats and sweet potato with a rich blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for skin and coat support. It contains prebiotics and probiotics to support your active puppy’s digestion with essential vitamin and chelated minerals supplements. Overall, it provides 30% crude protein and 20% crude fat with 526 calories per cup.

  • Pros: Contains 30% protein and 20% fat, multi-protein formula, rich in complex carbohydrates, blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, prebiotic fibers and probiotics for digestion
  • Cons: Very expensive compared to average dog food

5 More Top-Rated Dog Foods for Active Dogs

If the dog foods reviewed above don’t seem like the right fit for your active dog, don’t worry – there are plenty of other options out there. Here are several more top-rated dog foods that can help your active dog get the energy and nutrients he needs. Check them out below!

Victor Hi-Pro Plus Formula Dry Food

When it comes to feeding an active dog, you need a recipe that is nutritionally rich and calorie-dense. This Victor Hi-Pro Plus Formula Dry Food is a great option because it features premium animal proteins and highly digestible whole grains. This recipe starts off strong with beef meal as a concentrated source of premium animal protein with pork meal, chicken meal, and menhaden fish meal for support. Complex carbohydrates like sorghum and whole-grain millet provide quick-burning energy as well as essential nutrients and dietary fiber. You’ll also find supplemental fibers and probiotic supplements to support your dog’s healthy and regular digestion. This recipe contains plenty of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat, with a total of 20% crude fat and 30% protein at 406 calories per cup.

  • Pros: Several sources of animal protein, contains 30% protein and 20% fat, highly digestible carbohydrates, rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, prebiotics and probiotics
  • Cons: Contains some blood meal

Dr. Tim’s Active Dog Pursuit Formula Dry Food

If you’re looking for a dog food specifically formulated for active breeds, try Dr. Tim’s Active Dog Pursuit Formula Dry Food. This recipe might cost a bit more, but it is uniquely designed to support your active dog’s nutritional needs. It features 86% animal protein from chicken meal, eggs, and ocean fish meal with catfish meal, salmon meal, and chicken liver for supplemental protein. This recipe contains digestible whole grains like brown rice and oat groats, plus it is rich in dietary fiber to support your dog’s digestion. You’ll find that this formula contains plenty of healthy fats, including a rich blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. It also contains vitamin supplements and chelated minerals for nutritional balance and optimal nutrient absorption. Overall, this formula contains 30% protein and 20% fat with 442 calories per cup.

  • Pros: Several sources of premium animal protein, highly digestible whole-grain carbohydrates, rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, complete and nutritionally balanced, probiotics
  • Cons: Fairly expensive compared to average

Diamond Naturals Extreme Athlete Formula Dry Food

Feeding an active dog can be expensive but this Diamond Naturals Extreme Athlete Formula Dry Food is a more affordable option that still ticks all the necessary boxes. This formula features chicken meal as the first ingredient which is a highly concentrated source of protein. It is followed by fresh chicken as well, providing a total of 32% crude protein. This formula is highly digestible with complex carbohydrates like cracked pearled barley with the addition of prebiotic fibers and probiotic supplements to ensure healthy digestion. Overall, this recipe is loaded with healthy ingredients including fresh fruits and vegetables which provide natural sources for key nutrients, though it also contains vitamin supplements and chelated minerals to ensure complete and balanced nutrition with optimal nutrient absorption. Your dog is sure to love it!

  • Pros: Single source of premium animal protein, digestible carbohydrates, rich in omega fatty acids, fresh fruits and vegetables, prebiotics and probiotic supplements, complete and balanced
  • Cons: Some dogs seem to dislike it

Crave with Protein from Salmon & Ocean Fish Grain-Free Dry Food

If your active dog struggles to digest grains, you may want to consider a high-protein formula that is grain-free. This Crave with Protein from Salmon & Ocean Fish Grain-Free Dry Food features real salmon as the first ingredient which, in addition to being a great source of premium animal protein, is also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. This recipe also contains chicken meal (a natural source of joint-supporting glucosamine and chondroitin) as well as pork meal and lamb meal. It is loaded with healthy fats from chicken fat and fish ingredients, delivering a powerful blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. Overall, this recipe provides 34% protein and 17% fat and it carries 443 calories per cup. It is also nutritionally balanced with the help of vitamins and chelated minerals.

  • Pros: Rich in premium animal protein (34%), digestible grain-free carbohydrates, rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, several supplemental proteins, vitamins and chelated minerals
  • Cons: Not all dogs need a grain-free diet, could be higher in fat

Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Hero’s Banquet Recipe Dry Food

If you like the idea of feeding your dog raw food but you don’t want to deal with the hassles, consider this Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Hero’s Banquet Recipe Dry Food as an alternative. This dry food consists of high-protein kibble infused with freeze-dried bits of premium protein. This recipe features a rich blend of animal proteins like fresh beef, pork meal, turkey meal, and salmon meal as well as fresh turkey and lamb. It contains highly digestible complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes with prebiotic fibers and probiotic supplements to ensure healthy and regular digestion. What you’ll be most happy to know, however, is that it provides 38% protein and 17% fat with 389 calories per cup. This makes it a nutrient- and protein-rich diet for your adult dog. Plus, with all of those different proteins, it is bound to be full of real meat flavor that your dog won’t be able to resist.

  • Pros: Multiple premium animal proteins, digestible complex carbohydrates, rich in omega fatty acids, prebiotics and probiotics, chelated minerals, 38% protein and 17% fat
  • Cons: Plant protein as a main ingredient (pea protein), not all dogs need a grain-free diet

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Do active dogs need more food? – Generally speaking, active dogs will need more food than the average dog but it’s a little more complicated than that. Because they burn calories at a higher rate, active dogs need a more calorie-dense diet. The actual amount of food may not change significantly, but the calories content of the food should. Active dogs need a nutrient-dense diet as well, so they can get the nutrients they need in the right amounts without having to eat a ridiculous amount of food.
  2. How much should you feed an active dog? – Feeding an active dog is similar to feeding a puppy, in some ways. Because puppies are in the midst of growth and development, they are burning calories at a faster rate than adult dogs and therefore need a more calorie- and nutrient-dense diet. Most puppies also need to be fed 3 to 4 times a day to fuel their rapid growth and development – the same may be true for active dogs. You’ll need to determine how many calories your dog actually needs per day and look at the translation on the feeding recommendations for your dog food to see how much it ends up being. From there, you can divide your dog’s daily portion into as many meals as seems appropriate, but 3 to 4 is usually best.
  3. Do active dogs need protein supplements? – When it comes to supplements of any kind, nothing is a direct replacement. Vitamin and mineral supplements can help boost your dog’s intake of certain nutrients, but the synthetic form of any nutrient is less biologically valuable than a natural source. If your dog is losing muscle mass despite feeding a high-protein diet, you might consider a protein supplement. Otherwise, it is best to simply switch your dog to a recipe made with higher levels of premium-quality animal protein.
  4. Is raw food the best for active dogs? – There are many dog owners out there who say that raw food is best for dogs because it is closest to the dog’s natural diet (the one followed by wild wolves). Unfortunately, there is not a significant amount of scientific evidence to support that claim and there are challenges that come with raw feeding. If you want your dog to have the best of the best, consider a fresh food option or a recipe that is dehydrated or freeze-dried rather than cooked at high temperatures to preserve more of the nutritional value.
  5. How many times a day should I feed my active dog? – It is up to you and your veterinarian to determine how many times to feed your dog. The average adult dog does well on two meals per day, sometimes three if it is a small breed with a fast metabolism. For active breeds, you may want to start with three meals per day and add a fourth if it seems appropriate. Consult your veterinarian if you’re not sure what’s best.

If you already have an active dog, take what you’ve learned here and take a closer look at your dog’s current diet. Ask yourself whether it is high enough in protein, fat, and calories from high-quality sources or whether you might not be doing your best for your dog. If you are considering adopting an active breed, make sure you can afford to provide for the dog’s high energy needs. When you’re ready to start shopping, take what you’ve learned here to help you make your choice or simply choose one of our top picks above. Best of luck to you and your pup!

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