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Nutro Dog Food Review: Wholesome vs. Ultra vs. Limited Ingredient

Thinking of introducing your dog to one of Nutro's dog food lines? We break down Nutro Wholesome Essentials, Nutro Ultra and Nutro Limited Ingredient in this food review.

Last Updated: July 21, 2020 | 6 min read

Dog Eating Nutro Dog Food

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Is Nutro Dog Food the right brand for your pup? With this in-depth Nutro Dog Food review, we look at the many different aspects of Nutro’s food lines. We also analyze if it’s going to be the best fit for your puppy, adult, or senior. Nutro is actually one of our favorite dog food brands. We’ve compared them against Blue Buffalo, another popular brand, and Nutro holds its own very well.

Nutro manufactures dog food for dogs of all ages.  This is important because as your dog ages, their nutritional needs change. Your 6-month-old puppy is going to have a completely different set of nutritional needs than an 8-year-old dog.  Nutro makes age-specific recipes for each.

Nutro also has dog size-specific formulas, catering to small breed puppies, medium-sized dogs, and large breed puppy food formulas. While they don’t get into breed-specific food like Royal Canin, they do have several different formulas depending on your dog’s needs. First, we will look at our favorite Nutro Dog Food formulas, followed by a much more in-depth and detailed analysis of the Nutro brand.

Food Review at a Glance: Nutro Formulas

Nutro Wholesome Essentials
Our Rating

Top Pick

Nutro Wholesome Essentials

View at Chewy.com
Nutro Ultra Dog Food
Our Rating

Budget Pick

Nutro Ultra

View at Chewy.com
Nutro Limited Ingredient
Our Rating

Grain Free

Nutro Limited Ingredient

View at Chewy.com

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Brand History

Nutro is actually owned by Mars Incorporated, which is a large food brand in the United States. Nutro began in 1933 and started off as a local farm that created their own food for their foxes.  It continued to grow even after changing hands in the ’70s. Nutro started aggressively marketing in the mid-’80s around nutrition for dogs and cats. The company was bought out by Mars in 2007, and the Mars headquarters is located in Franklin Tennessee. 

Nutro develops many different types of animal food. They place a special emphasis on dogs and cats. Their factories produce soft and hard kibbles. They have several different lines of foods for different animals with different nutritional needs. Nutro has grown in popularity over the last decade. As a brand, they are highly thought of, often being compared to Blue Buffalo, Science Diet, and other bigger brands.

Dog Food Ingredients

Nutro makes their dog foods with many different ingredients. They also produce and many different flavors depending on the food line. Meat is the primary ingredient in all of their dog foods, which is extremely important. They don’t use artificial by-products and their Wholesome Essentials line is focused on being made with Non-GMO ingredients. They classify it as natural dog food. A quick glance at their label shows that they have relationships with locally sourced farmers to provide their meat.

Nutro uses no meat by-products and uses no artificial flavors or colors. They don’t use artificial preservatives, corn, wheat or soy protein. Most of their food formulas are reinforced with Glucosamine and Chondroitin, due to the meat meals that are used which will help your dog’s joints stay healthy. There are added vitamins and minerals to most formulas to help your dog’s immune system stay strong. They also use vegetables like sweet potato and split peas. It also contains whole grain in the form of brown rice, which is a lower GI burning carbohydrate to help keep your dog muscular and lean.

Dog Food Formulas

Nutro has three different dog food formulas, and each formula has a different focus. Within each formula, you can also find that each of them is split out by age, and dog size. You can find small breed, medium-sized breed, and large breed foods in the Wholesome Essentials line, Limited Ingredient Line, and Ultra Line. You can also find the same split by puppy, adult, and senior food formulas. There are also different flavors within each line as well.

Nutro Wholesome Essentials

Nutro Wholesome Essentials Food
  • Chicken is the first ingredient.
  • Contains natural antioxidants.
  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin boost.
  • Non GMO ingredients.
  • Includes vegetables like sweet potatoes.
  • Contains no by-products.
  • Made in tthe United States.
View at Chewy.com

Nutro’s Wholesome Essentials line is the flagship for the brand.  The most popular food that Nutro offers, is the Chicken, Brown Rice and Sweet Potato Wholesome Essentials formula.  You can find this food offered for small, medium and large breed pups. The most popular option is their Large Breed Formula, followed by their small breed kibble. If you need a weight management food, compare the Wholesome Essentials Adult Lamb & Rice recipes with the Nutro Ultra line, as it’s slightly more popular for weight management.

While the Chicken and Brown Rice formula is the highest rated by most consumers, the Adult Lamb & Rice formula actually took a blue ribbon for taste in 2007, making it one of the best tasting dog foods that year. The Wholesome Essentials Dog Food line is one of the better options out there for your pup. About the only thing lacking, is a proper Bison Food recipe. They do have Venison included in some formulas though, which is a close second.

Nutro Ultra

Nutro Ultra Food
  • Budget-friendly dog food.
  • Contains no by-products or fillers.
  • No GMOs used in an formulas.
  • Contains antioxidants and minerals.
  • Formulas vary by size and life stage.
  • Pasture raised ingredients.
  • Well regarded weight management formula.
View at Chewy.com

Nutro Ultra is a lower-cost line from Nutro. It has slightly less reinforced vitamins and nutrients compared to the Wholesome Essentials line. Nutro Ultra doesn’t contain the same level of Omega 3’s compared to their other lines. With that being said, it still has a very solid ingredient list despite missing out on a few vitamins and minerals.

Nutro Ultra is still NON-GMO focused and made with high-quality meats and vegetables. It’s also breed and life stage-specific. The main difference between the Ultra line and the Wholesome Essentials line is Price. Nutro Ultra is definitely cheaper per pound than Nutro Wholesome Essentials.

You’ll end up passing on some ingredients that may help your dog develop a stronger immune system and brain health, but Nutro Ultra is a good alternative to other budget-friendly dog food brands like Iams or Pedigree. The Nutro Ultra formula is also a good option for dogs that need to lose some weight. The Weight Management formula is effective in getting your dog to lose weight. It’s also a slightly cheaper cost than the Wholesome Essentials line.

Nutro Limited Ingredient

Nutro Limited Ingredient Food
  • Grain-free recipe.
  • Under 10 ingredients.
  • Made with Non-GMO ingredients.
  • First ingredient is real meat.
  • No by-products in any formula.
  • Great for sensitive stomachs.
  • Made in the United States.
View at Chewy.com

The Limited Ingredient line is a higher-priced line of food. This line focuses on slimming down the ingredient list so that your dog only gets real food. A quick look at the label and you’ll see a smaller ingredient list. The formula boasts that it will only have 10 key ingredients or less. This is a huge win for any dog food. It ensures that your dog is only getting the ingredients in their food that matter.

The big win for the LImited Ingredient line isn’t just the 10 key ingredients or less though. It’s the fact that this is the Nutro line that’s grain-free. There are many dogs that have a gluten intolerance, just like humans do. Because of that, they should be placed on a grain restrictive diet to ensure their gastrointestinal health is a priority.

Going with a grain-free dog food recipe can help pups with sensitive stomachs have less gas and become more regular with their bowel movements. It also has a bit more fiber than some of the other options, and higher fiber content dry dog foods are important for pups that need more regularity. The limited ingredient food is becoming more popular these days, but it comes with a higher price tag.

Nutro Canned Wet Food

Nutro Wet Food
  • Made with real meat.
  • Premium grain-free wet food.
  • Made with Non-GMO ingredients.
  • Only natural preservatives used.
  • Comes in several recipes.
  • Great for adding to dry kibble.
  • Made in the United States.
View at Chewy.com

Nutro also has a wet canned dog food line that’s still focused on the basics of high-quality ingredients at a reasonable cost. Buying some canned wet food to mix in with your dog’s dry food formula is a good way to not only keep their bowels more regular but give them a little bit of variety in their dog food. We don’t recommend you solely feed your dog wet food because it’s expensive, but also because you’ll be missing the nutrients that your dog will get by eating a good standard dry kibble.

Dog Health Impacts

Many owners that introduce Nutro into their dog’s diet report back that their dog has more energy, a healthier coat, and less joint pain. All of this can be attributed to the reinforcement of vitamins and minerals in the dog food, as well as the all-natural ingredients that the Nutro line focuses on. Other brands like American Journey seem to have similar results, at a slightly higher price point.

There is no silver bullet when it comes to dog Nutrition. We recommend that your dog starts on a well-balanced diet that includes dry kibble, but also an assortment of different meats and vegetables. While many Nutro recipes include sweet potato, we’d also recommend incorporating other vegetables into your dog’s food, like raw zucchini or cooked bell peppers. Just make sure to do it all in moderation.

Final Thoughts

Nutro has some fantastic formulas, that are just as highly thought of as other major brands. As with any dog food, it may take some trial and error to find which dog food formula is the best for your dog. Any of the Nutro formulas we’ve talked about here will be a step up from cheaper lines of dog food that include artificial ingredients and meat by-products.

If your dog needs to lose some weight, the Weight Management formula from the Wholesome Essentials line, or the Ultra line will help them get back to their normal weight in no time. Overall, you won’t be doing anything wrong by picking Nutro food for your pup. We’d argue that you’d be taking a step in the direction of doing something right for the health of your pup.

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