One of the prevalent trends in human nutrition are grain-free diets. Some people have a gluten intolerance, a medical condition, or other reason they cannot have grain in their diets. The same has occurred with dogs. Grain-free dog foods have become a new buzz word in the pet food industry.
Are there benefits of grain-free dog food? If so, are they any better than dog foods that contain grain? In this article we’ll touch on the benefits of grain-free dog food, how to choose the best one, and some of our favorites.
Benefits of Grain Free Dog Food
Grain-free dog food offers some benefits, but that does not necessarily mean that they’re better than dog foods that contain grain. Through the course of their evolution, a dog’s metabolism has developed to digest complex carbohydrates such as grains. This stands in contrast to the common misconception that dogs cannot, quite literally, stomach them.
One benefit of a grain-free diet is that dogs with a grain sensitivity should not see any symptoms associated with that dietary condition. Dogs that have a grain allergy may experience any of the following symptoms:
- Excessive hair loss
- Sores and scabs
- Inflammation of the skin
- “Hot spots”
- Bald patches
Typically a grain-free dog food will also contain more natural and better ingredients such as animal protein, animal meal, fruits, vegetables, and added vitamins and minerals. So if you find a grain-free dog food you like, check the ingredients. Chances are that it’s a great choice for your dog!
How to Choose the Best Grain Free Dog Food
Before we begin looking at some of the best grain-free dog foods on the market, let’s talk about how to select the best one for your pup. Put simply, some dog foods are better than others. Many cheaper brands contain fillers and other ingredients that can potentially be harmful to your dogs.
When reviewing the nutrition and ingredient information on dog food labels, keep in mind that the higher on the list an ingredient appear, the more of that ingredient appears in the food.
For instance, if you see animal protein at the beginning of the list, that means animal protein is a key ingredient in the dog food.
1. The Best Stuff to Look For
- High animal protein content
Dogs are carnivores. Therefore, it’s important that animal protein makes up a large portion of dog food. Look for named animals like beef, chicken, lamb, rabbit, venison, buffalo, or duck. If the label fails to specify the animal protein, consider looking elsewhere. Would you feed yourself “meat” if you didn’t know the animal from which the meat originated?
- Other animal protein meal
Animal protein meal is another term for the bones, connective tissues, meat, tissue, and other parts that have been processed and dried in the manufacturing process.
Why animal meal? Surprisingly, animal meal has more protein than animal meat alone. There’s an inverse relationship in the amount of protein and moisture in animal meat versus animal meal. Animal meat has more moisture and less protein. The opposite is true for animal meal.
- Fruits and vegetables
Unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables offer a wealth of healthy vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to keep our canine companions happy!
2. The Not-So-Good Stuff to Look For
There are also some ingredients you should avoid in dog food as much as possible. Some dog foods contain fillers or artificial ingredients to add “fluff” to the dog food. Here are a few ingredients to keep an eye on.
- Meat or Poultry By-Products
In general meat or poultry by-products are not as healthy as animal protein or other whole ingredients found in dog food. These tend to be cheaper ingredients as well. Avoid these if you can.
- Artificial Sweeteners
Dogs love sweet things just as much as people do. If dogs eat food containing artificial sweeteners, they’re less likely to get the kind of protein and nutrients necessary to keep them happy and healthy.
- Artificial Anything Else (Preservatives, Flavoring, Colors)
Just like human food, you should try to avoid dog food which contains preservatives, flavoring, or colors derived from artificial sources. They’re less likely to matter to your dog. Plus, there’s always a chance they could impact your pup’s digestion system or cause other issues down the road.
If you’re concerned about the shelf life of your dog food, you can always check the “best by” date.
You’ll want to avoid dog food brands that contain fillers such as corn bran, cereal by-products, and other items that may fill a dog’s stomach but may not have much nutritional value.
Top 9 Best Grain Free Dog Foods 2020
Best Grain-Free Dog Food
Farmina Natural & Delicious
Best for Small and Medium Breed Puppies
Ziwi Peak Air-Dried
Best Dehydrated Food
Taste of Wild
Best Well-Balanced Food
Tiki Dog Aloha Petites
Best Canned Food for Small Dogs
Cub Active Dog & Puppy
Best for Active Dogs
Wellness Core Natural
Best Reduced-Fat Dog Food
Purina ONE SmartBlend
Best Value Grain-Free Dog Food
Blue Buffalo Freedom
Best Grain-Free Dog Food for Adults
1. Best Grain-Free Dog Food – Merrick Grain Free Dry Dog Food
We like Merrick’s grain-free dog food as the best overall grain-free dog food due to their enhanced ingredients in addition to containing zero fillers or preservatives. The top five ingredients adhere to many of the best nutritional standards as well.
Real deboned beef is the top ingredient followed by lamb meal, sweet potatoes, peas, and potatoes. This is a well-balanced food that gives your dog the protein and nutrients he needs to stay active and healthy for longer.
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, common ingredients for healthy skin and coat, can be found in this formula. You can also find the joint-health supporting ingredients chondroitin and glucosamine in this food. These ingredients are key for healthy hips and joints for dogs at all stages of life.
- First five ingredients are animal protein, meat, lentils, and vegetables
- Includes omega fats and joint-healthy ingredients for added nutritional value
- Well-balanced formula for optimal dog health
- Has been known to irritate digestion or skin on some canines
2. Best Grain-Free Food for Small and Medium Breed Puppies – Farmina Natural & Delicious Chicken
It’s important to purchase food specifically designed for your puppy’s breed size. For small and medium breed puppies, we love Farmina Natural & Delicious. This food meets nutritional standards set by the AAFCO.
The first five ingredients are deboned chicken, dehydrated chicken, potato, chicken fat, and dehydrated egg product. All of these give your dog good levels of protein and other healthy nutrients.
This formula offers excellent protein and fat content and suitable carbohydrate content. This well-balanced dog food will ensure that your puppy grows into a healthy adult.
- First and second ingredients are deboned chicken and dehydrated chicken
- Well-balanced nutrition
- Perfect for puppies of small and medium breeds
- High concentration of vegetables may cause some problems
3. Best Dehydrated, Grain-Free Food – Ziwi Peak Air-Dried Dog Food
The Ziwi Peak dehydrated dog food is made up of almost nothing except meat and shellfish. The twin-stage air drying process naturally preserves the food without any preservatives. Drying fresh ingredients preserves the best of animal meat, especially the nutritional value.
The primary ingredients in this formula include fresh meat, organs, bones, and New Zealand green mussels. Green mussels are a naturally-occurring source of glucosamine and chondroitin, ingredients that support joint health.
This formula does not contain grains, corn, soy, potatoes, fillers, or other low-nutrition ingredients or fillers that decrease the nutritional value of this food. Your dog is less likely to have an allergic reaction to any ingredient in this brand.
- Formula contains 98% fresh meat, organs, bones, and green mussels
- Natural source of nutrients necessary for joint health
- No preservatives, fillers, or other ingredients that offer low-nutrition
4. Best Well-Balanced Grain-Free Dog Food – Taste of The Wild Grain Free Premium
Like other entries in this list, the Taste of the Wild dog food is formulated with animal protein sources and fruits and vegetables that provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for any stage in a dog’s life, whether they’re a puppy or adult.
The first five ingredients of this formula are lamb, lamb meal, sweet potatoes, egg product, and lentils. It’s recommended to have animal protein and meal and produce as the first few ingredients in dry dog food since they offer the most nutritional content.
- Quality brand with quality ingredients
- Perfect for dogs with a gluten or a grain allergy
- Formulated with animal protein sources, fruits, and vegetables
- Quite expensive
5. Best Canned Grain-Free Food for Small Dogs – Tiki Dog Aloha Petites Wet Food
Some dogs prefer wet food over dry food. Some like the taste better, some like the consistency. They’re also quite portable if you’re traveling or if your dog doesn’t drink as much water as they should. There are plenty of fantastic grain-free canned foods out there.
Tiki Dog created this excellent canned grain-free dog food for small dogs. This wet food, comprised primarily of meat and fish, is sure to whet the appetite of your small pooch!
This formula does not contain potatoes, corn, rice, wheat, or fillers. It does contain nutritious ingredients such as sweet potato, kale, and flaxseed.
- Contains shredded meat and fish
- Does not contain potatoes, corn, rice, or wheat
- Perfect for small breed dogs
- Not all dogs like canned food
- Only for small dogs, not medium or large dogs
6. Best Grain-Free Food for Active Dogs – Cub Active Dog & Puppy
Active dogs have different nutritional needs than less active dogs. The Cub Active Dog and Puppy food from Sport Dog Food is specifically formulated to meet the needs of your active sporting or active friend.
The manufacturer designed this food without poultry, peas, lentils, flax, or other ingredients to which your dog might have a sensitivity or allergy. Talk about digging deep into grain-free!
Their unique proprietary blend of micronutrients to promote a healthier lifestyle for your friend.
Buffalo forms the crux of this dog food. Buffalo protein tends to be leaner than other animal proteins. It’s also an easily-digestible protein.
- Unique proprietary blend of micronutrients suited for your active sporting or working dog
- Lean buffalo protein is an easily digestible animal protein
- Designed without poultry, lentils, and flax for those dogs with ingredient allergies or sensitivities
- Lesser-known brand
7. Best Reduced-Fat Dog Food – Wellness Core Natural Grain Free Dry Dog Food
If your dog is a little overweight, we recommend checking out this formula. The Wellness Core line is one of the best out there. No fillers, preservatives, or grain combined with animal protein and vegetables make this dog food a wholesome combination.
This recipe only contains natural, non-GMO sourced ingredients. You can be sure your faithful companion only receives an authentic, high-quality dog food that is specifically formulated for your dog.
The first five ingredients of this dog food are deboned turkey, turkey meal, chicken meal, potatoes, and peas. All of these are recommended ingredients when finding a good dog food. Animal meal and protein give your dog protein and fat, and potatoes and peas add other nutrients necessary to keep your dog healthy while still maintaining a suitable weight.
- First five ingredients are healthy, recommended ingredients such as animal protein and vegetables
- Great for overweight dogs or healthy weight management
- Contains only natural, non-GMO sourced ingredients
- Some bags have been found to contain mold
8. Best Value Grain-Free Dog Food – Purina ONE Grain Free
Unfortunately, grain-free dog food often falls on the expensive side of the price spectrum. Fortunately, however, Purina has created a high-quality grain-free food that doesn’t break the bank.
With five different sizes to choose from, you’re able to purchase a small amount to see if your dog likes the food. This doesn’t always happen with some dog food brands.
This dog food contains 30% protein with real chicken as the first ingredient. It does not include poultry by-products, artificial flavors or preservatives, corn, wheat, or soy. It also includes vitamins and minerals for a more well-balanced dog food.
- Five different sizes to choose from
- Chicken is the first ingredient
- No artificial flavors or preservatives
- Some dogs might experience gastrointestinal discomfort
9. Best Grain-Free Dog Food for Adults – Blue Buffalo Freedom
Blue Buffalo’s Freedom formula starts with real chicken, a key protein to keep your carnivorous dog healthy. It also contains essential proteins and carbohydrates to help keep your adult dogs full of that boundless energy you love. The addition of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids ensure your dog’s coat is shiny!
This formula doesn’t contain grains, glutens, fillers, or any artificial preservatives, making it a healthy, well-balanced choice for your dog’s daily diet.
Blue Buffalo is known for their Lifesource Bits. These small kibbles contain vet- and animal nutritionist-selected antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals for a more robust immune system and overall healthier dog.
- Well-balanced formula with animal protein and carbohydrates
- Also contains antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals
- First ingredient is chicken
- Some discomfort might occur due to the Lifesource Bits
Grain Free Dog Food FAQs
Q: Do I really need to feed my dog a grain-free diet?
What you choose to feed your dog is between you and your vet. A grain-free diet is best suited for dogs with gluten or grain allergies or sensitivities. Dog metabolisms can process complex carbohydrates so you don’t need to worry about them upsetting your dog’s stomach.
No matter what you choose to do, it’s important to consult with your vet on the best diet for your dog. They’ll be able to recommend the best food for your dog.
Grain-free diets can be beneficial for your dog. Most of the time, grain-free dog foods contain other wholesome ingredients that will help keep your dog at its best. They’re essential if your dog has a gluten or grain intolerance or allergy.
In this article, we touched on some of our favorite grain-free dog foods. We also provide some information on some things to keep in mind when researching dog foods.
We wish you the best of luck in your grain-free dog food search!