Dog Food Nutrition

The 5 Best Grain-Free Dog Foods

October 2, 2021

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The 5 Best Grain-Free Dog Foods

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When you walk into a pet store, you’ll see dozens of different dog food brands, each with multiple recipes to choose from. It’s easy to believe that all dog food is the same, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The quality of any dog food is determined by the ingredients and their nutritional value.

Many dog foods these days are made with grain-free ingredients, but what makes this kind of dog food different and could it be a good choice for your dog?

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of grain-free dog food and how to choose the best one. You’ll also receive our top 5 picks for the best grain-free dog food.

Compare Best Grain-Free Dog Food

OVERALL BEST
Canidae Grain-Free PURE Ancestral Dry Food

1. Canidae Grain-Free PURE Ancestral Dry Food

BEST AFFORDABLE
Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dog Food

2. Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dog Food

BEST FOR PUPPIES
Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy Recipe

3. Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy Recipe

BEST FOR SENIORS
Wellness CORE Grain-Free Senior Recipe

4. Wellness CORE Grain-Free Senior Recipe

BEST FOR ALLERGIES
Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet

5. Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet

Protein
36% Min
Protein
24% Min
Protein
27% Min
Protein
32% Min
Protein
24% Min
Fat
12.5% Min
Fat
14% Min
Fat
15% Min
Fat
12% Min
Fat
21.5% Min
Fiber
4.0% Max
Fiber
3.5% Max
Fiber
5.0% Max
Fiber
5% Max
Fiber
3.5% Max
Calories
430 kcal/cup
Calories
348 kcal/cup
Calories
360 kcal/cup
Calories
359 kcal/cup
Calories
447 kcal/cup

The Top 5 Best Grain-Free Dog Foods

A high-quality grain-free dog food will list an animal protein like meat, poultry, or fish as the main ingredient with healthy fats and digestible grain-free carbohydrates. You should also look for fresh fruits and vegetables, chelated minerals, probiotics, and other healthy supplements.

Here are our top 5 picks for the best grain-free dog food that you should consider:

OVERALL BEST
1.

Canidae Grain-Free PURE Ancestral Dry Food

Product Info

  • Protein: 36% Min
  • Fat: 12.5% Min
  • Fiber: 4.0% Max
  • Calories: 430 kcal/cup
Pros
  • Made with 7 regionally sourced fish species for lean protein
  • Digestible grain-free carbohydrates like legumes and vegetables
  • Freeze-dried coating for nutrition and flavor
Cons
  • Very expensive compared to most dog food brands
If you’re in the market for a grain-free dog food made with only the highest quality ingredients, this Canidae Grain-Free PURE Ancestral Dry Food is a great option.

Made with 7 regionally sourced fish species, this formula is loaded with premium proteins and digestible carbohydrates like vegetables, legumes, and tapioca. It is completely free from artificial additives and fillers, plus it has a freeze-dried raw coating for a boost of flavor and nutrition.
BEST AFFORDABLE
2.

Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dog Food

Product Info

  • Protein: 24% Min
  • Fat: 14% Min
  • Fiber: 3.5% Max
  • Calories: 348 kcal/cup
Pros
  • Very affordable but still high in quality and nutrition
  • Formulated for all breeds and life stages
  • Beneficial supplements like chelated minerals and probiotics
Cons
  • Many recipes contain beef and pork, some dogs may be sensitive or allergic
The Whole Earth Farms brand is very affordable compared to many dog foods, but it still offers decent quality in terms of ingredients and nutrition.

They offer a number of grain-free formulas as well as poultry-free options which makes it a good choice for dogs with food allergies and sensitivities. Most recipes are formulated for all breeds and life stages, plus they are supplemented with chelated minerals to ensure optimal nutrient absorption and probiotics for healthy digestion.
BEST FOR PUPPIES
3.

Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy Recipe

Product Info

  • Protein: 27% Min
  • Fat: 15% Min
  • Fiber: 5.0% Max
  • Calories: 360 kcal/cup
Pros
  • Premium-quality proteins from several sources
  • Digestible grain-free carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and peas
  • Rich in essential fatty acids for energy and brain development
Cons
  • Main source of fat is plant-based not animal-based (canola oil)
  • Somewhat expensive compared to other puppy foods
If you’re looking for a grain-free formula to start your puppy off right, consider this Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy Recipe. It features premium proteins like salmon and ocean fish meal which are also excellent sources of omega fatty acids to support your puppy’s brain development as well as healthy skin and coat.

This formula contains digestible grain-free carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and peas with chelated minerals and vitamin supplements for nutritional balance.
BEST FOR SENIORS
4.

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Senior Recipe

Product Info

  • Protein: 32% Min
  • Fat: 12% Min
  • Fiber: 5% Max
  • Calories: 359 kcal/cup
Pros
  • Formulated specifically for the changing needs of senior dogs
  • Rich in lean protein to support muscle mass
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health and support
Cons
  • Some dogs are sensitive or allergic to chicken ingredients
  • May be a little too high in fiber for some dogs (6%)
As your dog gets older, its metabolism will slow down, and its digestive system may become more sensitive as well. This Wellness CORE Grain-Free Senior Recipe is a great option because it is loaded with lean protein for muscle mass and essential fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.

It is a highly digestible grain-free recipe with glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support, plus it is rich in antioxidants for healthy immunity and nutritional balance.
BEST FOR ALLERGIES
5.

Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet

Product Info

  • Protein: 24% Min
  • Fat: 21.5% Min
  • Fiber: 3.5% Max
  • Calories: 447 kcal/cup
Pros
  • Limited number of ingredients and one protein source
  • Digestible grain-free carbohydrates like peas and tapioca
  • Freeze-dried organ meats for nutrition and flavor
Cons
  • First source of fat is plant-based not animal-based (canola oil)
If your dog has food allergies, this Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet might be a good option. Not only is it grain-free, but it is also free from common allergens like dairy, eggs, and potatoes.

This recipe features real lamb as the main ingredient and only source of protein, with digestible carbohydrates like peas and tapioca. It also contains beneficial supplements like chelated minerals and freeze-dried organ meats for flavor as well as nutritional balance.

What Do You Need To Know About Grain-Free Dog Food?

Low-quality dog food brands rely on inexpensive grain-based fillers like corn, wheat, and soy to add bulk to their products without increasing their own costs. Unfortunately, these ingredients are low in nutritional value and are hard to digest for dogs. While many dogs can digest whole grains, some cannot and there is some controversy regarding grains and their nutritional benefits for dogs.

Grain-free dog food is not necessarily healthier than regular dog food because, again, the quality of any dog food depends on the ingredients. In many cases, however, grain-free dog food is a good option for dogs with food allergies and sensitive stomachs.

Here are some things to look for in grain-free dog food:

  • Quality Protein. High-quality animal protein should be the first ingredient in any dog food, grain-free or not. Premium meats, poultry, and fish make excellent proteins for dogs, so look for these ingredients when you start shopping.
  • Digestible Carbohydrates. In the absence of grains, you’ll need to choose a recipe made with other carbohydrates and you should ensure that they are highly digestible for dogs. Things like sweet potatoes, peas, legumes, and tapioca are all good options.
  • Nutritional Balance. In addition to quality proteins and digestible carbohydrates, a grain-free dog food should also be nutritionally balanced. Fresh fruits and veggies offer grain-free sources of key nutrients, though chelated minerals and vitamin supplements are beneficial as well.
  • Fiber Content. Just because a dog food recipe is grain-free doesn’t meant that there aren’t any carbohydrates. Look for a recipe that contains up to 5% dietary fiber to ensure healthy digestion for your dog.

Keeping all of these things in mind, you are now fully prepared to learn how to choose the best grain-free dog food. Here’s what you need to know:

How To Choose The Best Grain-Free Dog Food?

No matter what kind of diet your dog follows, protein is the most important nutrient to consider. Look for a recipe made with a high-quality animal protein as the first ingredient and also provides a minimum of 18% protein, ideally more.

Once you’ve ensured that the dog food recipe contains plenty of quality protein, you can start looking at carbohydrates. When it comes to grain-free carbohydrates, digestibility and nutritional value are essential. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and peas as well as beans and legumes are some of the most common choices. In addition to being grain-free, these ingredients are also complex carbohydrates which means they are easier to digest and rich in both fiber and nutrients.

After protein and carbohydrates, look for healthy sources of fat like chicken fat and salmon oil. These ingredients provide your dog with a concentrated source of energy as well as essential fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. Finally, look for beneficial supplements like chelated minerals and probiotics. Chelated minerals have been bound to protein molecules to increase absorption and probiotics help to ensure healthy and regular digestion.

How Much Should You Feed Your Dog?

The amount you feed your dog depends on its breed, size, and age – changing to a grain-free dog food doesn’t necessarily mean changing how much you feed your dog. Something to keep in mind is that small-breed dogs have faster metabolisms than large-breed dogs.

This means that you should feed small dogs three meals per day and larger dogs just two. Puppies may also need three or four meals to fuel their growth and development.

In terms of how much to feed your dog, you’ll need to refer to the feeding recommendations on the package because every dog food is different. The higher the calorie content of the food, the more careful you need to be to avoid overfeeding. Check the package and choose the right amount of food based on your dog’s size and weight.

What About Food Allergies And Sensitivities?

Grain-free dog food is a great choice for dogs with food allergies and sensitivities because, in many cases, these things are triggered by grains.

Corn, wheat, and soy are the most common culprits of grain-based allergies, though things like rice and barley can trigger allergic reactions in some dogs as well.

When eliminating grains from your dog’s diet, you still need to meet its needs for carbohydrate energy and dietary fiber, so look for healthy alternatives. If your dog has food allergies or sensitivities, you may also want to consider a limited ingredient diet to reduce the risk of triggering those allergies.

Final Remarks

Grain-free dog food is a good option for dogs that are sensitive or allergic to grains, but you still need to make sure that the recipe you choose is high in nutritional value.

Protein is the most important nutrient for any dog and digestible ingredients are essential as well.

To help you get started in finding a good grain-free dog food, try one of our top 5 picks for the best grain-free dog foods above.

Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate holds a certificate in fitness nutrition and enjoys writing about health and wellness trends — she also enjoys crafting original recipes. In addition to her work as a ghostwriter and author, Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.
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