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Dog Food Nutrition

Best Grain-Free Dog Food

October 13, 2018

Best Grain-Free Dog Food

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.

Quick Look at Our Top Picks:

ImageProductFeatures

Editor's Choice

Canidae Grain-Free PURE Ancestral Dry Food
  • 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
CHECK PRICE
Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dog Food
  • Very affordable but still high in quality and nutrition
  • Formulated for all breeds and life stages
  • Beneficial supplements like chelated minerals and probiotics
CHECK PRICE
Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy Recipe
  • 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
CHECK PRICE
Wellness CORE Grain-Free Senior Recipe
  • 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
CHECK PRICE
Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet
  • Limited number of ingredients and one protein source
  • Digestible grain-free carbohydrates like peas and tapioca
  • Freeze-dried organ meats for nutrition and flavor
CHECK PRICE

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.

Keep reading to see our top 5 recommendations for the best grain-free dog food.

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:

Best Grain-Free Dog Food Overall: Canidae Grain-Free PURE Ancestral Dry Food

Nutritional info:

  • Protein – 36% Min
  • Fat – 12.5% Min
  • Fiber – 4.0% Max
  • Moisture– 10% Max
  • Caloric Content: 430 kcal/cup

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.

Click here to see full list of Ingredients
Salmon, Mackerel, Pacific Whiting Meal, Salmon Meal, Menhaden Fish Meal, Lentils, Tapioca, Carrots, Whitefish Meal, Pollock, Whitefish, Tuna, Canola Oil, Garbanzo Beans, Suncured Alfalfa, Pollock Meal, Herring Meal, Freeze-Dried Salmon, Minerals (Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenite), Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid), Choline Chloride, Mixed Tocopherols (A Preservative), Squash, Parsley, Sage, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Casei Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Trichoderma Longibrachiatum Fermentation Extract, Basil. Contains A Source Of Live Naturally Occurring Microorganisms.

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

Best Affordable Grain-Free Dog Food: Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dog Food

Nutritional info:

  • Protein – 26% Min
  • Fat – 13% Min
  • Fiber – 3.5% Max
  • Moisture– 11% Max
  • Caloric Content: 348 kcal/cup
Click here to see full list of Ingredients
Pork Meal, Dried Potatoes, Peas, Sweet Potatoes, Pork Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Natural Pork Flavor, Pork, Beef, Lamb, Yeast Culture, Organic Alfalfa Meal, Salt, Salmon Oil, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Thiamin Mononitrate), Minerals (Zinc Sulfate, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Amino Acid Complex, Sodium Selenite), Dried Blueberries, Choline Chloride, Cinnamon, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Dried Lactobacillus Plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Casei Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product

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.

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

Best Grain-Free Dog Food for Puppies: Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy Recipe

Nutritional info:

  • Protein – 27% Min
  • Fat – 15% Min
  • Fiber – 5.0% Max
  • Moisture– 10% Max
  • Caloric Content: 360 kcal/cup

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.

Click here to see full list of Ingredients
Salmon, Ocean Fish Meal, Sweet Potatoes, Peas, Potatoes, Canola Oil, Pea Protein, Tomato Pomace, Smoked Salmon, Salmon Meal, Natural Flavor, Salmon Oil (A Source Of Dha), Salt, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Dried Chicory Root, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Tomatoes, Blueberries, Raspberries, Dried Lactobacillus Plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried BifiDobacterium Animalis Fermentation Product, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Vitamin B12 Supplement, RiboFlavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin D Supplement, Folic Acid.

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

Best Grain-Free Dog Food for Seniors: Wellness CORE Grain-Free Senior Recipe

Nutritional info:

  • Protein – 32% Min
  • Fat – 12% Min
  • Fiber – 6.25% Max
  • Moisture– 10% Max
  • Caloric Content: 359 kcal/cup

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.

Click here to see full list of Ingredients
Deboned Turkey, Chicken Meal, Dried Ground Potatoes, Peas, Turkey Meal, Lentils, Tomato Pomace, Ground Flaxseed, Chicken Fat (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), Chickpeas, Natural Chicken Flavor, Salmon Oil, Vitamin E Supplement, Choline Chloride, Spinach, Broccoli, Carrots, Parsley, Apples, Blueberries, Kale, Taurine, Sweet Potato, Zinc Proteinate, Mixed Tocopherols Added To Preserve Freshness, Zinc Sulfate , Calcium Carbonate, Niacin, Iron Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Chondroitin Sulfate, Vitamin A Supplement, Copper Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Sodium Selenite, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Biotin, Chicory Root Extract, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Calcium Iodate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Dried Lactobacillus Plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Casei Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Rosemary Extract, Green Tea Extract, Spearmint Extract.

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%)

Best Grain-Free Dog Food for Allergies: Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet

Nutritional info:

  • Protein – 23.5% Min
  • Fat – 16.5% Min
  • Fiber – 3.5% Max
  • Moisture– 10% Max
  • Caloric Content: 447 kcal/cup

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.

Click here to see full list of Ingredients
Salmon, Ocean Fish Meal, Sweet Potatoes, Peas, Potatoes, Canola Oil, Pea Protein, Tomato Pomace, Smoked Salmon, Salmon Meal, Natural Flavor, Salmon Oil (A Source Of Dha), Salt, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Dried Chicory Root, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Tomatoes, Blueberries, Raspberries, Dried Lactobacillus Plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried BifiDobacterium Animalis Fermentation Product, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Vitamin B12 Supplement, RiboFlavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin D Supplement, Folic Acid.

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)

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

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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