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 learn about our top 5 picks for the best grain-free dog food.
Compare Best Grain-Free Dog Food
1. Canidae Grain-Free PURE Ancestral Dry Food
2. Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dog Food
BEST FOR PUPPIES
3. Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy Recipe
BEST FOR SENIORS
4. Wellness CORE Grain-Free Senior Recipe
BEST FOR ALLERGIES
5. Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet
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, along 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:
Canidae Grain-Free PURE Ancestral Dry Food
- Protein: 36% Min
- Fat: 12.5% Min
- Fiber: 4.0% Max
- Calories: 430 kcal/cup
- 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
- Very expensive compared to most dog food brands
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.
Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dog Food
- Protein: 24% Min
- Fat: 14% Min
- Fiber: 3.5% Max
- Calories: 348 kcal/cup
- Very affordable but still high in quality and nutrition
- Formulated for all breeds and life stages
- Beneficial supplements like chelated minerals and probiotics
- Many recipes contain beef and pork, some dogs may be sensitive or allergic
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.
Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy Recipe
- Protein: 27% Min
- Fat: 15% Min
- Fiber: 5.0% Max
- Calories: 360 kcal/cup
- 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
- Main source of fat is plant-based not animal-based (canola oil)
- Somewhat expensive compared to other puppy foods
This formula contains digestible grain-free carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and peas with chelated minerals and vitamin supplements for nutritional balance.
Wellness CORE Grain-Free Senior Recipe
- Protein: 32% Min
- Fat: 12% Min
- Fiber: 5% Max
- Calories: 359 kcal/cup
- 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
- Some dogs are sensitive or allergic to chicken ingredients
- May be a little too high in fiber for some dogs (6%)
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.
Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet
- Protein: 24% Min
- Fat: 21.5% Min
- Fiber: 3.5% Max
- Calories: 447 kcal/cup
- Limited number of ingredients and one protein source
- Digestible grain-free carbohydrates like peas and tapioca
- Freeze-dried organ meats for nutrition and flavor
- First source of fat is plant-based not animal-based (canola oil)
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, 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 mean 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 Do You 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 that 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 coats. 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 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’s 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.
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 on finding a good grain-free dog food, try one of our top 5 picks for the best grain-free dog foods above.