If you have a dog that suffers from chronic skin issues or allergies, then switching to the best grain free dog food can be a perfect solution. This type of pet food is often highly recommended by vets. There are many options for grain free pet food on the market, but in most cases, you’ll need to do more than just scan the label, since there are cheap options that contain low quality ingredients. Like every dog lover, you want the best for your dog, which is why researching grain free foods is a must, if you want to make the switch to a high-quality formula, one that contains all the vitamins and nutrients your dog needs to thrive.
I’ve put together this buyer’s guide, which includes important information concerning what to look for in a top-quality grain free food, what ingredients to avoid, and how to make the switch from traditional food to grain-free, in order to avoid digestive upset. I’ve also included ten products that earned top marks for their well-balanced formula, pet approval, and quality ingredients. Below, you’ll find a comparison chart that includes each of these foods, how they rated, and important information, all of which will help you make an informed decision concerning which food will be a great choice for your pet.
Grain-Free Dog Food Comparison Chart
Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain Free
This grain-free food by Blue Buffalo is loaded with real salmon. The formula is designed to satisfy a dog’s natural love for meat, featuring high-quality protein that will help your pet to maintain and build lean muscle mass. This food is also loaded with healthy carbs, such as peas and sweet potatoes, which will help to fuel a dog’s energy. It also contains omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, which are essential for skin health and coat health. The food’s Life Source Bits feature a blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that have been chosen carefully by animal nutritionists and holistic vets. These bits are designed to support immune health, oxidative balance, and life stage requirements.
- Made with real salmon
- Includes omega 3 and 6 fatty acids
- Free from byproducts
- Contains Life Source Bits
- Can cause excessive flatulence
This grain-free food is designed for all stages of life and comes loaded with real salmon, healthy fatty acids, and is free from harmful fillers and byproducts. It features a flavor that all dogs will love and includes the all-natural ingredients that pet owners are looking for.
CANIDAE PURE Grain-Free Dog Food
This formula consists of ten or less essential ingredients. The real foods provide dogs with everything they need to fuel their body’s and thrive. This grain-free formula is perfect for pets with sensitive stomachs and skin and coat issues. Probiotics have also been added to support a healthy immune system and digestive health. The omega 3 and 6 fatty acids will also support a healthy coat and skin.
- Salmon is main protein source
- Includes omega 3 and 6 fatty acids
- Supports immune health
- Promotes skin and coat health
- May cause weight gain in older dog
In terms of formula ingredients, it doesn’t get more basic than this. The manufacturer allows pet parents to see exactly what’s in their pet’s food, so they can avoid any ingredients that can trigger an allergic reaction or digestive upset. This product contains real salmon and all-natural ingredients, with no harmful fillers or common allergens.
Nature’s Recipe Grain Free Dog Food
This formula features nutrient loaded salmon as the main ingredient. This grain-free recipe is also free from artificial flavors and colors, byproducts, wheat, and soy. This formula includes nutrient dense carbs including pumpkin and sweet potatoes, both of which promote bowel regularity. These nutrient-dense carbs are very easy to digest and can help your dog stay healthy and active. The rich salmon flavor will encourage even the pickiest dogs to give this food a try.
- Contains nutrient dense carbs
- Salmon is the main protein source
- Made for dogs of all ages
- Contains a small percentage of chicken meal
Considered one of the best and most affordable grain-free dog foods on the market, this formula features a taste that all dogs love, while the nutrient-rich formula works to improve coat and skin health, boosts immune health, and is perfect for dogs of all ages.
Castor & Pollux – Organix Grain Free Dog Food
This formula’s main protein source is USDA certified organic chicken. This product doesn’t contain any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. The sweet potato and chicken formula is packed with several superfoods including coconut oil, blueberries, and flaxseed. This food also contains guaranteed levels of prebiotic and probiotic fibers, which will aid in digestion and are designed to meet the nutritional needs of small breed dogs.
- Includes USDA certified organic chicken
- Loaded with superfoods
- Probiotics and prebiotics aid in digestion
- Free of preservatives
- Designed for small breeds only
This product contains all-natural ingredients and is designed to be gentle on the stomach, while boosting immune health and promoting coat and skin health. This formula is perfect for picky eaters and dogs with sensitive stomachs.
Diamond Naturals Grain Free Dog Food
This formula features real wild caught fish, which contains important amino acids that promote strong, lean muscles and skin and coat health. The superfood content includes antioxidants and a fatty acid blend, in addition to probiotics for digestive health. This formula is free of fillers such as wheat and corn and does not contain any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. The recipe includes added vitamins from real fruits and veggies, which will support immune health.
- Includes high quality protein
- Added vitamins and minerals
- Real wild caught fish
- High protein
- Can cause weight gain in seniors
This formula promotes immune, skin, and coat health. The probiotics, healthy fats, and high-quality protein source will encourage even the pickiest dog to give this food a shot. Of course, dog owners will love it for its high vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content, all of which work together to improve coat, skin, and digestive health.
Nulo Senior Grain Free Dog Food
This grain-free dog food is specifically designed for seniors. Often, food that’s too high in protein can be difficult for seniors to digest, since kidney function is not as efficient as a dog grows older. Additionally, food that’s too high in protein can lead to weight gain. This food features a formula that offers superior nutrition for seniors, including the addition of L-carnitine, which aids in the metabolism of fats for dogs that are not very active. The food also includes chondroitin and glucosamine, which supports joint and hip health. The first five ingredients in this food include trout, turkey meal, salmon meal, peas, and sweet potato. The
Animal-based protein sources like real trout and turkey contain amino acids that work together to support lean muscle mass and a healthy heart.
- Includes glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health
- High quality protein
- L-carnitine aids in metabolism
- Designed specifically for seniors
- Contains protein byproducts
This formula is perfect for seniors who are no longer very active. However, this food contains some protein meal byproducts, which means it contains low quality parts of an animal that are normally not suitable for human consumption. Yet, the main protein source is high quality and loaded with healthy fats that promote coat and skin health.
Lucy Pet Formulas for Life Grain Free Dog Food
This food has been carefully formulated for digestive health, gut health, and sensitive stomachs. The main protein source is wild caught deboned salmon, which is loaded with omega 3 fatty acids for skin and coat health. This food will work well for all life stages and breeds. The food contains essential nutrients needed for seniors, adults, and puppies. This formula is also a great choice for dogs of all sizes, including small breed dogs.
- Main protein source is wild caught salmon
- Perfect for dogs of all ages
- Aids in digestive health
- Promotes skin and coat health
- Kibble may be too big for some small breed dogs
This pet food is a great choice for multi-dog households since it’s designed for all stages of life and all breeds. This product’s main protein source is wild caught salmon, which is loaded with essential vitamins, nutrients, and healthy fats. If you’re looking for a complete pet food, one that includes all the nutrients a dog needs in order to thrive, then your search stops here.
Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Diet
The main protein source in this leading grain-free pet food is duck. This type of novel protein is perfect for dogs with food sensitivities or allergies. In addition to duck, you’ll also find pumpkin, peas, potatoes, all of which will support gentle digestion. The limited ingredients make this formula perfect for pet owners who are trying to eliminate allergens from their dog’s diet. In many cases, it’s not easy to identify the culprit, although protein sources are often to blame. However, a formula that’s loaded with byproducts and fillers can also be the cause. This food was created by an animal nutritionist and holistic vets, so you can be sure all of the ingredients are natural, safe, and gentle on a dog’s digestive system.
- Main protein source is duck
- All-natural ingredients
- Limited ingredient formula
- Aids in digestion
This food may be on the pricey side, but if you’ve already spent hundreds of dollars trying to get to the root source of your pet’s skin and coat issues, unable to determine what is causing an allergic reaction in your pet, then this limited formula is a great choice and one that will help to eliminate any skin and coat issues, in addition to digestive upset in dogs of all ages.
Whole Earth Farms Grain Free Small Breed Dry Dog Food
This small breed grain-free dog food contains high-quality proteins including turkey and chicken. This kibble is very small, specifically designed for smaller breeds so they won’t have any issues chewing and swallowing. This limited ingredient formula includes essential vitamins and minerals, in addition to probiotics for digestive health. The formula also includes flaxseed, sweet potatoes, and apples, providing a well-balanced meal that all dogs will love.
- Includes probiotics
- Limited ingredient formula
- Two high quality protein sources
- Designed specifically for small breed dogs
- Only available in two size options
This wholesome formula is perfect for adult small breed dogs and includes not one, but two high-quality protein sources. This grain-free formula is gentle on the stomach, aids in digestion, and includes all of the essential vitamins and minerals that small breed dogs need to thrive.
Crave Grain Free Adult Dog Food
This high protein grain-free dog food is designed for adults. The main protein sources include salmon and white fish. This formula is perfect for dogs of all ages. However, the high protein content comes in at thirty-four percent, so it’s not a good choice for dogs over the age of seven, since older dogs are not as active. The food is free from soy, wheat, corn, harmful fillers, and includes dense carb sources including peas. The high protein content makes this food an excellent choice for active dogs and can help to promote lean muscle gain, provides a natural, healthy fuel source, and will boost immune health. The all-natural ingredients will aid in digestion and can improve both skin and coat health.
- Contains two high quality protein sources
- Perfect for high energy dogs
- All-natural ingredients
- High protein content makes this food a poor choice for less active dogs
This food is designed for adults, but if you have a dog that’s overweight or not very active, then this food can cause them to gain weight. The high protein content makes the food a better choice for very active dogs and will promote muscle gain, coat health, skin health, immune health, and will also aid in digestion, so it’s also a good choice for dogs with a sensitive stomach. While it’s not a good choice for dogs over the age of seven, it includes all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that young active dogs need to thrive.
Grain-Free Dog Food Buyer’s Guide
Traditional dog food is grain-based and usually contains a combination of soy, rice, rye, oats, barley, corn, and wheat. While these are all good sources of carbs, many brands often contain a higher carb content than what’s needed. Many pet owners decide to make the switch to grain-free foods because some pets have a grain allergy. However, in many cases, an allergy is often linked to the protein source. Beef is often linked to food allergies in dogs. Many top grain-free pet foods contain a higher quality protein source, but not all grain-free foods are created equal. Some may contain too many carbs, which is why it’s important to ensure the product’s main protein source doesn’t come from starch, but from meat. Before I dive into what types of ingredients to look for in a top quality formula, first, I’ll go over some of the benefits of making the switch to this kind of pet food, and how it can help to improve digestion, minimize skin issues, and improve coat health.
Benefits of Grain-Free Dog Food
Many pet owners don’t know much about grain-free food and the benefits that are linked to making this type of dietary change.
Below, I’ll go over some of the most important benefits of a grain-free diet and how it can have a positive impact on your pet’s health.
- Many dogs have digestive issues when it comes to grains. Dogs that have trouble digesting grains may experience serious health issues such as rashes, inflammation, and gastrointestinal disease. Making the switch to a grain-free diet aids in digestion and allows the body to more efficiently utilize important nutrients.
- For dogs with allergies, a food that’s grain-free is a perfect fit. Many owners have reported that their pet’s allergy symptoms disappeared entirely or decreased significantly. Allergy symptoms can include vomiting, rashes, constipation, loose stool, chewing, licking, and biting skin, and frequent skin infections. If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms you should make an appointment with their vet in order to rule out any serious medical conditions. During this time, you can discuss the option of switching to a grain-free formula. This will allow you to determine whether or not your dog has a grain allergy, if their symptoms subside after making the switch.
- In most cases, the medical benefits that are linked to grain-free food are enough to get many pet owners to make the switch, but did you know that a grain-free diet can also improve the appearance of your dog’s coat? On this type of diet, you may notice that your dog smells better, their teeth are whiter, and their coat is shinier.
- Because a high-quality grain-free food doesn’t contain any additives or fillers, it will help to keep a dog feeling fuller, longer. These formulas consist of high-quality fats and proteins, so you won’t have to feed them a large serving, like you do with grain-based dog foods.
- In many cases, the indigestible fibers that are found in wheat and corn are what’s responsible for loose stool in dogs. Tapioca and potatoes which replace the carb content in grain-free foods will act as a type of thickening agent, which can result in smaller stool. It also means that your dog will not have to go to the bathroom as often.
- Protein is the main ingredient that will fuel a dog, providing them with energy. Since grain-free formulas contain animal-based protein sources, instead of mainly plant-based protein sources, you’ll notice right away that your dog has more energy.
- A diet that’s loaded with grains can lead to excessive gas. This can cause chronic cramps and discomfort in dogs. With a grain-free diet, you’ll notice that your dog is no longer dealing with excessive gas, which will be a good thing for both the owner and the dog.
- When a dog eats grains, a film of carbs will coat their teeth. These particles will eventually be washed away by their saliva, but this is a process that can take several hours. During this time, the bacteria in your dog’s mouth will begin to feed on this carb film, which is what creates a foul odor. This means you’ll no longer have to deal with bad doggy breath when you make the switch to a grain-free diet.
Now that you know more about the benefits of dogs eating a grain-free dog food, let’s take a closer look at what factors you’ll want to consider when you’re shopping around for a new food, to ensure you choose the best product for your dog.
When you’re looking for a high-quality grain-free formula, you’ll need to be careful concerning what ingredients are in the food. Grain-free formulas are often very high in protein and contain a better quality of protein. But the other ingredients added to these formulas are also important.
Below, you’ll find a list of the most common ingredients that are found in grain-free formulas.
Legumes are high in protein. Legumes that are often found in grain-free foods include lentils, soybeans, peas, and chickpeas.
Many brands will include either white potatoes or sweet potatoes.
A high-quality formula will offer more than just a lack of grains. It’s more about the balance of nutrients, whole ingredients, and protein type and quality. The formula should contain real animal-based protein as the primary ingredient. This protein is easier for your dog to digest, so it will be easily absorbed into a dog’s body where it will then be utilized by different tissues and organs.
If a dog is allergic to certain types of proteins such as chicken and beef, there are still plenty of options to choose from, including:
If you want to make the switch to a grain-free food, then look for a product that includes veggies and fruits in the recipe. Fruits and veggies are loaded with essential antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, all of which will offer many health benefits.
Ingredients to Avoid
Just because a food is labeled grain-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. In fact, there are many types of ingredients that you should avoid at all costs, including:
- Vegetable oil
- Sugar alcohols
- Artificial colors
- White flour
- Cheap fillers
- BHA and BHT
- Rendered fats
- Corn syrup
- Artificial sweeteners
- By-product meal
Flavor enhancers and fillers are commonly used to improve the flavor of the food. Even if the formula includes flavor enhancers, make sure that they come from a natural ingredient. Anything that’s labeled as artificial will be potentially harmful to your pet. Look for formulas that promote a well-balanced diet and contain a healthy amount of oils, veggies, fruits, and protein.
The Truth About Grain Allergies
When it comes to dog food allergies, it can be pretty complicated. In many cases, protein is the offending food and it’s also one of the most common types of allergen. However, not all proteins will trigger allergies and sensitivities. According to some studies, the most common allergens include the following:
But if fed regularly, grains can be a major allergen that can cause issues with your pet’s digestive system. However, your pet may also be experiencing an allergic reaction to the type of protein found in their food. The key will be to experiment with different combinations of ingredients in order to determine which type works the best. If your pet is allergic to grains, then making the switch to a grain-free food will be a good decision and one that can make all the difference in terms of their activity level and their health.
The Pros and Cons of Changing Your Dog’s Diet
There is plenty of debate concerning whether or not grain-free food is the best choice for dogs. The argument for grain-free foods is pretty simple. Many pet owners believe that a grain-free formula is more natural and similar to a dog’s ancestral diet. Because dogs are carnivores many pet owners also believe that plant-based protein sources should also be limited. However, this has been debunked by science. Overtime, dogs have developed the ability to digest most types of grains. Others advocate for a grain-free diet because they believe that grains are the most common culprit behind pet allergies. However, as I mentioned earlier, certain types of proteins, such as chicken and beef are often to blame.
The most common grains found in dog food includes white rice, soy, wheat, and corn. They’re a cheap source of carbs and they provide an additional amount of protein. Protein is essential in a dog’s diet. When you look at the label on dog food, you’ll often come to realize that food that’s high in protein actually contains a higher percentage of protein that’s plant based. This is usually in the form of wheat or corn, with only a small amount of animal protein included.
High Glycemic Foods
Many of these low-quality grains that make up most of a dog’s diet are high on the glycemic index. This index rates a food based on how high and how quickly they can cause blood sugar to rise. High glycemic index carbs can produce a type of inflammatory response in dogs. This can lead to cancer, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Some foods have been found to cause sensitivities or intolerance. Food sensitivities and intolerances can build up over time. This can result in problems that can be misdiagnosed such as skin allergies and GI issues. Both of these issues can be a direct result of your dog’s diet. Some pet owners may end up feeding their dogs more of these grain-loaded foods because they give their dogs a burst of energy, however, this energy doesn’t last all day, which means a dog will usually be hungry and ready to eat again a few hours after their meal.
Grain-free formulas usually contain more concentrated energy sources. They also often contain a higher quality of fat and protein that comes from animal sources. These foods can help to meet a dog’s nutritional needs in smaller quantities, so a pet owner will end up giving their pet less food, but their dogs will receive all the fat, protein, and essential vitamins and nutrients they need, despite this smaller serving size.
Grains such as wheat or corn can end up activating food sensitivities. Choosing a grain-free formula will prevent this.
Wheat is a type of a cheap source of protein. It contains gluten which is a sticky type of protein that’s known to cause issues in people with a gluten allergy or intolerance.
In moderation, soy can be completely fine. It’s often found in dog food and used as a source of protein in order to boost a food’s protein percentage. However, there’s a good reason why it shouldn’t be part of your dog’s diet. This involves the issues that revolve around the manufacturing process. Ninety percent of soy is genetically modified. The beans are mashed into fats and oils and the meal is separated out. Food meant for humans will use the oil and fat, while the meal is used for animals. Soy contains a high volume of natural toxins that can cause issues in many of the organ systems. It can have a negative impact on the thyroid gland and hinder hormone production.
Corn isn’t exactly harmful. In some cases, it can even be beneficial. It provides a natural protein source, and works as a digestible carb, making it an important energy source. However, it also contains contaminants that can put a dog’s health at risk. While the corn people eat is frozen, canned, or fresh, corn that’s found in dog food is not the same. The cheapest feed grade corn is what’s commonly used, so the corn may be contaminated with mycotoxins. Food that has corn listed as the first ingredient can be high in protein, but the protein content is mostly plant-based, instead of animal-based. Animal-based protein is superior to plant-based, when it comes to the canine diet.
Introducing Grain-Free Dog Food to Your Pet
Many pet owners are eager to make the switch to grain-free dog food, in order to help treat their dog’s skin issues. Unfortunately, this type of transition, if not done correctly, can cause digestive upset. Quickly transitioning to a new food is not good for a dog’s sensitive digestive tract. Pet owners must make the transition gradually in order to give their dog’s digestive tract time to adjust to the new food. The bacteria that lives in the gut has an important job, making vitamin K, absorbing water and nutrients, fermenting fiber, and creating short-chain fatty acids. Suddenly feeding a dog a new type of pet food will interrupt these important functions and can have a negative impact on beneficial bacteria.
Some of the common signs that can indicate you’ve made the switch too quickly can include:
A Gradual Transition
Begin the transition by mixing some of your pet’s new food with their current food. Do this for several days in order to give his or her digestive tract some time to make the adjustment. Many vets recommend a period of ten days to gradually and slowly add in the new pet food while reducing the amount of old pet food in their diet.
Ideally, you should start with approximately ten percent of the new food and ninety percent of the old food. You’ll increase the amount of new food by ten percent each day, while decreasing the amount of their old food by ten percent each day.
Monitor Your Pet Closely
If your dog experiences any type of digestive upset during the transition, then you may need to slow down the process even more. At the first sign of digestive issues, you will need to go back to feeding your dog the balance of old food and new food that they were able to tolerate without any issues. Feed them that combination for a period of three to four days, then start up the transition once again. Avoid using any type of home remedy for an upset stomach and speak with your vet instead.
If your dog has any type of medical condition, make sure you consult your vet about making the transition to a new type of food. This is because some health problems can be negatively impacted by a change in diet.
If your dog currently has weight issues, then you should also consult your vet. A pet that struggles with weight issues will need foods that are designed to supply essential nutrients in increased concentrations in order to prevent malnutrition.
The High Cost of Grain-Free Food
One of the biggest drawbacks of making the switch to a grain-free food is the price. These foods are often much more expensive than grain dog food since they contain a higher level of animal-based protein and a better quality of ingredients. However, if your dog’s health is the top priority, then the higher cost of a top-quality pet food will be worth every penny. Like traditional dog food, the cost of grain-free foods will vary from brand to brand and can depend on the size of the dog food bag and the type of protein source.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it Really Healthier for a Dog to Eat Grain-Free?
While a dog needs carbs in order to produce energy, too many carbs can lead to high levels of bad bacteria in the gut, obesity, and low energy levels. What matters is the carb source and the protein source. In most cases, grain-free is a better choice because it contains a better quality of carbs and protein and a higher level of animal-based protein.
What are the Best Grains for Dogs?
Rice and oatmeal are good grain sources for most dogs. These healthy grains can easily be incorporated into a dog’s diet and do not have a reputation for causing an allergic reaction in pets. Both grains are also very gentle on the stomach.
What Grains to Avoid in Dog Food?
Many vets recommend avoiding wheat and corn and all grains that contain gluten. Avoid feeding dogs grains that have been genetically modified. Instead, choose more nutritious grains such as buckwheat.
Is Quinoa Harmful to Dogs
Quinoa is normally a healthy food choice for dogs however, some dogs may have trouble digesting it. If your pet becomes constipated, has diarrhea, or vomits after eating quinoa, then avoid feeding it to him or her again.
Are Sweet Potatoes Good for Dogs?
Yes. Sweet potatoes are a healthy, natural, and safe treat for dogs. This veggie offers a wide range of health benefits and supports a healthy digestive tract, due to their high fiber content. They’re also high in vitamins A, C, and B6.
The best grain-free dog food can have a major impact on your dog’s digestive health, activity level, and skin and coat health. If your dog has a sensitive stomach or allergies, then making the switch to a grain-free formula can make all the difference in their quality of life. It’s important to choose a food that’s not just grain-free but loaded with healthy carbs, high-quality animal protein, and free from harmful ingredients.