Updated: March 15th, 2022
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Many pet parents are choosing a grain-free diet for their dog and looking for recipes that use more bioavailable sources of carbohydrates.
But, while the right grain-free dog food can mean a healthy and happy dog with an improved digestive system, the wrong type of grain-free food can do more harm than good.
Unfortunately, grain-free is not necessarily a sign of quality. Dog food companies looking to save pennies can still bulk out your dog’s diet with ingredients that not only offer no value, but may actually be harmful to your pooch.
You need to seek out grain-free dog foods that, as well as skipping grains, combine good quality proteins and fats with a healthy nutrient pack that reinforces your dog’s diet.
Sounds like a lot to ask for? Not to worry, we have you covered. Below you will find our recommendations for the five best grain-free dog foods on the market including both affordable kibbles and premium wet food recipes.
We’ll also take you through exactly what to look for when selecting good grain-free dog food, giving you the tools you need to assess any food you might be considering feeding your beloved pooch.
An Overview Of The Best Grain-Free Dog Food
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Top 5 Best Grain-Free Dog Food: Reviews
I’ve been feeding my dogs grain-free for several years now and have experimented with a variety of foods. This list of the best grain-free foods is based on my experience, that of fellow pet parents, as well as market research to find the absolute best options for everyone.
If you are looking for good quality dry food that you can feed your dog on a daily basis, that is both grain-free and excellent for your dog’s health, you won’t be disappointed by this option from American Journey.
They make a variety of great flavors, but our top choice is their salmon, brown rice, and vegetable recipe. It starts with quality deboned salmon as its first ingredient, with the protein content of this kibble raised by Menhaden fish meal, giving your pup 25% protein.
This combines with brown rice and peas as the main sources of carbohydrates, and with some nice chicken fat for healthy joints and a shiny coat.
This is quite a complex recipe with lots of vegetables added as natural sources of vitamins and minerals, including tomatoes, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, blueberries, cranberries, chicory root, and more.
The recipe is also fortified with a variety of added vitamins and minerals to ensure that your pooch is lacking nothing in their diet, including calcium, iron, zinc, Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, copper, manganese, thiamine, and more.
The result is a grain-free, high-protein diet designed to ensure that your dog is not missing any of the nutrients they need to thrive.
As well as salmon you will find chicken, lamb, and beef formulas that allow you to vary your dog’s diet without any fuss. And they won’t make any fuss as they approach their bowls as they’re sure to love the great taste.
Doggy parents who’ve always wanted great-tasting, fresh food made with restaurant-grade ingredients for their pooch have great things to say about Nom Nom’s Heartland Beef Mash.
First off, none of the company’s recipes incorporates grains, a fact that makes them great for gluten-sensitive dogs as well as those that may be grain-intolerant.
Your pooch is likely to fall in love with the savory taste of the Heartland Beef Mash. Whether you have pups, adult, or older dogs, they will love this slow-cooked recipe.
Ground beef is the star ingredient, helping your dog develop lean muscle.
This recipe is packed with energy and potassium from potatoes to keep your pooch lively and playful all day.
Veggies such as carrots and peas perfectly blend with fish oil to create an irresistible taste.
You can actually figure out the ingredients in this food by simply looking at it in your doggy’s feeding bowl. I would say that what you see is what you get.
Ollie’s Healthy Turkey Feast has been formulated to have an appealing meaty taste that dogs love. Delicious turkey tops the ingredient list in this recipe. Great taste aside, it promotes lean muscle growth and muscle repair for work and play.
When it comes to carbohydrates, whole grain brown rice tops the list.
This food is known for its dietary fiber and for being a source of vital minerals such as manganese, magnesium, and thiamin. These work in tandem to provide your dog with energy and to regulate blood sugar and encourage a better metabolism.
Fish oil and eggs pair well with veggies such as spinach and carrot to form a well-balanced diet rich with omega fatty acids and vitamins for a stronger immune system, healthy skin, and a smoother coat.
Another special thing about the meal is that it’s slow-cooked, meaning the nutrients are locked in, keeping it tasty and very digestible.
Also worth mentioning is that this formulation contains a powerful nutrient mix full of minerals and antioxidants that help to boost your pup’s immune system.
If you want your pooch to have a meal that closely resembles that of their ancestral wolves, then this recipe might just do it for them.
Taste Of The Wild understands that 70% of your canine buddy’s immune system is found in the gut. Thus, Taste of the Wild formulates their recipes to be gut-friendly.
The first ingredients in this grain-free formula are buffalo, lamb meal, roasted bison, roasted venison, and chicken meal.
This ensures that your pooch has a plentiful supply of animal protein and other vital elements such as calcium for stronger bones and strong muscle development.
The ingredients list alone is enough to make even the most choosy of eaters salivate. The recipe is packed with animal protein, sweet potatoes, and chicken fat to ensure there is an adequate energy supply for your pooch.
Dry chicory root further enhances digestion and gut health for better absorption as well as a stronger immune system.
5. Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Sweet Potato & Fish Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Natural Balance’s Sweet potatoes and fish are an excellent combination that most dogs will find hard to resist. If your pooch has food sensitivity issues, this recipe might be just what you’ve been missing.
The recipe is grain-free, with sweet potatoes as the carb source.
This is a highly digestible carb that is rich in fiber and energy for an active dog.
Salmon, the star ingredient in the recipe, is an excellent source of the animal protein your dog needs for lean muscle development.
Fish oil, salmon, and flaxseed work in tandem to form a potent omega-6 and -3 fatty acid profile that promotes healthy skin and a shinier coat while boosting immunity at the same time.
Diet-sensitive pooches are likely to benefit from this recipe, as it gentler on the stomach and contains limited ingredients that are highly digestible. And it’s oh-so tasty!
Why Grain-Free Dog Food?
Because they are carnivores, dogs naturally thrive on loads of animal proteins and moderate portions of carbs, plus essential vitamins from veggies and fruits. Ancestral dogs would derive these ingredients from hunting wild prey and eating wild fruits and vegetables. So, it’s hard to imagine your pup craving corn, wheat, or any other grain.
This is not to say that dogs don’t need carbs; they absolutely do, but grains are not the only option.
Although grains, when used in moderation, can offer some nutritional benefit in dog food recipes, manufacturing companies have a tendency to go overboard and use grain as filler due to its inexpensive nature and abundance.
This isn’t great for your canine buddy because of their primitive digestive system, which finds it hard to break down complex carbs such as cereal grains. Given that your pooch relies on fermentation to break down such carbs, over time they may develop a weak stomach lining that becomes susceptible to bowel inflammation disorders as well as food allergies and sensitivities, not to mention a leaky gut that can result in obesity.
It is little wonder that many dog parents now prefer dog food without wheat, or recipes that have friendlier carb options that are easier for Fido to digest and absorb.
You can learn more about the benefits of this type of diet by watching the video below:
What To Look For In Great Grain-Free Dog Foods
Top grain-free foods are often misconstrued to also be low in carbohydrates. But this is a misconception. Grain-free diets often offset the use of grains as a source of carbs by utilizing ingredients such as potatoes, tapioca, green peas, and sweet potatoes, which are also high in carbohydrates but represent a source that’s better for your dog’s digestive system.
But a healthy diet for your dog isn’t just about avoiding grains; you also need to ensure that the foods you select contain the other essential nutrients your pup needs to thrive. These include:
When searching for a recipe that is grain-free, be sure to check that the first ingredient is quality, identifiable animal protein. Animal protein should form the core of any healthy diet for dogs, and fresh meats contain the best quality protein and are the easiest for your dog to digest.
So look for deboned chicken and fish, turkey, lamb, or beef to be listed as the first ingredient in your dog’s food, which means it is the predominant ingredient in the recipe.
Watch out for foods that use an animal meal or by-product as their main source of protein. These are often made from the parts of the animal left behind after butchering and contain significant amounts of skin, bone, and organs. These parts of the animal aren’t bad for your pup, and would form part of their diet in the wild, but they need to be eating more lean meat, complemented by these additions.
As I mentioned earlier, there are several carbs that are a great alternative to grains, like brown rice, peas, tapioca, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. These ingredients are excellent energy providers, and they give your dog the energy they need to spend the day working or playing.
Most of the fiber your dog needs for healthy digestion is also found in the carbohydrates they eat.
But, ideally, carbohydrates should form only around 20% of your dog’s diet. This might be slightly higher for dogs with specific health conditions such as diabetes, as carbs can help regulate their blood sugar levels.
You can also look out for beet pulp, tomato pomace, and chicory root as natural sources of fiber.
Added probiotics can also aid digestion when your dog is eating a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates.
While we are trained to think of fat as a bad thing in our diet, your dog needs a nice dose of fat as part of a healthy diet. It can form anywhere from 5 to 15% of their diet.
Fat is an essential source of energy and also enables them to maintain strong and lean muscles. While it might seem counter-intuitive, sufficient fat in the diet also gives your dog more capacity to burn fatty acids, which gives them energy and keeps them lean.
This is why chicken fat is often seen as an added ingredient in dog food recipes, as it gives your dog an essential fat injection often lacking in foods based on lean meat. Fish oil and sunflower oil are also sometimes added to recipes as a source of fat. But animal-based fats are best when available.
Vitamins And Minerals
In an ideal world, your dog would get all the vitamins and minerals they need from fresh food. But the reality is that food processing means that foods aren’t always as vitamin-rich as they could be, and lack of variety in the diet means they could be missing out on essential elements.
So, just like you, your dog can often benefit from a vitamin and mineral supplement. But while you might buy yours separately, many dog food companies include a “nutrient pack” as part of their recipe to ensure your dog is getting all the essential nutrients they need.
Essential among the vitamins and minerals that should be present in their food are vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, sulfur, iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, and copper.
No Artificial Additives
The danger of artificial additives in food, for both humans and dogs, is not disputed. They can lead to serious digestive issues or severe allergic reactions if your dog’s body decides to attack these toxins introduced into their bodies.
But these are also completely unnecessary for dogs. While artificial colors and flavors might make foods seem more palatable for you, your dog doesn’t think or taste or smell in the same way. They will probably be happy to eat their food regardless. So, these artificial additives are often more about pet parents than their pooches.
Most dogs actually have no problem digesting grains, and the preoccupation with grain-free diets is largely a projection of trends in human diets. Nevertheless, many pet parents choose to avoid grains for their dog, as it is not something they would ever eat naturally in the wild.
Fortunately, there are a variety of excellent grain-free dog foods on the market. Our top choice for daily feeding is American Journey Active Life Formula, while NomNomNow offers great recipes that are perhaps more affordable for occasional feeding.
But, when choosing the right food for your dog, remember that being grain-free might not be the most important thing. Look out for recipes that use top-quality protein as their first ingredient, have a good balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, reinforce your dog’s diet with an excellent nutrient pack, and don’t contain any nasty artificial additives.
What is your favorite grain-free dog food for your pup and why? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.