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Best Grain-Free Dog Foods

Updated April 2018
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  • 15 Models Considered
  • 68 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 122 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best grain-free dog food

    Last Updated April 2018

    Your family's diet is important – and that doesn't stop with its human members. Your canine companion might benefit from a quality grain-free diet to help keep her happy and healthy.

    Grain-free dog food is the latest trend. You may be wondering if your dog could benefit from a grain-free diet and, if so, which grain-free dog food would be best for her.

    We've compared kibble, weighed out wet food, and consulted our canine companions – all to aid you in finding the grain-free food of your dog's dreams. Read on to discover more about grain-free dog food, and please consult the chart at the top of this page to find out about specific brands we like.

    Make sure you choose a complete food for your dog. Complete foods contain all the nutrients your dog needs. Mixer dog foods, on the other hand, are essentially fillers designed to be mixed with other foods.

    Should your dog go grain-free?

    With all the many different types of dog food out there, why should you choose a grain-free variety for your pup? Here are some of the claimed benefits.

    • Proponents of grain-free dog food claim that grains are not a natural part of a dog's diet, and because their ancestors didn't eat them, modern dogs have trouble digesting them.

    • Grain-free dog food is perfect for dogs who have an allergy to grains or gluten.

    • Some dogs with sensitive stomachs are less likely to have upset tummies when they eat grain-free food, especially if the formula contains just a few simple ingredients.

    • You may find that grain-free dog food keeps your dog fuller for longer.

    • Feeding your dog grain-free food may result in fewer stools and decreased flatulence.
       

    While you can find some top-quality grain-free dog foods out there, don't feel like it's the only option, and don't assume a food is good simply because it's grain-free.

    EXPERT TIP

    A dog food isn't of high quality simply by virtue of being grain-free. Make sure that whichever grain-free dog food you choose contains quality ingredients and an appropriate balance of nutrients.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Signs your dog might have a food allergy

    Of course, any allergies should be diagnosed by a vet, but here are some signs that your canine companion could have a food allergy.

    • Rashes or other skin irritations can signify a food allergy.

    • Dogs with food allergies often suffer from diarrhea and/or vomiting.

    • Excessive flatulence can be a sign of a food allergy in dogs.

    • Since a canine food allergy can manifest itself in the form of itchy skin, look for licking, chewing, and self-biting behaviors.

    • Frequent ear infections can be caused by food allergies.
       

    Even if your dog has a food allergy, it might not be an allergy to grains or gluten. For this reason, it’s important to have him properly diagnosed.

    Beef and dairy are actually much more common allergens for dogs than grains are.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Highly active dogs tend to require higher levels of protein, as well as more calories in general, since they burn a lot off with exercise.

    Types of grain-free dog food

    Grain-free dry dog food

    Pros:

    • You can buy dry grain-free dog food in bulk without worrying that it will go stale before you've used it all.

    • Dry dog food creates very little mess and is easy to store.

    • It's easier to feed dry grain-free food when traveling since it doesn't require refrigeration.

    • Dry grain-free dog food costs less than wet grain-free dog food.
       

    Cons:

    • Some dogs find dry food less palatable than wet food.
       

    Price: Expect to pay between $1 and $3 per pound for dry grain-free dog food.

    Grain-free wet dog food

    Pros:

    • Many dogs find wet food more palatable than dry food.

    • Wet grain-free dog food can add variety to your dog's diet, since you can often buy the same formula in a range of flavors.

    • The high water content in wet food provides more moisture for dogs who don't tend to drink a lot.
       

    Cons:

    • Wet food is messier to feed than dry food.

    • Wet dog food can spoil quickly and needs refrigeration if you don't use the whole can in one go.
       

    Price: Most grain-free wet food costs between $2 and $4 per pound.

    Grain-free raw dog food

    Pros:

    • Packaged raw dog food is ideal for anyone who wants to feed their dog a raw diet without the mess and planning that goes into a DIY approach.

    • Proponents of grain-free raw dog food believe that it's "biologically appropriate," meaning that it's more suitable for a dog's biology because it's close to what her ancestors ate.
       

    Cons:

    • Some dogs find raw food too protein-rich, causing stomach upsets.

    • Raw grain-free dog food tends to be expensive.
       

    Price: Average raw dog food costs between $5 and $10 per pound.

    EXPERT TIP

    Raw grain-free dog food is usually sold either freeze-dried or dehydrated and can be mixed with water to make a moist food.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Considerations for selecting grain-free dog food

    Ingredient quality

    Look for a grain-free dog food that contains quality ingredients. Make sure that all meats are named on the ingredient list.

    For instance, it’s better to opt for a food with "chicken" or "chicken meal" rather than "meat meal," as unnamed meats are usually a sign of poor-quality food.

    If you want to go one step further, look for a dog food that uses either wild-caught or locally farmed meat. Imported meat can be of poor quality, not to mention that welfare standards are often minimal or non-existent.

    Alternative carbohydrates

    Grain-free dog food must contain some form of carbohydrate to replace the grains. Most formulas use either white potato or sweet potato. Of these options, sweet potato is more nutrient-dense and contains a wider range of vitamins and minerals compared to the humble white potato.

    Life stage

    Most dog foods are designed for dogs of a particular life stage – namely puppies, adults, and seniors. Foods are designed to contain the right balance of nutrients for each life stage. Puppies, for instance, need a larger proportion of protein and more calories than adults to support their rapid growth.

    Some dog foods are marked "suitable for all life stages," but we still recommend a dedicated puppy food for dogs under one year of age.

    Flavor and palatability

    Grain-free dog food can be found in a wide range of flavors that are usually named for its main ingredients. For instance, you might pick up a "chicken and sweet potato" or a "tuna and egg” formula.

    Of course, all dog food is designed to be palatable to dogs, but just like us, individual canines have their own preferences. For every 99 dogs that love a particular flavor, you'll find one that turns up his nose at it.

    If your dog is a fussy eater, it might take some trial and error before you find a food that he loves. Consider buying your chosen dog food in a small bag the first time, so you're not lumbered with 30 pounds of a food your dog won't eat.

    CAUTION

    Salt and sugar are sometimes added to low-quality grain-free dog foods to make them more palatable. This is a bad practice, so avoid any food with added sugar or excessive sodium.

    Tips

    • Avoid grain-free dog food that contains artificial coloring, flavoring, and preservatives. Common ingredients to avoid include BHT, BHA, and ethoxyquin.

    • Look for an AAFCO statement. Any dog food you choose should have a statement of nutritional adequacy from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) on the package.

    • Consider the order of ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order from the highest concentration to the lowest. Pay particular attention to the first four to six ingredients.

    • Pick a food with added vitamins and minerals. While a high-end grain-free food should contain all the nutrients your dog needs in the primary ingredients, we still recommend buying a food with added vitamins and minerals, just to cover any potential shortfalls.

    Follow the feeding guidelines on the package for your dog's weight. However, if your dog ends up losing or gaining weight, increase or decrease the amount you feed as necessary.

    FAQ

    Q. Are grain-free dog foods also low in carbohydrates?

    A. Just because your dog's food is grain-free, it doesn't follow that it's also low-carb. Carbohydrates are an important part of a dog's diet. providing much of the energy she needs to keep going. Grain-free foods use ingredients such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green peas to provide carbohydrates.

    Q. How do I switch my dog over to her new grain-free food?

    A. It's always best to switch to a new dog food gradually, as an instant change could cause an upset stomach. We generally recommend you make the switch over a period of five to seven days, replacing a small proportion of the old food with the new food on the first day, then gradually increasing the ratio of new to old.

    Q. How can I tell if my dog is thriving on his new diet?

    A. Once you've switched your dog over to his new grain-free food, keep an eye on him to make sure his new food agrees with him. Signs your dog is thriving on his new food include well-formed stools, bright eyes, a shiny coat, and healthy-looking skin.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Jennifer
      Jennifer
      Writer
    • Lauren
      Lauren
      Writer
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor