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A lot of folks consider a grain-free dog food to be simply the best for their pets. And why not? You simply cannot expect the ancestors of our pooches to exhibit natural cravings for grains, can you? The belief is that dogs in the wild are carnivorous. Additionally, there are a growing number of products in the shelves of pet supplies stores that feature grain free dog food. This is further strengthened by the growing popularity of human specialty diets, namely Paleo and gluten-free. The thinking is that, if eliminating grains from the human diet is beneficial for us, then it should also be beneficial for our pets. However, as we will explore later on, it is not all about being grain free that makes an exceptional diet for canines. As you will also see from our list of best grain free dog food, pooches will still rely on an amazing proportion of proteins, fats, and healthy carbs.
The 10 Top Grain Free Dog Food
First 5 Ingredients
Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Water Buffalo, Lamb Meal, Chicken Meal, Sweet Potatoes, Peas
Considered by many as the best grain free dog food in the market because it truly understands what real hypoallergenic doggie diet means, the Taste of the Wild Canine Formula boasts of a unique formulation of high protein that is sourced from highly novel sources. This simply means that the meat sourced proteins do not come from the usual meat proteins that we often see in many products. This is the key to a real hypoallergenic diet for dogs.
The thinking of Taste of the Wild echoes the observation of many in the scientific community. If one wants to give dogs grain free dog food for fear of eliciting food allergies, then all other potentially allergenic food items must also be eliminated. It is for this reason that TOTW formulated its Canine Formula to be filled only with proteins from very unusual meats like bison, venison, boar, wildfowl, lamb, and salmon. They don’t use beef and chicken as these are very common proteins and are thus, have the same allergenic potential as wheat, corn, and soy. As such, if you’re looking for a gluten free dog food, then you should also look for chicken- and beef- free dog food as these are as allergenic as gluten.
Taste of the Wild understands this. And this is something that thousands of pet parents simply love and appreciate about the company. Each kibble is formulated to be exceptionally high in proteins, moderate in fats, and modest in carbs. It is also enriched with a lot of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances alongside a good ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. As if this is not enough, it even includes the probiotics Lactobacilli acidophilus and reuteri and Bifidobacterium animalis to further improve the health of your mutt’s digestive system.
With customers numbering in the thousands singing a lot of praises for the TOTW Canine Formula, it is without a doubt that this is the best all-around wellness dog food money can buy.
Following in the footsteps of Taste of the Wild is this grain free doggie chow from Wellness CORE. Unfortunately, one of their variants simply misses the mark as it includes chicken in its formulation. The good thing however, is that the Original Turkey & Chicken variant of the Natural Grain Free Dry Dog Food also comes with another fowl which effectively reduces the allergenic potential of chicken. If you really want a hypoallergenic food for your pet, then you should pick Wellness CORE’s other variants like the Wild Game Duck, Turkey, Boar & Rabbit and the Ocean Whitefish, Herring, & Salmon. These two variants come with novel proteins so your pet’s immune system will not really identify them easily as allergenic.
But there is one thing that is a plus for Wellness CORE. Its formulation already includes chondroitin and glucosamine, two substances that are well-known for promoting joint health and reducing the symptoms associated with hip dysplasia and arthritis. Technically, what we are saying is that Wellness CORE is an exceptional choice if you have a dog that is also suffering from mobility issues and joint problems. It also comes with 4 strains of gut-friendly bacteria to help promote digestive health and boost immune system functioning. The latter is also enhanced further by the addition of a variety of antioxidants and omega fatty acids. Wellness CORE Original Deboned Turkey is one of 5 dog food recipes included in our review of the Wellness Core product line.
True, Wellness CORE doesn’t contain allergenic grains. However, it still contains a variety of healthy carbohydrates to fuel the activities of your mutt.
High quality protein rich doggie food
Free from allergenic grains
Packed with healthy vegetables and fruits
Enriched with 80 million CFUs of probiotics per pound
BLUE Wilderness comes with its own proprietary blend of nutrients packed into each kibble. Called the LifeSource Bits, each kibble of the High Protein Grain Free Adult Dry Dog Food is packed with the right amounts of minerals and vitamins that help ensure the correct oxidative balance in your pooch. However, do pick only the Duck and Salmon varieties as these can truly help make for a hypoallergenic diet for your mutt. You see, while BLUE Wilderness prides itself of not including corn, soy, or wheat in its formulation, one of its variants still contains chicken which we all know is allergenic. So, if you’re afraid of gluten allergies, then you should also avoid chicken as it can be allergenic, too.
With protein levels that are similar to Wellness CORE, the BLUE Wilderness can be a great grain free puppy food as these young canines will definitely benefit from the proteins. It works well for senior dogs and other pooches that may be at risk for developing joint problems or mobility issues as it also contains glucosamine. It doesn’t contain methylsulfonylmethane or chondroitin, however. Regardless, its calcium and phosphorus content can help address weakening of the bone structure. It also features omega fatty acids for added health benefits.
The BLUE Wilderness High Protein Grain Free dog dry food is a great alternative if you want something that can help improve the health of your mutt while helping prevent the development of joint problems. Staying away from the chicken variant should help you obtain the hypoallergenic benefits of a wheat free dog food.
Contains no corn, wheat, or soy
Comes with the proprietary LifeSource Bits formulation
If you’re after a really high protein dog food without corn, soy, or wheat, then you should try Merrick’s Grain Free Dry Dog Food. It contains at least 38% of the dry weight of the kibble and comes with some really exceptional animal based protein sources like buffalo, venison, rabbit, duck, salmon, and lamb. Unfortunately, it does come with Texas beef and chicken. The good news is that you can always choose not to get these variants if you want to take full advantage of the hypoallergenic properties of Merrick as one of the best grain free dry dog food.
In addition to its high protein content, Merrick also comes complete with omega 3s and omega 6s to help improve the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity of immune system cells. Additionally, Merrick comes with both glucosamine and chondroitin. Come to think of it, Merrick marries the novel animal protein sources of the Taste of the Wild and the joint-friendly profile of Wellness CORE. It also comes especially formulated with 4 strains of beneficial bacteria, although there are no clear indications as to the number of colony forming units it has per unit of measure. Nevertheless, this should give you exceptional peace of mind, knowing fully well that your pet’s digestive system is more than capable of taking care of any insult that comes its way.
AvoDerm has produced a balanced grain-free recipe that utilizes the high-fiber content in duck protein to promote a healthy digestive tract in dogs. Duch is a rich meat that packs a lot of flavors, so you can be sure your pup is getting exactly what they bargain for with these delicious biscuits. With avocado included, which provides the omega fatty acids that help to promote your pup’s skin health, with the knock of effect of improving their coat too.
AvoDerm is a great grain-free option for fussy pups. Customers have remarked on how this tasty protein-packed grain-free diet has been a game-changer when it came to improving their dog’s physical health. With small dog owners particularly enjoying the size of the nuggets, which are small and manageable, making this a grain-free food fitted for all sizes of dogs. This brand particularly prides itself on the fact that their grain-free dog food has only one source of meat protein, with this recipe containing only duck. A single source of protein means your dog is even less likely to have a reaction.
Orijen have taken a whole-prey approach when it comes to their grain-free food. If your pup can’t have grains, then they can have the best of the meat instead, with only the most succulent high-quality meat being used. This high-protein recipe is on our list as one of the best grain-free dog food options available, owing to the fact that they have compiled their recipe of 85% meat. In the wild, meat would provide these natural hunters with the vitamins, minerals, and protein they would need to stay strong. Orijen has taken that fact into account and made animal protein the sole focus of their food.
For your fussier pups, this meat-filled, grain-free recipe even includes the use of freeze-dried liver as a coating, for extra flavor. They also take their meat sources ethics extremely seriously and are proud to say that all proteins used in their food are wild-caught, free-running, and free-range. These types of high-density, grain-free, protein-rich diets are great for muscular breeds that struggle with stomach sensitivity, as they can provide the necessary energy and protein with none of the risks.
Ziwi is a proud New Zealand grain-free food that is ideally suited for dogs with grain allergies. They put ethics at the forefront of their campaign, with free-range, grass-fed, single-source beef as the primary protein. With none of the unnecessary grain fillers, they have been able to focus on providing your pup with a dense source of meat protein in their grain-free food. Ziwi grain-free dog food is 96% bone, meat, organs, and New Zealand green mussels. They have chosen their native mussel as an additional protein source because NZ green mussels also contain various anti-inflammatory nutrients, which include omega-3 fatty acids and chondroitin sulfate which protects connective tissue.
The caloric density of this food means you get more bang for your buck. Ziwi’s grain-free recipes pack in enough flavor and substance to mean that you don’t need as much food in the bowl as you would ordinary dry kibble. And this food being free from potatoes, rice, legumes, corn, wheat, soy, grains, and preservatives means you are getting only the best. The carefully thought out recipe reduces the chances of your dog reacting to their new grain-free diet to almost zero.
Ethically sourced beef that is free-range and grass-fed.
Contains a natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin, which support healthy joints.
Contains 96% fresh meat protein, bones, organs, and NZ green mussels.
A high-protein and high-kilocalorie food which means smaller bowls are needed than standard kibble.
Free from pea protein, grains, soy, wheat, sugars, legumes, corn, potatoes, rice, glycerin, and preservatives.
Nulo’s senior support dog food has made it onto our list for the best grain-free dog food thanks to its nutrient-filled formula. After careful study and analysis, Nulo was able to produce a grain-free option that is made to support senior dogs in their old age in almost every way possible. All this whilst protecting your older pup’s digestive system. Dog foods with no grains are carefully thought out so as to find grain substitutes, whilst providing optimal nutrition and a balanced diet.
Nulo’s grain-free kibble contains a healthy blend of glucosamine and chondroitin aid which are both used to support healthy joints and hips which are a common complaint among aging dogs. The recipe also contains L-Carnitine in the recipe which comes from the trout ingredient and is great for your pooch’s metabolism. And with probiotics, calcium, and phosphorus included, your dog’s diet will look after them well.
Hill’s Science has entered our best grain-free dog food list thanks to its credibility. This is vet-recommended dog food with grain-free formulation for senior and adult dogs. Hill’s Science grain-free dog food has balanced nutrition and is filled with essential nutrients to support healthy digestion. This grain-free recipe contains omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E which are essential vitamins for flourishing skin, and therefore a smooth and shining coat.
Previous customers have shown their joy at using Hill’s Science grain-free food. Some recall how their dog has been thin, dull and sickly, before switching to a grain-free diet that allowed them to digest their food properly. Hill’s dog food has proved to many to be an effective and delicious diet for helping their dog live a happy and healthy life, thanks to the high digestibility factor. If you want to find out more about their company, product lines, and recall history, read our overview of Hill’s Science Diet Dog Food.
Containing nourishing prebiotic fiber from the addition of beet pulp.
Optimal nutrient absorption as a result of the high digestibility factor.
Contains omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E to help support healthy skin and a shiny coat.
The grain-free recipe is made with all-natural ingredients, with added minerals, amino acids, and vitamins.
Natural Balance focuses its energy on creating some of the best grain-free dog food, whilst avoiding the use of artificial flavorings and colorings. They have also limited the number of needless carbohydrates to help your dog avoid any unnecessary weight gain, which is especially common in senior pups. Natural Balance provides only the best high-quality ingredients for balanced nutrition and a steady grain-free diet. This food is ideal for a pooch with food sensitivities, as the reaction is often caused by grain, which this food avoids.
Food sensitivities are often characterized by both digestive distress as well as skin and coat problems caused by reactive outbreaks. Thanks to the supply of omega fatty acid supplied by the flaxseed ingredient. Their skin will recover well and be steadily maintained on this new grain-free diet. Natural Balance uses a single source of animal protein to limit the number of potential allergens in their grain-free recipe, so you can be sure you’re getting exactly what you expect.
Stella & Chewy is a proud USA-based company that sources its protein by ethical means. Using only cage-free poultry for their protein element as well as strictly organic fruits and vegetables. These grain-free dog food patties are long-lasting and full of flavor. They can be eaten in their dehydrated form, or rehydrated with a measurement of ¼ cup of cool or warm water for every 2 patties. They provide pups with a mineral and nutrient-rich diet that has all the benefits of a raw feed diet with massively reduced risk.
If you have a pooch that does not drink very much between meals, it is highly recommended that your dog eat them in their rehydrated form. The physical benefits of a grain-free, raw feed style diet are proven to extend throughout your dog’s body, from dental and gum health to the digestive tract, skin, and immune system strength. Stella & Chewy pride themselves on having some of the best grain-free dog food that caters to a raw-feed way of life.
Delicious, grain-free dog food that is perfectly suited to sensitive pups with difficult skin. The use of fish in dog food provides a dense source of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids that specifically aid the health of your dog’s skin, and therefore improving their coat condition. This all-natural grain-free diet is also filled with antioxidants and vitamins that can help strengthen and maintain your dog’s immune system and overall health.
Diamond Naturals have also focussed on creating a highly digestible formula, in order for your dog to get the most out of their new grain-free diet. A more digestible food means better absorption of the provided essential amino acids, vitamins, and nutrients. You can also be sure that your dog will not be ingesting any artificial preservatives, colorings, or flavoring in their food, only the best quality all-natural ingredients.
Delicious grain-free dog food containing real whitefish as a primary ingredient, and various whole foods to support healthy muscles.
All-natural recipe with powerful antioxidants and added vitamins to maintain overall health.
Omega-36 and omega-3 fatty acids included in order to encourage healthy skin and coat.
The highly digestible and nutrient-rich grain-free recipe includes a proprietary probiotic blend to help support digestive health.
Does not contain any fillers, wheat, corn, artificial flavorings, preservatives, or colorings.
America Journey is a proud, USA-based company that puts your dog’s health above all else. Their carefully concocted grain-free dog foods are completely free from corn, wheat, and soy to create a more delicate kibble for sensitive stomachs. Their clever use of fruits and vegetables in this grain-free food means your dog is getting a rich and completely natural source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help keep their immune systems strong and their body fit and healthy.
American Journey has also utilized chickpeas and sweet potatoes as dense providers of fiber, which is ideal for keeping your dog’s digestive system running smoothly. And with a high-protein recipe that is centered around deboned beef and menhaden fish; your dog will not only get the protein to fuel and recover its muscles after a long day but will also be provided with plenty of omega fatty acids to look after its skin and fur. This is particularly helpful with dogs that suffer from skin irritation caused by seasonal allergies or food sensitivities. For more options head over to our guide on American Journey Dog Food.
A tasty grain-free dog food, free from wheat, corn, and soy to help avoid food sensitivity reactions in dogs with delicate stomachs.
Nutritious fruits and vegetables provide your pup with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants for immune system support.
A high-protein formula with deboned beef and menhaden fish meal full of amino acids that help to maintain strong and lean muscle mass.
Flaxseed and salmon oil provide omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids to help support your dog’s cat and skin as well as brain development.
Including sweet potato and chickpeas for a dense source of fiber for long-lasting energy.
Nature’s recipe is proud to state that their first ingredient in this delicious grain-free formula is salmon. Salmon introduces a rich source of protein into your dog’s diet and is perfectly placed in grain-free food. Dogs can be known to react to chicken meal and turkey meal in their food, with protein allergies becoming more and more noticeable, but the use of salmon and salmon meal eliminates that possible allergen. The inclusion of sweet potatoes and pumpkins in their grain-free foods provides pups with a natural source of carbohydrates for long-lasting energy.
Nature’s grain-free formulas all exclude the use of corn, and wheat, so as to ensure smooth digestion for your pup. This particular grain-free food is also filled with natural antioxidants from the use of organic fruits and vegetables. These ingredients will help to strengthen and maintain your dog’s immune system, keeping them happy and healthy.
The first ingredient is real salmon which contains protein for strong muscle development.
Pumpkin and sweet potato provide a grain-free form of carbohydrates and sustainable energy source.
The delicious formula is devoid of wheat, corn, artificial colors, and artificial flavors, ideal for sensitive stomachs.
An all-natural dog food formula containing plenty of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients to protect an active dog.
Full of antioxidants from organic fruits and vegetables that can help to strengthen and maintain a healthy immune system.
Instinct has based their grain-free recipes on the natural feeding habits of dogs in the wild. Dogs are naturally drawn towards meat and protein and it is a well-documented fact that they take well to raw feed diets. However, a raw feed diet for your dog can be expensive and risky, with bacteria being an ever-present danger. Instinct, therefore, has created one of the most raw-feed-friendly grain-free dog foods based on this knowledge.
Their food is filled with probiotics and antioxidants that help to maintain your pooch’s digestion and immune system, keeping them strong. Instinct has sought only the best top-quality meat protein for their food. Additionally, they have combined their tasty dry biscuits with small bites of freeze-dried farm-raised chicken to give your pup an extra treat as they chomp their way through their new grain-free diet.
Coated with freeze-dried cod liver for added flavor, this USA-made grain-free dog food packs a punch of flavor for your pup to enjoy. Their formula pointedly avoids the use of wheat, sot, corn, tapioca, or any other cereal grains, providing grain-free options that are suitable for sensitive dogs at all life stages. Acana is one of the healthiest dog food options due to its eclectic use of vegetables such as collard greens, butternut squash, pumpkin, and much more.
You won’t see any artificial colors or preservatives in Acana’s limited ingredient diet dog food, only the all-natural formula designed to keep your dog comfortable. Acana has also used nutrient-dense protein sources such as herring, redfish, and mackerel to provide your dog not only with immense flavor but also omega fatty acids to help keep their skin and coat clear and healthy. Grain-free recipes always protect your pup from unwanted food allergen symptoms, and that is exactly what Acana aim to do.
Nutro Natural Choice has created a grain-free dog food that is perfectly suited to your larger dog’s needs. It is not only filled with protein and fiber, but it’s also a rich source of chondroitin and glucosamine and to support healthy hips and joints. Nutro uses only all-natural products, from carefully selected reliable sources, that will help to strengthen your pooch’s immune. They don’t use any by-products, soy, or wheat in this delicious grain-free recipe, which makes it a great choice for dogs with grain allergies.
The high fiber content in organic chicken promotes a healthy digestive system, making this food particularly good for dogs that struggle with constipation. It is a delicious grain-free option that has an excellent reason to make it onto our best grain-free dog food list. If you have yourself a particularly fussy pup, you’ll be pleased to know that this limited ingredient grain-free dog food also comes in four other flavors, including duck, lamb, salmon, and venison.
This grain-free, dry dog food has been created by Canidae to ensure that your beloved pooch gets all of the vitamins and minerals needed to ensure they stay healthy and happy. This grain-free option comes from a pet-loving, family-owned company that dates all the way back to 1996. Canidae grain-free pure dog food is formulated at the company’s facility in Texas using very few all-natural ingredients including animal protein and healthy vegetables for balanced nutrition.
Despite being listed as a limited ingredient dog food, this also has all of the essential nutrients to support your dog’s diet. This includes antioxidants, whilst excluding soy, corn, and wheat, to protect their delicate stomachs. Not to mention the inclusion of omega 3 & 6 to promote healthier skin and coats which are vital for your dogs’ comfort. In addition to these, Canidae also packs its’ dog food with probiotics to support digestive systems as well as glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy bones and joints. Furthermore, you can be sure that your dog will love the taste thanks to its 10 delicious ingredients.
Your dog’s diet deserves to be rich in nutrients and flavor and The Honest Kitchen is so confident in their dehydrated grain-free formula that the company offers a money-back guarantee. This ranch beef, kale, and sweet potatoes mix is suitable for dogs of all breeds and sizes, from puppies to adults, and is gently dehydrated to make sure all of the essential nutrients are kept intact for optimal digestion.
This grain-free option also serves as a full meal or as a food topper. All you need to do is add water as described in the directions, with the option to add a bit more depending on your dog’s taste. The best grain-free dog food is also that that has no GMO ingredients, soy, wheat, corn, preservatives, or by-products. The Honest Kitchen ensures its grain-free dog food offers 100% human-grade components as opposed to animal-grade to ensure a high-quality product.
Made with all canine pets in made, meaning it is suitable for all dog breeds and sizes.
A grain-free recipe that is suitable for adult dogs as well as puppies.
The Honest Kitchen provides a 100% money-back guarantee for any unsure owners.
100% human-grade ingredients instead of animal-grade, for extra quality.
No GMO Ingredients, artificial preservatives, by-products, fillers, corn, wheat, or soy
Delicious food that can be served on its own or as a meal topper.
This Italian healthy blend of dog food mixes all of the high-quality ingredients necessary for optimal nutrition. From vitamins and minerals to support their immune systems to high protein content such as deboned chicken and other high-quality animal ingredients to provide a balanced diet. Farmina Natural & Delicious Ancestral grain differs from other dog foods thanks to a unique blend of spelt and organic oats along with pomegranate and berries which are packed with antioxidants to support your dog’s immune system.
Previous customers have commented on the excellent quality of this oat and berry formula stating that it has aided their dogs who have sensitive stomachs and other digestive issues. It is also renowned for its low glycemic formula which doesn’t spike blood sugar. In addition to this, Farmina has a QR code on its products so that dog owners have the choice to work with a Farmina team member to produce a tailor-made meal plan to ensure their furry friend gets the best food.
Low glycemic formula, ideal for dogs that need to keep their blood pressure down.
Comprised of organic spelt, vegetables, minerals, fruits, and organic oats.
No whole peas, legumes, animal meals, or by-products.
Including omega fatty acids that promote healthy skin development and sleek coats.
Includes pomegranate, wholesome fruits, and berries providing antioxidants to protect your dog’s immune system.
Made with a coating system to retain all vitamins and minerals as well as add to the flavor.
Packed full of nutritious goodness, this grain free dog food from American Journey has created a unique ingredients list that will wonders for your pup. Perfect for dogs with sensitive stomachs, those who are allergic to poultry and the usual fillers, or simply for those whose pet parents want the best for their dogs.
With ample vitamins and minerals, all of which are brought in from high quality sources, this grain free food for dogs will have your pup bright, alert and healthy in no time. Plenty of added fiber will keep your dog’s digestive system running smoothly, while added omega 3 and 6 fatty acids will provide optimal brain health for your dog.
With so many doggie foodstuffs that are labeled as ‘grain-free’, it’s not difficult to see people getting frustrated at which brand to choose. We have prepared a comprehensive guide for you to understand some aspects of choosing and buying a grain free dog food. We’ve included a discussion on whether there really is a need for such kinds of dog food and whether or not dogs are really allergic to grains. We will also be presenting to you some of the more important characteristics of a good grain free dog food as well as some tips on how to feed your dog that has allergies.
Does My Dog Really Need a Grain Free Dog Food?
It is but natural to ask this question especially if you hear and see a lot of commercials and advertisements creating a loud buzz about the many health benefits of going for a grain free dog food. A lot of pet parents are made to believe that because a gluten free diet is good for us then it should also be good for our dogs. This is a very common observation shared by many in the scientific community who frown at these rather ‘creative’ marketing practices.
Let us try to look at the reasons why people consider grain free diets to be superior to other types of doggie chow and what science has to say about it. Hopefully this will help you arrive at the answer to the question of whether your dog really needs a grain free diet or not.
Dogs are naturally carnivorous so eating grains is definitely not in their genes
The ancestral diet of dogs is not strictly carnivorous. In fact, cats are more carnivorous than dogs. Studies have shown that members of the canid family are actually omnivores that they can thrive on other animals or even plant species. Of course, the preference is for animal sources. However, given the fact that they will have to go out on a hunt, prey animals have also learned to adapt, making them especially difficult to prey on. As such, ancestral dogs have learned to consume fruits and vegetables as well as grains in order to survive in the wild. As such, thinking that dogs are inherently carnivorous is a grave mistake.
Given that the scarcity of prey animals have led ancestral canids to look for other means of sustenance, it can thus, be considered that they have learned to adapt. This also means that, if given an animal-based diet and a plant-based food, they will almost always instantly choose the former over the latter. However, if the animal-based diet is removed, dogs can still survive as they can still consume the plant-based diet.
Cereal grains are considered to be the most common cause of food allergies in dogs
Despite numerous studies proving the contrary, a lot of folks still insist that cereal grains are the most common cause of canine food allergies. Unfortunately, like the notion that dogs are carnivorous, this is erroneous. We will have a separate and more detailed discussion about this in the succeeding sections. Suffice it to say, there are other non-grain foods that are equally allergenic yet are the principal ingredients in many wheat free dog food.
Dogs don’t have amylase in their saliva to effectively break down the carbs in grains
The enzyme amylase is needed to break down carbohydrate molecules into starch to prepare these molecules for further digestion in the stomach. Amylase is present in the saliva of humans but not in dogs. It is for this reason that many people believe dogs should not eat cereal grains because it doesn’t have the capability to break these down safely enough. What they fail to realize is that this line of reasoning is also faulty. Given that amylase is an enzyme that is needed for the more efficient breakdown of carbohydrates then all other types of carbohydrates, not only cereal grains, should not be consumed by our canine friends. But the fact is that dogs eat vegetables and fruits, too.
There is another point that people miss about amylase in dogs. While it’s true they don’t have amylase in their saliva, this enzyme is nevertheless present in the small intestines, typically supplied by the pancreas in the form of pancreatic amylase. Technically, what this means is that the carbs – including cereal grains – are still digested and absorbed for cellular utilization.
Trying to sum up what we have just presented, the main reason why a lot of people consider grain free diet to be superior to other types of doggie food is that these possess lower allergenic potential. If you believe that your dog is allergic to certain types of food, then it is best not to give it. However, it should be understood that, as we have already explained in point number 2 and which we will be discussing a bit further in the next section, cereal grains like wheat, corn, and soy are not the only foods that have allergenic potential. This simply means that if you really want your dog not to suffer from any food allergies, then it is crucial that you perform an allergy test on them. Otherwise, your dog might already be missing a variety of nutrients that only these cereal grains can provide.
So, does your dog need a grain free diet? It actually depends. If your veterinarian can establish with absolute certainty that the allergies your dog is experiencing is directly caused by these grains, then, by all means, go for a grain free diet. However, if the allergy does not point to a very specific food primarily because you are giving it mixed ingredients, then you will have to start with an allergy test.
Is it True that Dogs are Allergic to Grains?
Since the main issue in going for a grain free diet is that it can cause food allergies to dogs, we should take a closer look at how allergies develop in the first place.
Allergies are an organism’s way of protecting itself from invasion by foreign materials like bacteria, viruses, and other non-self components. The immune system releases its immunoglobulin E in response to the presence of an allergen. The first time the immune system is exposed to such a substance, some of its cells effectively disable the threat while other cells make a copy of the threat so that it can produce defensive cells in the event that the same substance resurfaces. As such, the second time the organism is exposed to such a substance its immune system will already be able to mount an effective reaction against this threat. This reaction is what we call an allergic reaction.
Now here’s the thing about food allergies. Science has shown that proteins are almost always considered as food allergens. However, science has also shown that not all food proteins have allergenic potential. This is primarily related to the complex biochemical characteristics of these food proteins. While they all contain proteins, some are more allergenic than others.
According to studies, the most common food allergens include the following.
So, is it true that dogs are allergic to grains? Yes, some dogs may be allergic to certain types of grains but they are equally allergic to animal-based proteins like chicken and beef. So, if you are really concerned about food allergies in dogs then you should also remove from their diet the other food items that have been listed above such as beef, chicken, dairy, and egg.
It should be understood that not all grains have allergenic potential. In fact, there are other grains that are considered as wholesome. Examples of this include the following.
That said, the label ‘grain-free’ is grossly misleading as it generalizes this particular food group as especially allergenic. A more appropriate labeling should be ‘gluten-‘ or ‘wheat- free’, ‘corn-free’, and/or ‘soy-free’. It really makes no sense labeling all types of grains as inherently allergenic.
It is for this reason that you need to carefully read the label of the product you’re buying. If it says it is ‘grain-free’, then it should specifically state what kinds of grain are excluded in its formulation. Hopefully, you will also find some healthier ones.
What Makes a Good Grain Free Dog Food?
We now know that grain free dog food is not really about the absence of these ‘allergenic’ grains but rather about the wholesomeness of the ingredients used in the formulation of these canine nutritional products. We shall now try to understand what makes a good grain free dog food.
Its principal ingredient should be whole animal protein
A good grain free dog food should have a whole animal protein as its principal ingredient. Animal proteins are easily digested and used by the cells of our canine friends. While plant proteins are digested and used, too, most will require extensive processing before these are effectively utilized by the different tissues. What we would like to add, on the basis of what science has shown, is to look for whole animal proteins that are considered novel or those that have low allergenic potential.
Since chicken and beef are considered to be highly allergenic other animal proteins should be considered. The more novel the protein the better it is. You can try the proteins from bison, venison, boar, waterfowls, rabbit, and other ‘unusual’ or uncommon animal protein sources. This is your best chance of making sure your pooch will derive all the hypoallergenic benefits of not including cereal grains into their diet.
While meat meals are acceptable, these should only be considered as secondary ingredients. For example, if the product you are considering on buying contains lamb meal, then there should be another whole meat protein, say venison, as its primary ingredient. The lamb meal should only come in second.
It should include healthier and more wholesome carbs, including grains
Remember what we said about not all grains are allergenic? Technically, what we are saying is that you should also consider wholesome grains in the diet of your pet as many of these come complete with essential amino acids as well as other beneficial nutrients. Quinoa, brown rice, and oats are just examples of these wholesome grains.
Additionally, you will have to look for products that contain healthy fruits and vegetables as these are packed with antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that can help promote better health for your pooch. For example, vitamin C is always an exceptional micronutrient for its antioxidant properties as well as its role in collagen synthesis. Vitamins A and E are also important for additional antioxidant action. The family of B vitamins can help in a variety of processes particularly those that involve macronutrient metabolism. Minerals like calcium, iron, and phosphorus are also important.
It should not contain any artificial or harmful ingredients
Some dog food manufacturers incorporate a variety of flavor enhancers in their preparations to increase the palatability of the kibbles or even the wet dog food. It is technically all right to have flavor enhancers as long as these are certified to be made of natural ingredients. Unfortunately, this can be quite costly. As such, companies may have to resort to using artificial ingredients, additives, sweeteners, or even coloring into their formulation to help improve the overall ‘quality’ of their products. Under no circumstances should you pick any product that contains any of these artificially synthesized ingredients.
Some Tips to Feeding a Dog with Food Allergies
We do recognize the fact that you may be concerned about your dog having food allergies. While giving a grain free diet can help reduce the anxiety of provoking an allergic reaction in your dog, there are other things you can do to help feed your pooch with food allergies. Here are some tips.
Perform a food allergy test – If you’re not sure what specific food protein your pooch is allergic to, you will need to perform an allergy test which typically runs from a few weeks to several months. What you will be doing is to stop what you’re feeding your doggie and give it a novel protein. You should see improvements in its condition. Once your mutt has fully improved, you can then slowly start introducing one ingredient at a time from its previous diet. Make sure to give a single ingredient for at least a few weeks to check for any reaction. If there’s no reaction, you can then move to the next ingredient and so on. The key is to eliminate the possible food allergen.
Research different brands: With so many types of dog food out on the market today, it can be extremely hard to tell which is the perfect food for your pet. That’s why we recommend starting off researching brands first. By performing some research on different brands, you’ll be able to filter down your options and narrow your choices down to decide what the best food for your dog will be. We recommend you check out our Best Dog Food Brands guide to get started.
Consider giving novel or hydrolyzed proteins: Novel proteins are completely new to your dog. This can greatly reduce the immune response. Sometimes you may also want to give proteins in their simplest form – amino acids – to help trick the immune system into recognizing these molecules as non-allergenic. These are available as hydrolyzed proteins.
Always provide high-quality dog food: Everything starts with good nutrition. Aside from going for a product that has a good proportion of high-quality proteins, fats, and carbs, you may also want to provide them with probiotics as these can help improve the overall functioning of the canine digestive system which also functions in its immunity. Be sure to read our guide to the best dog food for allergies.
Seek the advice of your vet: Your veterinarian is still the best person to go to if there is any concern about your pet, whether it is food allergy or some other condition. Unfortunately, many pet owners would rather listen to what celebrity endorsers say about a particular product. Most also listen to what other people say. The point is that, while some of these food allergy management practices may work on the pooches of other people, it doesn’t automatically mean that it works with your pooch as well. Each dog is inherently different. That’s why it’s best to have a veterinarian take a closer look at your pooch’s food allergies.
It is perfectly all right to give our dogs grain free diets if this can give us peace of mind over their welfare. However, we should also make it a point that the products we choose are not only grain free but are also made of high quality animal proteins, wholesome and healthy carbs, and don’t contain harmful or unnecessary ingredients.
Eloise is the owner of a Malamute/Akita cross, a first-time mum, and an animal enthusiast from England. She comes from a family which has never gone a day without a pet (or 3!), and over the years has learned all the best tips and tricks to raising a difficult pet. A knowledge that she has put to good use, to help others navigate the limitless world of pet care.