Best Grain-Free Dog Food

In the last several years, “grain-free” has seemingly become a kind of buzzword in the world of dog food.

Suddenly, every pet store carries grain-free formulas and treats, and brands that previously relied heavily on corn, wheat, and unhealthy, empty grains have been pressured to drop these fillers from their formulas due to this increased demand for grain-free dog food.

However, some grains — like quinoa, a complete protein — and oats aren’t harmful and might even be healthy for dogs. Which might leave you wondering: Do you really need to go grain-free? What are the benefits of grain-free dog foods, and which are the best?

What We Learned

Why choose grain-free dog food?

Grain-free diets may be better for some dogs, but the main reason that the grain-free movement has become so popular is largely due to consumer response. Pet owners, tired of seeing unhealthy fillers like soy and wheat, which offer very little nutrition, began demanding foods free of all grains. That doesn’t mean, though, that all grain-free dog foods are necessarily healthier, or that your dog must be on a grain-free diet to be optimally healthy.

In our full dog food review methodology, we didn’t eliminate all dog foods that included grains for a very simple reason: Not all grains are created equally, and some grains may actually be beneficial for dogs.

Additionally, though cereal grains are often highlighted as common allergens in dogs, your dog may just as likely be allergic to eggs, chicken, or other ingredients that are frequent — and, in fact, encouraged — in recommended dog food formulas. In these instances, it’s essential to talk to your veterinarian about which diet is the healthiest for your best friend.

That said, many grain-free dog foods do contain more wholesome, reliably healthy ingredients, like real meat, eggs, fish, and fruits and vegetables, and opting for a grain-free formula may help pet owners find a dog food formula that contains high levels of protein, low carbohydrates, and added nutrients — which is really the best choice for your dog, grains or no grains.

What makes a great grain-free dog food?

Just like with any dog food, the best indicator of which formula is the most nutritionally sound is the ingredient list. An above-average or superior dog food is one that is high in protein; contains supplemental nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin; carries meaningful labels (like Certified Organic); and includes ingredients that are wholesome and hearty, like fish oil, carrots, sweet potatoes, and other real food products. The best dog foods contain real meat — optimally as the first three ingredients or more — and not “meat meal” or other vague, highly processed additive and fillers.

The best grain-free dog foods are those that meet these qualifications and are also free of wheat and other cereal grains.

Many pet owners assume that all grain-free diets are also low in carbohydrates, but that’s just not the case, especially when considering dry dog food. Grain-free diets can still be high in carbohydrates (thanks to high-carb, but healthy, ingredients like sweet potatoes). If carbohydrates are a concern for you and your dog, be sure to carefully read the ingredient list.

The Bottom Line

Though grain-free dog foods do often contain higher levels of meat and other healthy ingredients, switching to a grain-free formula doesn’t immediately mean your dog will be healthier than on a diet with some wholesome grains.

Just like with any dog food purchase, it’s important for owners to read labels; look for both good and bad ingredients; and select a formula that is rich with nutritious ingredients and the right balance of fats, carbs, and protein.

Top Picks

Orijen Adult Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

ACANA Wild Prairie Regional Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Earthborn Holistic Primitive Natural Grain-Free Natural Dry Dog Food

Pinnacle Grain-Free Salmon & Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food