Editor's Note
  • April 30, 2018 - We’ve updated this review to include recommendations for dog food meal delivery services. These companies ship minimally processed meat and veggie mixes directly to your door. Our favorite is NomNomNow, which offers four grain-free recipes.
  • December 13, 2017 - To keep up with new brands and changing formulas, we've completely revamped our grain-free dog food review from 2016. We've also updated our methodology so that it's consistent with current nutrition research. Our new top picks feature the 17 brands with the best grain-free dog food, including which of their dry food and wet food lines meet our criteria.

Why go grain-free? The consumption of grains, like wheat, corn, oats, and rice, by dogs is a (relatively) recent phenomenon. While they’ve since evolved to easily digest most carbohydrates, grains included, veterinarian Dr. Gary Richter told us, “while dogs are equipped to handle a certain amount of carbohydrates in their diet, they should not be a majority ingredient.” Since there are plenty of grain-free sources of carbs, like potatoes and other vegetables, to be found in dog foods, there’s no need to worry about compromising your pup’s nutrition by skipping grains.

For some dogs, a grain-free diet won’t make a huge difference to their general well being, but for others, such as those with allergies, a grain-free diet is the key to a happier, healthier canine. If your dog has a known grain allergy or intolerance, grain-free food is definitely the way to go.

If you’re not sure about grains, and your dog has never had a reaction to them, we recommend checking out our review of the Best Dog Food to give you and your furry best friend a few more choices.

The Best Grain-Free Dog Food

Our 3 Favorite Grain-Free Dry Dog Foods:

  1. Holistic Health Extension
  2. Horizon Amicus/Horizon Legacy
  3. Ziwi Peak: Air-Dried

Our 15 Favorite Grain-Free Wet Dog Foods:

  1. AvoDerm: Revolving Menu
  2. Canidae: Grain-Free Pure
  3. Why so many wet foods? Dry dog food formulas often rely on carb-loaded fillers to serve as binding elements for all of their ingredients, which means dry foods almost always have higher carbohydrate percentages than wet foods. Our top picks for both wet and dry foods provide high protein content while keeping carbs down, so you can be sure your dog is getting the necessary nutrients.

  4. Evanger's: Organics
  5. Holistic Select
  6. Hound & Gatos
  7. Kasiks
  8. Natural Planet: Organics
  9. Nature's Logic
  10. NutriSource: Grain-Free
  11. Nutro: Limited Ingredient
  12. Party Animal: Cocolicious
  13. Wellness Core: 95%/Wellness Core: Pate
  14. Wild Calling
  15. Zignature
  16. Ziwi Peak: Moist

Our 3 Favorite Dog Food Meal Delivery Services

A fairly new option, meal delivery services offer a compromise between the minimal processing of raw food diets and the convenience of store-bought kibble. We explore them in-depth in a separate review, but our favorites — all with grain-free options — are:

  1. NomNomNow
  2. The Farmer’s Dog
  3. Pure Dog Food

Our Top Picks for Best Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Brand Lines Number of Formulas Main Protein Sources $/lb
Holistic Health Extension n/a 6 chicken, venison, buffalo, duck, salmon $2.25 - $2.67
Horizon Amicus 2 turkey $3
Horizon Legacy 2 chicken, salmon $2.55 - $2.80
Ziwi Peak Air-Dried 5 mackerel, beef, venison, lamb, tripe $13.25 - $23.19

*Compiled from manufacturer websites and retailers Amazon, Chewy, and Petco.

Runners-Up for Best Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Born Free: Unavailable on Amazon, Chewy, PetSmart, PetCo, or Born Free’s own website. Currently only found at specialty pet food stores in the Midwest. Approved formula: Garrison’s Glen.

Only Natural Pet: Only found on their website. Unavailable on Amazon, Chewy, or PetCo (the formulas carried by PetSmart were eliminated due to natural flavoring). Approved formula: MaxMeat Air Dried.

Timberwolf: Can be found at specialty pet stores, but unavailable on Amazon, Chewy, or PetCo. Following a temporary production freeze, Timberwolf’s grain-free dog food formulas will be available to order through its website beginning in mid-December 2017. Approved formulas: any.

Our Top Picks for Best Grain-Free Wet Dog Food

Brand Line Formulas Main Protein Sources $/oz
AvoDerm Revolving Menu 3 lamb, beef, turkey $0.21
Canidae Grain-Free Pure 4 duck, lamb, salmon $0.14 - $0.20
Evanger's Organics 2 chicken, turkey $0.20
Holistic Select n/a 6 chicken, beef, lamb, duck, turkey, whitefish $0.21
Hound & Gatos n/a 12 chicken, salmon, rabbit, beef, duck, lamb, pork, turkey $0.17 - $0.36
Kasiks n/a 4 salmon, chicken, turkey $0.25
Natural Planet Organics 2 chicken, turkey $0.24 - $0.25
Nature's Logic n/a 8 beef, chicken, duck, lamb, rabbit, sardine, turkey, venison $0.19 - $0.39
NutriSource Grain-Free 4 chicken, lamb, salmon $0.19 - $0.27
Nutro Limited Ingredient 3 fish, turkey, lamb $0.18 - $0.19
Party Animal Cocolicious 10 beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, venison, duck, lamb, pork $0.17
Wellness Core: 95% 3 chicken, turkey, beef $0.25
Wellness Core: Pate 5 chicken, whitefish, beef, turkey $0.22
Wild Calling n/a 9 chicken, rabbit, duck, beef, salmon, turkey, lamb, pork $0.20 - $0.28
Zignature n/a 11 catfish, pork, salmon, venison, kangaroo, whitefish, duck, lamb, trout, turkey $0.23 - $0.31
Ziwi Peak Moist 6 mackerel, venison, lamb, rabbit, beef $0.36 - $0.52

*Compiled from manufacturer websites and retailers Amazon, Chewy, and Petco.

Runners-Up for Best Grain-Free Wet Dog Food

Blackwood: Limited availability on Amazon and Chewy — Amazon carries one canned formula. Unavailable at PetCo. Approved formulas: Chicken and Chicken Liver with Pumpkin, Chicken and Salmon with Pumpkin, Turkey and Turkey Liver with Pumpkin, Lamb and Lamb Liver with Pumpkin.

Koha: Available on Koha’s website, but unavailable on Amazon, Chewy, or Petco. Approved formulas: Salmon Entree, Turkey Entree, Wild Kangaroo Entree, Grass Fed Lamb Entree, Venison Entree.

Performatrin: Available on PetSolutions.com, but not on Amazon, Chewy, PetCo, or Performatrin’s website. Approved formulas: Duck and Pea Recipe, Fish and Sweet Potato Recipe, Venison and Potato Recipe.

Pinnacle: Limited availability on Amazon (dry formulas only). Unavailable on Chewy orPetCo. Currently available in specialty pet food stores on the West Coast. Approved formulas: any.

PureVita: Limited availability on Amazon and in select specialty pet food stores. Unavailable on Chewy or PetCo. Approved formulas: Beef Entree, Chicken Entree, Pork Entree, Salmon Entree, Turkey Entree.

RAWZ: Limited availability on Amazon with wider in-store and online availability at local specialty pet food stores. Unavailable on Chewy or PetCo. Approved formulas: 96% Beef and Beef Liver, 96% Chicken and Chicken Liver, 96% Duck, Turkey, and Quail, 96% Salmon.

Did You Know?

Allergies come from more than just grain.

Food allergies only make up 10% of all dogs’ allergies, and grain ingredients cause far fewer of those allergies than many owners realize. In fact, animal-based protein sources such as beef or dairy products account for over 50% of dog food allergens. If you’re concerned about your dog’s susceptibility to food allergens, vary his or her diet to prevent overexposure to a single protein source.

Food allergies are often confused with food intolerances. If your dog has symptoms that are skin or immune system-related, such as itchy skin or infected ears, it may be an allergy. If, however, your dog has digestive issues such as vomiting or diarrhea, it’s probably a food intolerance. If you suspect your dog has either condition, consult your veterinarian before making abrupt changes to his or her diet. There are several factors that may contribute to a dog’s symptoms, including lifestage and breed, and your vet can discuss your options for a limited ingredient diet.

Grain-free isn’t carb-free.

Many dog owners choose grain-free diets for their pets in order to avoid carbs, without realizing that the ingredients replacing those grains, such as potatoes or tapioca, may be just as high (or higher) in carbs. In order to ensure that the formula you’re considering is low-carb, check the guaranteed analysis label on the packaging (if you’re not sure what to look for on the guaranteed analysis label, read on!)

Dietary changes should occur gradually.

Unlike humans, most dogs eat the same things for every meal. When their diets change, many develop upset stomachs or simply refuse to eat the food because of its unfamiliarity. If you plan on changing your dog’s diet, make the transition gradually by mixing the new food in with the old over the course of five to seven days to minimize the chances of any adverse reactions.

Wet or dry?

Dog food packages come with a guaranteed analysis label that lists the minimum percentage of protein and fat, and maximum percentage of fiber and moisture in the formula. This analysis doesn’t include carbohydrate percentages, but since it lists everything else, the percentage of carbohydrates can be easily calculated by adding up the listed percentages and subtracting the total from 100.
100 - all percentages listed = carbohydrates %

Comparing the guaranteed analyses of wet and dry dog foods, you’ll probably notice some big differences in protein percentages: dry foods generally contain between 30-50% protein, while wet foods list just 8-17%. But that doesn’t necessarily mean dry food will give your dog more protein. The lower protein percentage in wet food can be accounted for by the water used in the formula, and wet food actually tends to have more protein and fewer carbs than a dry alternative.

All of our top picks for wet and dry dog food are high in protein and low in carbs so you can feel confident that whichever one you pick will provide great nutrition for your pup. But if your dog has specific nutritional needs, you can always calculate the dry matter basis between different formulas (we’ll show you how below).

Need to know nutrient percentages?

A dog food’s moisture percentage is based on water content, which means you need to look at dry matter basis to compare nutrients between formulas. Dry matter basis means everything but the moisture percentage — to find its value, just subtract the moisture percentage from the total:

100 – moisture % = dry matter %

After that, it gets a little trickier. To compare foods with different moisture contents, you’ll need to make sure the nutrient percentages aren’t skewed by moisture values. Since the moisture percentage for wet food is much higher than for dry, seemingly equivalent protein percentages will vary as well. For example, a wet dog food with 10% protein doesn’t contain the same protein value as 10% protein in a dry food. To compare protein values (or any listed nutrient) between dog food formulas, divide the nutrient percentage by the total amount of dry matter — the sum of all nutrients listed, minus moisture — and multiply the result by 100:

(nutrient % / dry matter %) x 100 = dry matter nutrient %

As an example, a dog food with a listed protein value of 10% (nutrient %) and a dry matter value of 25% (dry matter %) will have a dry matter protein value of 40%:

(10/25) x 100 = 40.

When should you feed your dog?

Dog food labels provide feeding suggestions for recommended daily food amounts based on your dog’s weight. Generally, dogs should be fed twice a day in 8-12 hour intervals, paying careful attention not to overfeed. Dogs that require a higher food intake, such as puppies and nursing mothers, may benefit from eating meal more frequently or free feeding (only with dry food.) If you’re liberal with treats (you know, because he’s a good boy), make sure they don’t comprise more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake.

What if your dog leaves food in the bowl, or eats too quickly?

If your dog leaves food behind, consider reducing the size of each meal or switching to a timed feeding method. Allow your dog a set amount of time to eat, such as 20-30 minutes, then discard whatever’s left after time is up. Eventually, your dog will learn that meal time doesn’t last forever and will stop leaving leftovers in the bowl. If you’re using wet food, Dr. Lindsey Bullen warns that it should never be left out for longer than 20-30 minutes anyway, as “water creates the perfect environment for microbial contamination.”

If, on the other hand, your dog eats too quickly, he or she may be at risk of choking or developing digestive issues. Dogs with a history of competition around food may believe they won’t get enough to eat if they don’t eat quickly; you can reduce this anxiety by moving your dog’s food bowl to a quiet, stress-free environment. If anxiety isn’t the issue, try giving your dog smaller meals more frequently, or placing a ball or other toy in the bowl to slow down the eating pace. Some owners also recommend placing a smaller bowl within a larger bowl and pouring the food into the space between them, or purchasing a bowl specially designed to reduce your dog’s consumption speed.

If your dog insists they’re still hungry after eating, consider talking to your vet to see if your dog is suffering from parasites or other illnesses that may account for the feeding frenzy, or to discuss a diet higher in protein and fiber that will help keep your dog fuller for longer.

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