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Dogs may develop allergies to any number of common pet food ingredients, including grains like corn and wheat. “Grain-free dog food is only necessary if your pet has been diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance to grains via an elimination diet trial. This type of allergy is rare in dogs,” says veterinarian Kristin Wuellner, an employee of Hill’s Pet Nutrition.
In some cases, a grain-free diet may in fact not be appropriate for your specific pet, particularly as the FDA continues to investigate a possible connection between grain-free diets and a heart condition called canine dilated cardiomyopathy. It’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s diet.
We researched and consulted Dr. Wuellner to find the best grain-free dog foods available.
Best Overall Dry: Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Our top pick for grain-free dry dog food is from Taste of the Wild because real meat is the number one ingredient, and it includes superfoods, fatty acids, and pre- and probiotics for a balanced diet in a convenient dry form.
It’s also available in a range of enticing flavors: salmon, lamb, wild boar, roasted duck, and a venison and bison mix. Made with real roasted meat and vegetables like sweet potatoes and peas, it’s nutrient-dense and highly digestible. Real fruits, superfoods, and omega fatty acids ensure your dog’s skin and coat health are also in top shape.
This line features recipes for both puppies and adults and can be purchased in up to 28-pound bags (the smallest is five pounds). Your dogs may think it’s a treat rather than dinner.
Best Overall Wet: Purina Beyond Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Adult Wet Dog Food
Purina Beyond Grain-Free dog food is our top pick for wet food because it’s available in a wide range of flavors featuring high-quality meats and real vegetables. It’s also free of artificial flavors and preservatives as well as poultry by-products. Meat is the main ingredient in every formula, and added vitamins and minerals offer a wholesome diet in each can.
You can also purchase a mixed pack of flavors to offer variety to your dog’s meals. Plus, it's available in gravy and paté form. Purina Beyond is sold in packs of 12, in either 12.5 or 13 oz cans.
Best for Large Breeds: Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain-Free Natural Large Breed Dry Dog Food
Bigger dogs have different needs from their tiny and mid-sized brethren. When purchasing grain-free dog food for your plus-sized pup, look for one like Blue Buffalo’s Wilderness brand. It features formulas specifically designed for large breeds, with glucosamine and chondroitin added to the recipe. It’s free of corn, wheat, and soy as well as poultry by-products, and is sold in bags weighing up to 24 pounds.
Large breeds prefer this grain-free option to standard dog foods, and some owners say the high protein can reduce the upset stomachs they’ve seen with other brands.
Best for Small Breeds: Nature's Recipe Grain-Free Chicken, Sweet Potato & Pumpkin Recipe Dry Dog Food
For small breeds, we love Nature’s Recipe’s grain-free offering. It’s made with high-quality chicken, and also includes sweet potato and pumpkin. Formulated for dogs under 25 pounds, it’s a great source of the vitamins and nutrients—with a grain-free recipe that’s easy on the stomach. Like our pick for large breeds, this food is also sold in bags weighing up to 24 pounds.
This small-sized kibble (made with tinier mouths in mind) is designed for small dogs that may have experienced challenges eating other brands.
Best for Seniors: Halo Purely For Pets Holistic Grain-Free Natural Dry Dog Food for Senior Dogs
Senior dogs have different needs from younger ones. "The biology of mature dogs changes around seven years of age and certain nutrients are needed to support healthy functioning of organs, bones and muscles,” says Dr. Wuellner. “As dogs enter their golden years, their metabolism often slows down significantly, so they typically eat fewer calories than when they were younger, yet still need the full complement of essential nutrients.”
Halo’s grain-free offering is made with lower calories and fat than other varieties to make up for the reduced activity and lower metabolism that’s normal in older dogs. It also features real meat, poultry and fish, and non-GMO fruits and vegetables.
One key factor that some owner prefer is that the proteins are “whole,” rather than the meat meals used in some brands. It’s sold in either four or 10-pound bags. It can help older dogs maintain a healthy weight and is free of some of the undesired ingredients present in some brands of dog food.
Best Treats: Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets Mini-Rewards Dog Treats
Going grain-free doesn’t mean your dog has to give up on the treats they love. Natural Balance’s grain-free treats are just as enticing as the biscuits of old, but feature a healthy blend of limited ingredients that are perfect for pups with food sensitivities. The brand features a wide array of flavors, like duck, venison, and even bison. Most feature a blend of the main protein and sweet potato for added carbohydrates. There are numerous sizes available, whether you want a few treats to keep handy or stock up in advance. For dogs who suffer from allergies, limited-ingredient treats like Natural Balance can help owners avoid ingredients that give their pets issues.
If you're looking for high-quality grain-free dog food, we recommend Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Dog Food (view at Chewy). It comes in both wet and dry varieties with numerous flavors, so it's likely to satiate any dog's appetite. Looking to give your pup some extra treats? Try the Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets Mini-Rewards Dog Treats (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in Grain-Free Dog Food
Age and Breed Size
Always check the age and size requirements of the dog food. Nutritional requirements are different for older and younger dogs, as well as smaller and larger dogs so it's important to find a grain-free dog food that will meet those needs.
It's always important to check the ingredients in your grain-free dog food. You will want it to be free of artificial flavors, preservatives, and poultry-by products to ensure that your dog is getting a healthy meal. Also, take note of the carbohydrates in the food you're buying. Since grain-free food often substitutes grains with potatoes or sweet potatoes, their carbs can sometimes be higher than grain food. This is important to look for if you're watching your dog's weight.
Whether your dog is a picky eater or needs to be on a diet for weight loss, make sure that the food you choose meets their caloric needs. It's always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian to determine the right number of daily calories for your dog. There are plenty of options on the market that are specially formulated to help you achieve your pet's health goals.
“The caloric requirements of puppies are much higher than adult dogs, and if not fed a diet that’s calorie dense enough, they may lack the energy necessary for growth and development,” says Dr. Erin Katribe, DVM, MS, medical director and veterinarian for Best Friends Animal Society. “In contrast, older dogs tend to have slower metabolisms, and senior diets have nutrient profiles that are adjusted to prevent or slow the onset of chronic diseases that we commonly see in older pets."