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Dogs may develop allergies to any number of common pet food ingredients, include grains like corn and wheat. Some owners turn to grain-free dog food to help dogs struggling with food allergies or other health issues. There are both wet and dry options that come in a variety of flavors, so you're sure to find something your dog will like.
Of course, it is important to check with your veterinarian before making any diet changes. Although some claim that grain-free diets offer many health benefits to pets, there isn't a lot of scientific research to back these claims. 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.
“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.
If you and your vet determine that grains are a problem, here are the best grain-free dog foods on the market you.
Best Dry: Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Like other types of dog foods, grain-free products come in both wet and dry varieties. Our pick for the latter comes from Taste of the Wild, which is 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 packed with nutrients and highly digestible.
The food features recipes for both puppies and adults and can be purchased in up to 30-pound bags (the smallest is five pounds). Dogs may think it’s a treat rather than dinner.
Best Wet: Purina Beyond Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Adult Wet Dog Food
If your dog’s accustomed to eating wet food, there’s a grain-free option for them too. We love Purina Grain-Free dog food, which comes 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 and meat is the main ingredient. The food is available 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 Weight Management: Nutro Wholesome Essentials Adult Healthy Weight Dry Dog Food
If your dog’s been putting on the pounds lately, try putting them on a healthy food that’s designed for weight management. Nutro Lite features a low-calorie combination of protein and fiber—like chicken, brown rice, and sweet potato—intended to help dogs lose weight in a safe, healthy manner. It’s also recommended for dogs with diabetes and is available in both large- and small-breed varieties. Look for it in either four or 30-pound bags. If you pair Nutro Lite with regular exercise, you should see the results in your pup.
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."