It seems that every brand of dog food right now is embracing the grain-free trend. Even the most recognized names in the industry are rolling out grain-free options to keep up with this new demand.
The grain-free movement has gained momentum in tandem with the shift towards mimicking your dog’s ancestral diet. The thinking behind this is that wild canine, more specifically, wolves, do not consume grains in nature. Our dogs have been healthily sustained for tens of thousands of years on a nutritional foundation of meat protein, with moderate amounts of fruits and vegetables from ingesting the stomach contents of prey and foraging.
So is grain-free food better for your own pup?
In this article, we’ll explore the facts behind grain-free diets and offer up our own grain-free dog food reviews.
Is Grain-Free Food Better For Your Dog?
Just as people have varying nutritional needs, dogs also have individual requirements from their food. When deciding whether or not to go grain-free, there are some things to consider.
The pet food industry in itself is very young, having only gained real solid popularity within the last half-century. Ingredients like corn, wheat and soy were added to commercial dog foods to bulk them up at a lower cost. Our dogs’ digestive systems are simply not built to break down carbohydrates and grains in the same way that ours do. The result of feeding our dogs something that they would never naturally consume has been digestive problems, food allergies and sensitivities, obesity and even some diseases.
Grain-free foods may still contain carbohydrates. In fact, some may contain higher amounts of carbs to compensate for the lack of grain-based fillers. Dry kibble, for example, requires some form of carbohydrate during processing to bind ingredients together. Tubers like potatoes or tapioca and legumes like peas or beans are most often utilized. Be cautious if your intention behind feeding grain-free is to combat obesity or control diabetes.
Canned wet food, freeze-dried, raw frozen or meat rolls contain far less or sometimes zero carbohydrates. In general, grain-free dog food, especially these low and no carb types, provide your dog with higher levels of the lean protein and animal fat that his system craves.
Whether your dog food contains grains or not, what is most critical is that your dog is getting the nutrients he needs. Look for the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approval for complete and balanced nutrition.
We, humans, know from designing our own healthy diets that not all grains are the same. There are some grains that are far healthier than others and the same is true for dogs. Even if you don’t choose to go grain-free, it is very beneficial to choose dog foods that contain healthy whole grains like oats, quinoa, barley, brown rice and the like.
The best thing about grain-free foods overall is that they tend to contain better quality ingredients. If you read a lot of grain-free dog food reviews, you may notice that a lot of them are also certified organic, use locally sourced ingredients or even contain human grade meats.
As we mentioned, this grain-free trend goes hand-in-hand with the shift towards the ancestral diet, meaning that most of the top grain-free dog food options are also designed to have higher levels of wholesome lean protein, fruits, and vegetables, in proportions that mirror a natural ‘wolf’ diet. The best grain-free food for dogs will reflect this philosophy and be full of nutritious, natural goodness.
All the goodness of going grain-free
Without a doubt, there are a lot of benefits to a grain-free diet. A lot of it can, of course, be attributed to selecting a much higher quality food overall, as we discussed. The absence of grains has more of a direct impact on improving your dog’s digestion, but again, if you are transitioning to a top grain-free dog food with higher protein levels and more nutrient-dense ingredients, you will see a big change in your pup’s health.
Here Are Some Of The Most Common, Notable Pluses Behind Making The Switch:
- Your pup with feel fuller for longer because of the increased protein and decreased carbohydrates
- Fewer & firmer stools
- Less digestive problems & flatulence
- Increased energy
- Improved skin & coat
Beyond meeting the AAFCO standards, any quality dog food must feature an identifiable meat protein source (chicken, beef, lamb, salmon, etc.) as the first ingredient(s). If the food is grain-free, carbohydrates must come from nutrient and fiber-dense sources like sweet potatoes, legumes, beans and similar healthy selections. They must also provide antioxidants from a good blend of fruits and vegetables, supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Healthy oils such as fish or flaxseed oil are essential for adding omega fatty acids that support your dog’s skin and coat as well as digestion, heart health, and brain function.
If you and your veterinarian think grain-free might be right for your pup, here are five of our top picks:
Acana has been ahead of the ancestral diet trend with their trademarked ‘biologically appropriate’ recipes, which the company describes as mirroring the foods our pets were evolved to eat. Their Regional formulas feature ingredients that are all sourced locally, from the free-range, grass-fed or wild-caught protein sources to the regionally grown organic fruits, vegetables, and botanicals. Acana is grain-free as well as low carbohydrate, with high levels of lean meat protein from chicken, lamb, beef, duck, fish and more. This food also contains a strong antioxidant blend of fruits and vegetables including pumpkin, pears, spinach, and cranberries. Medicinal herbs and botanicals like marigold flowers, peppermint, lavender and juniper berries just add to Acana’s holistic, wholesome appeal.
Hi-Tek Naturals is another protein-packed, grain-free option with an impressive ingredient list. This brand uses meal, the concentrated protein left once water is extracted from muscle meat, from sources like chicken, duck, and salmon. Sweet potato and peas add complex carbohydrates while flaxseed oil and egg provide valuable omega fatty acids. Their formula features probiotics to support digestion and a blend of fruits, veggies, vitamins and minerals to fuel your pup’s immune system. Hi-Tek Naturals is one brand under the family-owned Signature Pet Products, a company that remains transparent about their ingredients and production methods. Their dedication to making nutritious, natural pet food is evidenced on the Hi Tek Naturals label, making their grain-free dog food a highly recommended choice.
Timberwolf has been making dog food since 1995, adhering to the same principles that we’re looking for in a quality kibble. Their Platinum grain-free formula is based on the ancestral diet foundation, featuring high amounts of lean protein from sources like chicken, salmon, and herring. Complex carbohydrate sources like peas, sweet potatoes, and garbanzo beans also add great fiber to this recipe, while the fish protein sources combined with flaxseed and sardine oil provide very substantial omega fatty acids. Timberwolf Platinum contains a very strong antioxidant blend with such nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables as spinach, watercress, beets, kelp, and carrots. Probiotics aid with digestion and taurine plus l-carnitine support heart health and metabolism. This is undoubtedly another solid selection, offering a super nutritious recipe minus any grains.
Orijen is simply one of the best names in the ancestral pet food market. They have a great line of both dry kibble and freeze-dried foods that include their ‘Whole Prey’ blend of meat, organs, cartilage and bone, natural sources of important vitamins, minerals and key compounds like glucosamine and chondroitin. Protein sources like chicken, herring, turkey, venison, bison, rabbit, duck and much more add wonderful diversity to your dog’s diet. Their recipes also have a great variety of organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and botanicals that are all locally grown and minimally processed to retain the myriad of health benefits they provide. We can enthusiastically recommend Orijen’s products and encourage dog owners to investigate their freeze-dried options as a convenient alternative to an all-natural raw diet.
Earthborn Holistic is aptly named as their recipes are certainly holistically nutritious. The manufacturer is committed to promoting sustainable, planet-friendly practices in both sourcing their ingredients and food production. This translates to natural, minimally processed food that you can feel confident about feeding your four-legged loved ones. Protein comes from great sources like bison, lamb, chicken, turkey, whitefish and more, combined with very moderate amounts of fiber-rich carbs from tapioca and peas. Flaxseed and fish protein boost the omega fatty acid content in their formulas while an impressive mix of fruits and veggies like blueberries, spinach, carrots, and apples provide antioxidants. Earthborn also adds probiotics, taurine, l-carnitine and various other supplements depending on which specially designed formula you choose. Again, this brand has that back-to-nature philosophy that gives us much-needed naturally wholesome dog food options.
Whether you choose to go grain-free or not, the most important thing you can do is to review what is in your dog’s food. First and foremost, every pup needs complete and balanced nutrition from high-quality ingredients that are as close to natural as possible.
One of the best things about so many of the new grain-free options is that they follow the ancestral diet philosophy. More meat with a good mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, made through minimal processing, means healthier food for your pup.
It is important to note once again that every dog has individual needs. When it comes to making a switch in your dog’s diet, it might be a major transition for some. This is especially true for puppies that have a much more delicate system that is a critical time of development. It is highly recommended to consult your veterinarian first before making any major changes to your dog’s diet.