Best Grain Free Dog Food: Buyers Guide

Best Grain Free Dog Food: Buyers Guide

Grain free dog food is a major part of the pet food market. But is it the best choice for your dog?

My answer is yes. Especially if you have a dog like mine with allergies and skin issues. It is also highly recommended by holistic veterinarians.

The best diet for a dog is moist raw meat, but short of buying steak for your dog, you may want to consider high-quality grain free food.

 

Grain free dog food: What is it and should I buy it for my dog?

There is no shortage of conflicting articles on the pros and cons of grain-free food for your dog. And the difference in opinion comes from conventional versus holistic veterinarians.

I personally endorse grain free as I have seen a major improvement in my dog’s skin after making the switch.

Dry kibble for dogs

What is grain free dog food?

Dog food that is grain-based commonly contains some combination of wheat, corn, barley, oats, rye, rice, and \ or soy. They are a good source of carbohydrates, which provides energy for the body, and fiber for digestion (in humans).

Grain free food has the same energy requirements which are usually provided through potato, pea, and tapioca starch. But the problem with these ingredients is they tend to add too many carbohydrates.

Why use grain free dog food

Some dogs have grain allergies (rare) though allergies are more common from the source of protein. Beef is considered the most common cause of food allergies in dogs.

A lot of grain free foods have a higher quality protein. So the higher end foods may be better overall, but not necessarily because of the lack of grain.

I use grain free dog food for my dog because it has helped with his skin issues. He often has chronic licking and chewing to relieve the itching.

Not all grain free foods are created equally though. Some have way too many carbohydrates. Make sure that the main source of protein is from meat and not from the starches.

Grain free dog food benefits

Dogs tend to have a shinier coat when they eat grain free food. As far as I’m concerned, that is a cosmetic benefit and should not be considered important.

It also seems that grain free food improves your dog’s skin. This was the case with my dog.

There are other benefits but you have to watch the carbohydrate content. Ideally, you want food that has a percentage of protein, fat, and moisture that adds up to 80% or higher.

I haven’t found any brand that is that high, although some come close.

 

Merrick Grain Free Dog Food
This is a photo from a bag of Merrick grain free dog food that I buy for my dog. I recommend this one given that the carb % is 28%.

 

Grain free vs. ancient grain-based dog food

I found a study comparing grain free with dry food containing something called ancient grains (spelt, millet, and sorghum). The study showed that grain free dry dog food was less digestible (the organic matter) than food made with the ancient grains. But the difference was very small (89.98 vs 87.27%).

It also found dogs fed grain free food defecated more times per day and had “… lower fecal dry matter (29.77 vs. 34.21%).” My thoughts on that are, “Huh?”

The first part means your dog has to poo more (put on your shoes and grab the leash). But I believe the second part means that grain free food has more ingredients which can be digested by your dog.

However, the study also mentions the lower digestibility of organic matter with the grain free food. Take a look at the study for yourself and comment below with your thoughts.

Pros and cons of grain free food

Some of the pros of grain free were mentioned above, but here are the top benefits:

  • Easier to digest
  • Less digestive problems
  • Improved skin and less irritation from allergies
  • Better for diabetic dogs
  • Creates higher activity levels
  • Better smelling breath and less gas out of the other end

Here are the only cons I could find:

  • May cause weight gain in low activity and senior dogs
  • Tends to cost more
  • Bad for diabetic dogs

The decision is yours but definitely check with your vet if grain free food is good or bad for your dog.

 

Whole Earth Farms wet dog food
Whole Earth Farms: this is the label from the wet food I feed my dog. Note the 78% moisture content.

 

My top 10 best grain free dog food brands

Here are some of the top rated dog foods that are grain free. For the 10 brands, I included a dog food price comparison between Walmart, Chewy and Amazon. The prices listed are the price per pound (total $ divided by pounds) since the sizes varied from site to site.

Note, the cheapest brands tend to have the highest carbohydrates, while the highest cost brands have lower carbohydrates. The ideal is a very low carbohydrate level, especially if you have a dog with diabetes.

Grain Free Dog Food (Price Per Pound)
BrandWalmart $Chewy $Amazon $
Diamond Naturals$1.50$1.23$1.44
Whole Earth Farms$1.72$1.72$1.72
Purina (One)$1.72$2.38$1.09
Taste of the Wild$1.73$1.75$1.96
Nutro Maxna$1.32$2.38
Blue Buffalo$2.05$2.21$1.63
Bue Wilderness$2.21$2.21$2.21
Wellness Core$7.64$2.50$2.69
Merrick$2.95$2.40$2.60
Canidae (Pure)$3.33$2.71$2.17

Here is a basic equation that I found for calculating the amount of carbohydrates in grain free dog food: 100% – (protein % + fat % + moisture % + ash % ) = carbs % (where ash is 6% if not listed). That equation is from an excellent article on grain free food written by a holistic veterinarian named Dr. Becker.

 

Whole Hearted dog food
This is a photo from Whole Hearted grain free food which I used to feed my dog. You can see the moisture content is always 10% or 11%. You can also tell I don’t use stock photos (sorry for the poor quality).

 

Diamond Naturals: The cheapest \ most affordable grain free dog food

Crude protein: 25%
Crude fat: 14%
Moisture: 10%
Total = 55% (6% ash added to all totals)

If the equation above is correct, then this brand has 45% carbohydrates which is considered way too high. As the price increases, you will see a higher overall percentage of protein, fat and moisture content.

Chewy.com had the lowest price per pound at $37 for a 30-pound bag.

Whole Earth Farms

This is a good brand which I sometimes buy for my dog.

I looked at the percentages at a pet store in my area, and the “variety” I picked had higher percentages for protein and fat. You will want to look at specific flavors to make sure you get the best nutritional values.

Crude protein: 26%
Crude fat: 13%
Moisture: 11%
Total = 56%

Walmart, Chewy, and Amazon all had the same price of $43 for a 25-pound bag.

Purina grain free dog food

I chose the Purine One brand over Beneful because the nutritional values were better.

Crude protein: 30%
Crude fat: 17%
Moisture: 12%
Total = 65%

Amazon had the lowest rate of $30 for a 27.5-pound bag.

Taste of the Wild

Here is another one that had different package percentages than what I found online. The store variety had lower fat and protein numbers.

Crude protein: 32%
Crude fat: 18%
Moisture: 10%
Total = 66%

Walmart was the cheapest at $52 for a 30-pound bag. I rank Taste of the Wild as my #2 pick: affordable grain free dog food with a decent protein and fat percentage. I’m going to give this brand a try and see how my dog does.

Nutro Max

The store variety had even lower fat and protein levels.

Crude protein: 25%
Crude fat: 15%
Moisture: 10%
Total = 56%

Walmart online did not offer Nutro Max. Chewy had the best rate of $33 for a 25-pound bag. Notice the lower total nutrition percent even the price is higher per pound than the brands above.

Blue Buffalo grain free

Blue Buffalo is also on my radar. The price is affordable and the protein percentage is good.

Crude protein: 34%
Crude fat: 15%
Moisture: 10%
Total = 65%

Get this one from Amazon at a rate of $49 for a 30-pound bag.

Blue Wilderness

I believe this is manufactured by the same company that makes Blue Buffalo. That makes sense because the numbers are the same, A marketing thing I guess.

Crude protein: 34%
Crude fat: 15%
Moisture: 10%
Total = 65%

Walmart, Chewy, and Amazon all had the same price: $53 for a 24-pound bag.

Wellness Core

The nutritional percentages and price were the same as the pet store in my area (Unleashed) as on Chewy.

Crude protein: 34%
Crude fat: 16%
Moisture: 10%
Total = 66%

Walmart’s price was ridiculous: over $30 for a 4-pound bag. Chewy has the cheapest price of $65 for 26 pounds.

Merrick grain free dog food

Merrick is the #1 grain-free dog food on this list when it comes to the nutritional value.

Crude protein: 38%
Crude fat: 17%
Moisture: 11%
Total = 72%

Chewy has the cheapest rate of $60 for 25 pounds.

Canidae

The in-store labels for Canidae had much lower protein and fat content, but it may have been the specific variety I looked at.

Crude protein: 32%
Crude fat: 18%
Moisture: 10%
Total = 50%

Amazon had the lowest price at $65 for 30 pounds.

 

Summary

You will want to double check with your vet to make sure grain free food is a good choice for your pup. Based on your budget, buy the brand with the highest protein and fat percent.

If you can afford it buy Merrick grain free dog food. If you are on a tight budget, then try Taste of the Wild.

Also, take a look at my article on Exercise Needs by Dog Breed so that you know how often, and how long, to take your best friend for a walk.

Jim Kernicky

I have been a dog walker and pet sitter for my business Fairmount Pet Service in the Art Museum area of Philadelphia since 2008.

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