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Grain-free food for dogs

10 Best Grain-Free Dog Foods For Feeding Fido!

Over the last few years, grain-free dog foods have become popular with a number of dog owners.

Manufacturers have certainly noticed this trend, and many have begun including one or more grain-free options in their product lines. Some manufacturers have even eliminated grains from all of their formulas and recipes.

This means that you’ll have plenty of grain-free options to choose from. But while it is always nice to have plenty of options, it can make it difficult (even overwhelming) to sort through the available recipes and pick the best one for your pet.

We’ll try to help you do exactly that, as we recommend 10 of the best grain-free dog foods on the market. We’ll break them down into kibbles and canned varieties and explain the pros and cons of each. We’ll even dissect the ingredient lists and let you know which ones contain ingredients that may give you pause.

But first, we’ll look at the basics of grain-free diets and explain when they may be a good choice for your dog.

Do Dogs Need Grain-Free Diets?

Let’s clear up a common misconception right off the bat: The vast majority of dogs can digest cooked grains without a problem.

In fact, their ability to digest cooked grains is part of the reason they became “dogs” (as opposed to wolves) in the first place. Early dogs evolved genes that allowed them to produce more amylase (a protein that allows starches to be digested in the intestines) than their wolf ancestors.

This turned out to be a critical step in the domestication of dogs. These adaptations helped them to survive alongside humans, as it allowed them to subsist, in part, on our leftovers and scraps.  

So, to answer our initial question: No, most dogs do not need a grain-free diet.

Most dogs digest corn, wheat, and other grains just as well as they do potatoes or other carbohydrates often used to replace grains. These grains can even serve as valuable components of a dog’s diet. However, this does not mean that grain-free diets are necessarily a bad idea, and they may even prove helpful in a few specific circumstances.

grain-free dog food recipe

When Are Grain-Free Diets a Good Idea?

Many people like to limit the number of carbs in their diet, and some try to avoid grains entirely. Some people do this to lose weight, while others simply do it because it makes them feel better. But just because a diet works for you, that doesn’t mean the same grain-free approach is a good idea for your dog.

Owners often become very emotionally connected to their dogs, which makes it easy to anthropomorphize them. This can cause problems during food selection, as people often pick foods based on their own desires and needs, rather than their dog’s.

Remember: Dogs are not humans — their biology is very different from our own. Trying to instill your own dietary ethos on your pooch is unfair, and, in some cases, it can even lead to nutritional problems.  

Nevertheless, there are a few cases in which grain-free foods may be a good choice for your dog. Some of the most notable circumstances include:

Anytime Your Vet Recommends Going Grain-Free

We always encourage our readers to work closely with their veterinarian to help ensure your dog stays as healthy and happy as possible. This includes any time you are making dietary choices. So, if your vet recommends going grain-free, it’s probably in your dog’s best interest to do so.

That doesn’t mean you must simply accept your vet’s advice blindly. Ask questions about the recommendation and try to understand the reasons your vet is recommending a grain-free food. If you don’t find the reasoning compelling, you may want to get a second opinion from another vet.

 Dogs Who Are Allergic to Corn, Wheat, or Other Grains

While corn, wheat, and other grains do not cause food allergies as often as many other ingredients (such as beef, pork, and dairy products), a small number of dogs do suffer from itchy skin when they eat grains.

Just be sure that you’ve worked with your vet to figure out the actual allergic trigger at work – don’t just assume that grains are the problematic ingredients.

This will normally require you to switch your dog to a limited-ingredient diet to get rid of the symptoms, and then employ an elimination-challenge diet to positively identify the allergen.

 Dogs Who Don’t Like the Taste of Grains

While grains are high-quality ingredients, they certainly don’t offer any type of irreplaceable value. So, if your dog simply doesn’t like the taste or texture of foods made with corn, wheat, or other grains, you needn’t force him to choke them down. Instead, you could just pick a grain-free food to keep Fido happy.

Having said that, most dogs find wheat, corn, barley, oats, and other grains delicious, so this is probably not a very common problem.   

 Dogs Who Don’t Digest Grains Well

Some dogs may not be allergic to grains, but they may have trouble digesting them properly. Grains may make your dog gassy (which can be pretty problematic for the rest of your household), or they may give him frequent diarrhea. This is typically referred to as a food intolerance, and it can make your dog pretty miserable.

If your dog suffers from these types of problems, you’ll want to discuss the issue with your vet. If he or she agrees that grains are the likely cause of your dog’s digestive difficulties, you’ll want to switch to a grain-free option.

Good grain-free dog foods

What Do Grain-Free Recipes Use for Carbohydrates Instead of Grains?

Although most dogs digest them easily enough, your pup doesn’t need very many carbohydrates. In fact, if your dog had his choice, he’d probably prefer a diet that is mostly comprised of delicious proteins and fats.

However, this type of diet would end up being pretty expensive. This is why most dog foods feature grains – they’re an affordable way to boost the calorie content of a food.

So, if you want to make an affordable dog food that doesn’t contain grains, you’ll have to replace the calories normally provided by grains by incorporating other carbohydrate-rich ingredients. Some of the most common ones used include:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Peas

Are There Any Problems with Grain-Free Diets?

For the most part, grain-free dog foods are regarded as safe and healthy. However, it is important to note that the grain-free phenomenon is relatively new – people haven’t been feeding grain-free diets to their dogs for very long. Accordingly, scientists have yet to accumulate a lot of empirical data about grain-free foods for dogs.

However, at least one 2018 study by the FDA has demonstrated a link between foods based on potatoes and legumes and heart problems in dogs. More research is needed (a single study doesn’t really establish much), but this is an important area of inquiry that grain-free proponents should monitor.

Aside from that, the only other obvious problem grain-free diets present is that they are often a bit more expensive than foods made with corn or wheat.

dog food without corn

What Types of Things Should You Look for in a Grain-Free Food?

It isn’t enough to simply look for the first grain-free food you find – you must still select a high-quality product capable of providing your dog with the nutrition he needs. You can narrow down your choices by looking for a food that satisfies the criteria explained below.

Look for a Food with a Whole Protein at the Top of the Ingredient List

It is incredibly important to ensure that your dog’s food includes one or more high-quality proteins. And while identified meat meals and even identified meat byproducts can be valuable supplemental proteins, it is always preferable to see a whole protein at the top of the ingredient list (and, ideally, several meat sources topping the ingredient list).

The only exception to this rule involves canned foods, as many will feature water or broth as the first listed ingredient. This is not a problem as long as a whole protein is the second listed ingredient.

 Avoid Foods with Artificial Colors, Flavors, or Preservatives

Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives occasionally cause dogs to suffer from food allergies, and they represent an unnecessary addition to most foods.

As long as your dog’s food is made with premium ingredients, artificial flavors are unnecessary. In all likelihood, your dog doesn’t care what color his food is.

Dog foods do typically require preservatives to ensure they have a reasonable shelf life, but most high-quality foods are preserved with naturally occurring vitamins and tocopherols.

 Avoid Foods Containing Unlabeled (or Poorly Labeled) Meat Meals or Meat Byproducts

As mentioned earlier, meat meals and meat by-products are valuable proteins that are included in many dog foods. Although they don’t often sound appetizing to people, most dogs find them delicious. However, it is important to prevent your dog from eating any meat meals or meat byproducts that may contain unhealthy or unsavory ingredients.

One of the best ways to do this is to avoid improperly or incompletely labeled versions of these ingredients. For example, “duck meal,” “chicken byproducts,” and “beef meal” are all fine; but you’ll want to avoid “poultry meal” or “meat by-products,” as they may contain just about anything.

 Try to Select Foods with Probiotics

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help dogs digest their food more efficiently. They can also help protect your dog from stomach ailments and prevent diarrhea and excessive gas. Many high-quality kibble-based foods are fortified with probiotics, but they are rarely included in wet foods.

If you like, you can always use standalone probiotic supplements, so probiotics shouldn’t necessarily be considered a “must have” criteria.

 Look for Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation and promote a healthy, lustrous coat. They’re also important for brain development, particularly in young puppies. Some of the foods most commonly used to provide omega-3 fatty acids include plant oils, salmon oil, fish meals, and flaxseed.

Like probiotics, there are standalone omega-3 fatty acid supplements on the market, so you may still go with a food that doesn’t provide many omega-3 fatty acids if it is ideal in every other way.

 Select a Food with Plenty of Antioxidant-Rich Fruits and Vegetables

Many colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in substances called antioxidants. These provide protection against the damage caused by free radicals and support your dog’s immune system, so that he can remain healthy.

Some foods that are rich in antioxidants include:

  • Pumpkin
  • Pomegranate
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Spinach
  • Parsley
  • Kale
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes

Best grain-free foods for dogs

The Five Best Grain-Free Kibbles

The following five grain-free kibbles are among the best ones on the market. You’ll certainly want to review each one carefully before making a decision, but you can rest assured that all five are very high-quality products.

Quick Picks: Best Grain-Free Kibbles

1. Wellness Complete Health Lamb & Lamb Meal Recipe

About: Wellness Complete Health is a grain-free food made with natural ingredients and super nutrients to provide the kind of nutrition owners want and a taste that dogs love.

Features: Wellness Complete Health Lamb & Lamb Meal Recipe is made with a very impressive collection of ingredients, including two premium proteins (lamb and lamb meal) and a number of high-value carbohydrates – including potatoes, peas, and chickpeas — in lieu of grains.  

Further down the ingredient list, you’ll notice things like menhaden fish meal and ground flaxseed, which are both good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as several antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes and blueberries.

Wellness Complete Health Lamb & Lamb Meal is fortified with glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health. It also contains four different probiotic strains, which may help regulate your dog’s digestive tract.

Wellness Complete Health Lamb & Lamb Meal Recipe is made in the USA, without any artificial colors, artificial flavors, or artificial preservatives.

Price: High-End

First 5 Ingredients:

  • Lamb
  • Lamb Meal
  • Potatoes
  • Peas
  • Dried Ground Potatoes

Controversial Ingredients:

  • Some owners worry about foods containing garlic powder, as garlic is typically considered toxic to dogs. However, the amounts involved in this recipe are unlikely to cause any problems.
  • Tomato pomace is sometimes considered to be a “filler,” but there’s certainly nothing dangerous about it. It’s essentially a fiber-rich byproduct created during the manufacture of ketchup.

See ingredients

Full Ingredient List: Lamb, Lamb Meal, Potatoes, Peas, Dried Ground Potatoes, Chickpeas, Menhaden Fish Meal, Tomato Pomace, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Ground Flaxseed, Tomatoes, Natural Lamb Flavor, Carrots, Choline Chloride, Spinach, Vitamin E Supplement, Taurine, Zinc Proteinate, Mixed Tocopherols added to preserve freshness, Zinc Sulfate, Calcium Carbonate, Sweet Potatoes, Apples, Blueberries, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Iron Proteinate, Vitamin A Supplement, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Chondroitin Sulfate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Copper Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Sodium Selenite, Chicory Root Extract, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Yucca schidigera Extract, Garlic Powder, Calcium Iodate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Dried Lactobacillus plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Rosemary Extract, Green Tea Extract, Spearmint Extract.

 

Dog Food Advisor Rating: Dog Food Advisor rates Wellness Complete Health Lamb & Lamb Meal Recipe as a 4-star product. They do not, however, provide an in-depth analysis of this specific recipe.

PROS: Wellness Complete Health Lamb & Lamb Meal Recipe meets all of the basic criteria we recommend seeking in a good dog food. It contains great proteins and carbs, as well as a variety of fruits and vegetables. Add in chondroitin, glucosamine, and four probiotics, and you have a pretty impressive food. Plus, most dogs appear to like the taste.

CONS: This food is a bit pricey, but we can’t find much else to complain about.

2. Taste of the Wild High Prairie Venison & Bison

About: Taste of the Wild High Prairie Recipe is a protein-packed, grain-free food that seeks to mimic an ancestral canine diet.

Features: Taste of the Wild High Prairie Venison & Bison Recipe is absolutely packed with awesome proteins, ranging from roasted venison to lamb meal. And (like all other Taste of the Wild Recipes), this recipe contains no grains and instead draws its carbohydrate content from things like sweet potatoes, peas, and potatoes.

Like many other premium dog foods, Taste of the Wild also includes a number of nutritional extras that are great for your dog. This includes three different probiotic strains, three different sources of omega-3 fatty acids (ocean fish meal, salmon oil, and flaxseed), and antioxidant-rich ingredients, such as blueberries and raspberries.

All Taste of the Wild kibbles are made in the USA by a family-owned company.   

Price: High-End

First 5 Ingredients:

  • Buffalo
  • Lamb Meal
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Egg Product
  • Pea Protein

Controversial Ingredients:

  • Some canola oils are made from genetically modified seeds. This doesn’t represent any threat to you or your dog, but some owners like to avoid them.   
  • Tomato pomace, as mentioned before, is considered a filler by some. But, it is perfectly harmless, and it may even be beneficial, given the high fiber content.  

See ingredients

Full Ingredient List: Buffalo, lamb meal, sweet potatoes, egg product, pea protein, peas, potatoes, canola oil, tomato pomace, roasted bison, roasted venison, beef, flaxseed, potato fiber, natural flavor, ocean fish meal, salmon oil (a source of DHA), salt, choline chloride, dried chicory root, Yucca schidigera extract, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried Bifidobacterium animalis fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus reuteri fermentation product, vitamin E supplement, iron proteinate, zinc proteinate, copper proteinate, ferrous sulfate, zinc sulfate, copper sulfate, potassium iodide, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), manganese proteinate, manganous oxide, ascorbic acid, vitamin A supplement, biotin, niacin, calcium pantothenate, manganese sulfate, sodium selenite, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), vitamin B12 supplement, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin D supplement, folic acid.

Dog Food Advisor Rating: Dog Food Advisor rates Taste of the Wild High Prairie Recipe as a 5-star product, although they do not provide an in-depth analysis.  

PROS: Taste of the Wild High Prairie Recipe is a protein-rich food made with several different delicious meats that dogs love. It doesn’t have many problematic ingredients, and it is fortified with several important items, such as probiotics. It’s also appropriate for all life stages.

CONS: Generally speaking, there aren’t many problems with Taste of the Wild. However, it’s pretty expensive. We’d also like if it included a few more colorful fruits and vegetables, but that’s an exceedingly minor complaint.

 

3. Nutro MAX Grain-Free Natural Dog Food with Pasture-Fed Lamb

About: Nutro MAX Grain-Free is a simple, wholesome, and nutritious dog food, made without any grains or artificial ingredients.

Features: Nutro MAX Grain-Free with Pasture-Fed Lamb is made with several nutritious proteins, including chicken meal, deboned lamb, and lamb meal. Like many other grain-free recipes, it uses potatoes, chickpeas, and peas to provide the carbohydrate content.

Nutro MAX Grain-Free Recipes are made with non-GMO ingredients, and they leave out a lot of the ingredients many dog owners like to avoid, such as soy, corn, wheat, and chicken by-product meal. Nutro manufactures this recipe in their own US-based facilities.

Price: Mid-Tier

First 5 Ingredients:

  • Chicken Meal
  • Dried Potatoes
  • Chickpeas
  • Chicken Fat
  • Peas

Controversial Ingredients:

  • Some owners regard dehydrated alfalfa meal as an inexpensive filler. However, it is a protein- and fiber-rich ingredient which won’t harm your dog.  
  • Similarly, some people consider dried beet pulp to be a filler, but once again, there’s nothing wrong with the ingredient, and it may provide significant health benefits.

See ingredients

Full Ingredient List: Chicken Meal, Dried Potatoes, Chickpeas, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols), Peas, Deboned Lamb, Lamb Meal, Dehydrated Alfalfa Meal, Dried Plain Beet Pulp, Natural Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Salt, DL-Methionine, Choline Chloride, Zinc Sulfate, Taurine, Niacin Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin E Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Selenium Yeast, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Potassium Iodide, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Rosemary Extract, Decaffeinated Green Tea Extract, Spearmint Extract.

Dog Food Advisor Rating: Dog Food Advisor gives Nutro MAX Grain-Free with Pasture-Fed Lamb a 4-star rating. Dog Food Advisor tends to rate recipes based on meat meals highly, although they often penalize foods for providing too much of the protein via plant-based sources, as this one does. These two factors balance out, making this a  “highly recommended” recipe.

PROS: Nutro MAX Grain-Free Natural Dog Food with Pasture-Fed Lamb contains three different animal-based protein sources, including real, deboned lamb. It is also made in the USA without many ingredients that’ll give owners pause.

CONS: Simply put, we don’t like the fact that this ostensibly lamb-based food is actually based on chicken. It also lacks a whole protein at the top of the ingredient list, doesn’t contain any colorful fruits or vegetables, nor is it fortified with probiotics. But, it may still be a good choice for owners eager to avoid GMO ingredients.

4. Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Recipe with Pork, Beef & Lamb

About: Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free foods are made without any unnecessary additives or ingredients to ensure your dog gets everything he needs from a food and none of the things he doesn’t.

Features: Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Recipe with Pork, Beef & Lamb is a protein-packed food made with a collection of impressive ingredients. Pork meal tops the ingredient list and is followed by awesome grain-alternatives, such as dried potatoes, peas, and sweet potatoes.

In total, this Whole Earth Farms recipe contains several animal-based ingredients, including pork fat, pork, beef, lamb, and salmon oil. These ingredients not only provide the kind of animal-based proteins most owners want for their pet, they also provide the kind of meaty taste dogs love.

Moreover, Whole Earth Farms leaves out the types or additives most owners want to avoid, and is fortified with many of the all-natural extras owners want, such as four different probiotic strains. This recipe is made in the USA and formulated for all life stages, including puppies, pregnant or lactating females, and seniors.

Price: Premium

First 5 Ingredients:

  • Pork Meal
  • Dried Potatoes
  • Peas
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Pork Fat

Controversial Ingredients:

  • Organic alfalfa meal is considered by some to be an inexpensive filler, but it’s not dangerous, and it is full of fiber and protein.

See ingredients

Full Ingredient List: Pork Meal, Dried Potatoes, Peas, Sweet Potatoes, Pork Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), Natural Pork Flavor, Pork, Beef, Lamb, Yeast Culture, Organic Alfalfa Meal, Salt, Salmon Oil, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Thiamin Mononitrate), Minerals (Zinc Sulfate, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Amino Acid Complex, Sodium Selenite), Dried Blueberries, Choline Chloride, Cinnamon, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Yucca schidigera Extract, Dried Lactobacillus plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product

Dog Food Advisor Rating: Dog Food Advisor rates Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Recipe as a 4-star product. Dog Food Advisor typically praises foods based on meat meals, and so they “highly recommend” this recipe. Additionally, with the exception of organic alfalfa meal, this recipe doesn’t contain any questionable ingredients.  

PROS: Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Recipe with Pork, Beef & Lamb is made with several nutritious proteins and animal-based fats (including omega-3-rich salmon oil), and it includes sweet potatoes among its three primary carbohydrates. It is made in the USA and fortified with four probiotics.

CONS: We always prefer to see a whole protein at the top of the ingredient list, but there is nothing wrong with pork meal.

5. CRAVE Grain Free with Protein from Lamb & Venison

About: CRAVE Grain-Free with Protein from Lamb & Venison is a protein-packed food made with several different animal-based protein sources, formulated to appeal to your dog’s inner carnivore.

Features: CRAVE Grain-Free with Protein from Lamb & Venison is a “meat and potatoes” recipe that contains several different animal-based ingredients, including deboned lamb, chicken meal, lamb meal, chicken fat, and venison meal. Chickpeas, split peas, and potatoes provide the bulk of the carbohydrate content.

CRAVE doesn’t include many unnecessary ingredients in the rest of the recipe, aside from a few natural preservatives (like citric acid) and vitamin or mineral supplements. It is made without any artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.

This food has enough protein to be appropriate for puppies, although CRAVE recommends it  for dogs over 1 year of age. CRAVE is made in the USA.

Price: Premium

First 5 Ingredients:

  • Deboned Lamb
  • Chicken Meal
  • Chickpeas
  • Split Peas
  • Lamb Meal

Controversial Ingredients:

  • Pea protein is a healthy ingredient used in many dog foods, but some argue that its high protein content allows manufacturers to use less meat-based protein in the recipe, while still producing a “high protein” product.
  • Dehydrated alfalfa meal is considered a low-value filler by some owners, but it is a safe, healthy source of (plant-based) protein and fiber. It is not dangerous or toxic to your dog in any way.
  • Dried beet pulp, like alfalfa meal, is considered a low-quality filler by some, but it is a great source of fiber and it may help regulate your dog’s blood-sugar levels.

See ingredients

Full Ingredient List: Deboned Lamb, Chicken Meal, Chickpeas, Split Peas, Lamb Meal, Potato Protein, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Dried Potatoes, Dehydrated Alfalfa Meal, Venison Meal, Sunflower Oil (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Natural Flavor, Flaxseed, Choline Chloride, DL-Methionine, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid (preservatives), Zinc Sulfate, Niacin Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Selenium Yeast, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Rosemary Extract

Dog Food Advisor Rating: Dog Food Advisor doesn’t specifically examine CRAVE Lamb & Venison Recipe, but they rate the product line very highly, giving it a 5-star rating.  They praise the high percentage of meat-derived proteins in the product line and “enthusiastically recommend” it.

PROS: CRAVE is a meat-based dog food that features a number of extremely high-quality protein sources, like deboned lamb and venison meal. It doesn’t include many of the ingredients most owners want to avoid, and many dogs seem to love the taste.

CONS: While this is undoubtedly a high-quality food, we were disappointed to note that it only contains one good source of omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseed), and it doesn’t include any probiotics or antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.

dog food without grains

The Five Best Grain-Free Canned Foods

If you (or more to the point, your dog) prefer canned foods, the following five are among the best grain-free choices on the market.

Quick Picks: Best Grain-Free Canned Foods

1. Wellness Thick & Chunky Lamb & Beef Stew

About: Wellness Thick & Chunky Lamb & Beef Stew is a high-quality, delicious and nutritious canned food made with real cuts of lamb, beef, and beef liver.

Features: Like many other wet foods, Wellness Thick & Chunky Lamb & Beef Stew is a protein-rich recipe, but unlike some other foods in the category, this recipe only includes some of the finest animal-based proteins available. This includes lamb, beef, and beef liver, among others.

The carbohydrates used in the recipe – primarily brown rice and potato starch — are similarly impressive. Several fruits and vegetables are also included in the recipe to improve the taste and provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Wellness Thick & Chunky Lamb & Beef Stew is an all-natural product, made without any artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. It is made in the USA and backed by the manufacturer’s “Wellness Guarantee.”  

Price: Premium

First 5 Ingredients:

  • Lamb Broth
  • Lamb
  • Beef
  • Beef Liver
  • Brown Rice

Controversial Ingredients:

  • Wellness Thick & Chunky Lamb & Beef Stew does not contain any ingredients that are the subject of widespread controversy.

See ingredients

Full Ingredient List: Lamb Broth, Lamb, Beef, Beef Liver, Brown Rice, Egg Whites, Potato Starch, Carrots, Spinach, Apples, Eggs, Guar Gum, Oat Fiber, Natural Flavor, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Minerals (Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Cobalt Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Potassium Iodide), Tricalcium Phosphate, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Vitamin D-3 Supplement, Biotin, Riboflavin Supplement), Choline Chloride, Mint, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme.

Dog Food Advisor Rating: Dog Food Advisor doesn’t specifically analyze the Wellness Thick & Chunky Lamb & Beef Stew Recipe, but they rate the formula (Thick & Chunky) as a 5-star product.

PROS: If you want a food that’s full of premium meat cuts, Wellness Thick & Chunky Lamb & Beef Stew is a great choice. Three of its first five ingredients are meats, and the primary carbohydrates used – brown rice and potato starch – are both typically easy for dogs to digest. Most dogs seem to love the way this recipe tastes too.

 

CONS: There aren’t many downsides to Wellness Thick & Chunky Lamb & Beef Stew. It is at the high end of the price range, but that’s to be expected for a product of this quality. Like most other wet foods, this recipe is made without any probiotics.

2. Merrick Grain-Free Classic Wilderness Blend Recipe

About: Merrick Grain-Free Classic Wilderness Blend recipes are tasty, nutritious, US-made foods based around classic human recipes.

Features: Many canned dog foods are full of proteins, but Merrick Grain-Free Classic Wilderness Blend takes things to an entirely new level, as they typically contain several different nutritious meats. For example, their Deboned Duck Recipe not only contains the namesake ingredient, but deboned venison and deboned buffalo too.

But it isn’t all about the protiens, as Merrick Grain-Free Wilderness Blend Recipe also includes nutritious carbs, fruits and vegetables to provide your dog with a balanced diet. Peas and potatoes provide the bulk of the food’s carbohydrate content, while carrots and apples provide additional flavor, fiber and vitamins.

Additionally, like most other high-end grain-free foods, Merrick’s Wilderness Blend Recipe is made in the USA, without any artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

Price: Premium

First 5 Ingredients:

  • Deboned Duck
  • Beef Broth
  • Vegetable Broth
  • Deboned Venison
  • Deboned Buffalo

Controversial Ingredients:

  • Caramel color is an all-natural ingredient, but there is some evidence linking it to cancer in humans.

See ingredients

Full Ingredient List: Deboned Duck, Beef Broth, Vegetable Broth, Deboned Venison, Deboned Buffalo, Peas, Dried Egg Product, Potatoes, Carrots, Apples, Natural Flavor, Potato Starch, Cassia Gum, Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Salmon Oil, Choline Chloride, Sunflower Oil, Flaxseed Oil, Guar Gum, Caramel Color, Minerals (Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Potassium Iodate, Cobalt Glucoheptonate, Sodium Selenite), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Niacin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Biotin, Thiamine Mononitrate), Yucca schidigera Extract.

Dog Food Advisor Rating: Dog Food Advisor rates Merrick’s Wilderness Blend Recipe as a 4.5-star product, although they don’t analyze it in great detail.

PROS: Merrick Grain-Free Classic Wilderness Blend is made from a very impressive slate of ingredients. Its first five listed ingredients essentially consist of animal-based proteins, animal-based fats, and the broths created while cooking these things down. Salmon oil and flaxseed oil provides omega-3 fatty acids.

CONS: Some owners complained that the quality of this product was inconsistent, and the inclusion of caramel is concerning. However, this recipe is made in the USA and Merrick is generally considered a high-quality manufacturer.

3. Halo Holistic Grain-Free Chicken & Salmon Recipe

About: Halo Holistic Grain-Free canned foods – including their Chicken & Salmon Recipe – are designed to be holistic, whole, and humane so that you can be sure your pet is getting the kind of taste and nutrition he deserves.

Features: Halo Holistic Chicken & Salmon Recipe is made with a number of high-quality ingredients, starting with humanely raised whole chicken. But chicken isn’t the only protein included in this recipe; chicken liver, salmon, and egg whites are found slightly further down the ingredient list.

Peas are the primary carbohydrate source, although carrots are also included to provide additional antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals (as well as a sweet taste that most dogs love). Salmon oil and flaxseed oil are included to provide omega-3 fatty acids.

The only other ingredients in the recipe include vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as naturally occurring preservatives and a few things to help improve the consistency and flavor of the product (such as chicken broth). No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives are used in the recipe.

This food is formulated for adult dogs.    

Price: Premium

First 5 Ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Chicken Broth
  • Chicken Liver
  • Peas
  • Salmon

Controversial Ingredients:

  • Halo Holistic Grain-Free Chicken & Salmon Recipe does not contain any particularly controversial ingredients.

See ingredients

Full Ingredient List: Chicken, chicken broth, chicken liver, peas, salmon, flaxseed oil, tricalcium phosphate, carrots, dried egg whites, agar-agar, choline chloride, salt, potassium chloride, salmon oil, calcium carbonate, L-carnitine, zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, copper proteinate, manganese proteinate, sodium selenite, calcium iodate, vitamin E supplement, thiamine mononitrate, niacin supplement, calcium pantothenate, biotin, vitamin A supplement, riboflavin supplement, vitamin B12 supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, vitamin D3 supplement, folic acid

Dog Food Advisor Rating: Dog Food Advisor rates the Halo Holistic Grain-Free Formula as a 4-star product, but the Chicken & Salmon Recipe actually receives a 4.5-star rating. They praise the relatively low carbohydrate content of the food, as well as its high protein content.

PROS: Halo Holistic Chicken & Salmon Recipe features most of the things you’d want in a canned food, and it leaves out most of the things you don’t want to give your pup. It is a meat-rich food (three of the first five ingredients are premium meats) that most dogs find tasty, and it doesn’t include any controversial ingredients.

CONS: There aren’t many downsides to Halo Holistic Chicken & Salmon Recipe. Like most other wet foods, it lacks probiotics, and we’d like to see a few more fruits and vegetables included in the recipe, but these are relatively minor concerns.

4. CANIDAE Grain-FreePURE Duck & Turkey Formula

About: CANIDAE Grain-Free PURE Duck & Turkey Formula is a no-nonsense, limited-ingredient food that’s made with a relatively small number of nutritious ingredients.

Features: Designed for dogs suffering from food allergies or intolerances, CANIDAE Duck & Turkey Formula is a meat-rich food that doesn’t include any unnecessary items which may cause problems for your pup.

In fact, aside from vitamins, minerals, and a few naturally occurring preservatives, this food contains only six key ingredients. This includes a few premium proteins (duck, turkey, and turkey liver), two different broths for flavor, peas to provide some carbohydrates, and a few oils (salmon and sunflower) for taste and fat content.

This formula is designed to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs at all life stages.

Price: Mid-Tier

First  5 Ingredients:

  • Duck
  • Duck Broth
  • Turkey Broth
  • Turkey
  • Turkey Liver

Controversial Ingredients:

  • CANIDAE Grain-Free PURE Duck & Turkey Formula doesn’t contain any controversial ingredients.

See ingredients

Full Ingredient List: Duck, duck broth, turkey broth, turkey, turkey liver, peas, agar-agar, calcium carbonate, salmon oil, potassium chloride, choline chloride, salt, vitamins (vitamin E supplement, thiamine mononitrate, niacin supplement, d-calcium pantothenate, biotin, vitamin A supplement, riboflavin supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin B12 supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid), sunflower oil, minerals (zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, ethylenediamine dihydroiodide, copper proteinate, sodium selenite, manganese proteinate).

Dog Food Advisor Rating: Dog Food Advisor gives CANIDAE’s PURE product line a 4.5-star rating, but the specific recipe discussed here — Duck & Turkey Formula — actually receives a 5-star rating. They praise the food highly and note that it is a very protein-rich recipe. They do caution that the fat content is rather high, which may make it unsuitable for some dogs.

PROS: This is a great food for dogs who are struggling with food allergies or intolerances (assuming that neither duck nor turkey cause problems for your pup). However, it may also be a great grain-free choice for owners who simply want to feed their dog a limited-ingredient diet that is full of delicious meats and fats. It’s also reasonably priced for such a high-quality product.

CONS: There aren’t many problems with CANIDAE PURE Duck & Turkey Formula. It lacks probiotics, but this is the case with almost every wet food, and we’d like to see some berries, sweet potatoes, carrots, or other colorful fruits and vegetables in the recipe, but that would defeat the purpose of a limited-ingredient diet. It is high in fat, which may cause tummy problems for some dogs, and it may cause your dog to put on a bit of weight.

 

5. Holistic Select Grain-Free Chicken Pate Recipe

About: Holistic Select Grain-Free Chicken Pate Recipe is a premium pet food made with a variety of high-value ingredients, so you know your dog is getting a delicious and nutritious diet.

Features: Holistic Select Grain-Free Chicken Pate Recipe is packed with protein to better reflect your dog’s ancestral diet. Chicken is the first listed ingredient, but chicken liver, chicken meal, and whitefish are found just a little further down the ingredient list.

There are very few proper carbohydrate sources in this food aside from powdered apple, cranberry, blueberry, papaya, pomegranate and pumpkin. Ground flaxseed provides fiber and, along with the canola oil used in the recipe, omega-3 fatty acids. Various vitamins, minerals, and natural preservatives round out the ingredient list.

This food is made in North America and designed for dogs of all life stages.

Price: Premium

First 5 Ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Chicken Liver
  • Chicken Broth
  • Chicken Meal
  • Whitefish

Controversial Ingredients:

  • Holistic Select Grain-Free Chicken Pate contains potato protein. This does not provide the same value for your dog as meat-derived protein sources, and may serve to inflate the protein content of the food. However, there is nothing dangerous or toxic about potato protein at all.
  • Canola oil is also included in Holistic Select Grain-Free Chicken Pate. Canola oil is a beneficial source of omega-3 fatty acids and it probably improves the taste of a food, but some owners like to avoid it because it is often derived from genetically modified seeds. However, there is nothing harmful or toxic about the ingredient.  

See ingredients

Full Ingredient List: Chicken, Chicken Liver, Chicken Broth, Chicken Meal, Whitefish, Ground Flaxseed, Cassia Gum, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Apple Powder, Cranberry Powder, Pumpkin Powder, Canola Oil, Chicory Root Extract, Choline Chloride, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Blueberry Powder, Papaya Powder, Pomegranate Powder, Thiamine Mononitrate, Magnesium Stearate, Vitamin E Supplement, Peppermint Leaf Powder, Cinnamon, Fennel Powder, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Cobalt Proteinate, Niacin, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Potassium Iodide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid

Dog Food Advisor Rating: Dog Food Advisor rates Holistic Select Chicken Pate Recipe as a 5-star product. They praise the high meat and fat content of the food and “enthusiastically recommend” the recipe.

PROS: This is a protein-rich recipe that is made with a number of premium meats (four of the first five ingredients are real meats). We also love the inclusion of several fruit and vegetable powders, as this not only helps improve the product’s taste but its antioxidant content too. And while this food doesn’t contain probiotics, it does contain prebiotics (ingredients that nourish existing beneficial bacteria).

CONS: Some dogs don’t find pate-style dog foods as tasty as those made with real cuts, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with these types of canned foods. This is another food with a relatively high-fat content, which may give some dogs intestinal difficulties (but most will digest it without problem).

Grain-free diets aren’t necessary for all dogs, but they are certainly helpful for some. If you think that your dog may benefit from a grain-free diet, look over the products recommended above and tried to pick the best one for your pet.

Do you already feed your dog a grain-free food? We’d love to hear about it! Tell us which food you use, why you decided to go grain-free, and what types of health improvements you’ve seen since making the switch.

Last update on 2018-12-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

About the Author Ben Team

Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.

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