Carbs are important macronutrients that appear in practically every dog kibble on the market. They’re usually sourced from plants and cereal grains like oats and barley, and they can help keep your four-footer energized (and zoomie-in’) throughout the day.
The relative proportion of carbohydrates differs pretty significantly from one kibble to the next. While carbs do have their benefits, some pups need or thrive best when fed dog food with a low carbohydrate content — since you’re here, we assume that’s the case for your pup!
Below, we’ll share some of the best low-carb dog foods on the market to help.
What Is a Low-Carb Dog Food?
Most dog foods on the market have a carbohydrate content of between 30% and 60%.
So, while there is no official definition of “low carb dog food,” most authorities consider low-carb dog foods to have a carb content of below 25%.
Unfortunately for carb-conscious pup parents, a kibble’s carb content isn’t always listed on the packaging. This is mainly because it isn’t a requirement set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, you can work out the carb content of dog food by using this nifty equation:
- Add up the percentages of protein, fat, moisture, and ash recorded in the food’s guaranteed analysis (found on the nutrition label).
- Subtract the resulting figure from 100.
- The result is the food’s carbohydrate content.
Or, if the whole idea of math is nightmare-inducing, you can use an online calculator instead.
The 5 Best Low-Carb Dog Foods
We’ve sifted through the market and found five awesome low-carb dog foods you may want to consider for your pupperino. They all have a carb content below 25% without compromising on taste or quality, and most canines approve of ‘em too!
1. Nom Nom Fresh Dog Food (Best Overall Low-Carb Dog Food)
About: Is your pup is a fussy eater who refuses to dine on anything but Michelin-grade cuisine? Then Nom Nom is easily the best bet for your low-carb needs. Made from fresh ingredients and bursting with flavor, these meals are packed with juicy chunks of meat that dogs go barking mad for.
Plus, Nom Nom even offers to create a customized meal plan based on your four-footer’s dietary concerns, and then delivers the kibble pre-portioned straight to your door. Truly a fine dining experience.
First Five Ingredients: Turkey, Brown Rice, Eggs, Carrots, & Spinach
- Several recipes available (Beef Mash, Chicken Cuisine, Pork Potluck, and Turkey Fare)
- Made from US-sourced, human-grade ingredients
- Subscription service; pre-portioned food is delivered directly to your door
- Food made in small batches to ensure unmatched quality
Turkey, Brown Rice, Eggs, Carrots, Spinach...,
Calculated carb content: 10.5%
- Recipes formulated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists
- Can be tailored to your dog’s dietary needs
- Pups find the taste and aroma irresistible (ideal for fussy eaters)
- One of the few foods made from only US-sourced ingredients
- Turkey Fare is the only grain-inclusive Nom Nom recipe
- Unfortunately, Nom Nom is pretty expensive
2. Ketona Chicken Recipe Dry Dog Food (Best Low-Carb Dry Dog Food)
About: Ketona Chicken Recipe is a grain-free dry dog food that’s rich in protein and bursting with drool-worthy chicken flavor. But it won’t just get your pup’s chops drooling; it’s sure to please you too, with its sustainably sourced ingredients and impressively low carb content.
The formula also comes packed with minerals and vitamin supplements, so your pup is sure to get the nutrition he needs with every chomp.
First Five Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Meal, Peas, Chicken Fat, & Pea Protein
- Sustainably sourced ingredients, including US-raised GMO-free chicken
- At least 46% protein content
- Manufactured in the USA
- Grain-free formula, with no soy, wheat, potatoes, barley, or corn
Chicken, Chicken Meal, Peas, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Pea Protein...,
Calculated carb content: 19%
- Boasts a really low carb content for a kibble
- Great low-carb option for diabetic dogs due to its equally low sugar content (0.5%)
- Pup parents say their dogs can’t get enough of the taste
- This is an expensive kibble
- Small kibble size; may not be ideal for large to giant breeds
3. Wellness Natural Weight Management Wet Pet Food (Best Low-Carb Wet/Canned Dog Food)
About: While some dogs appreciate the satisfying crunch of kibbles, others love the soft, moist texture of wet food. Wellness Natural Weight Management is a fantastic low-carb wet food option, with a grain-free, nutrient-dense formula that comes in a mouth-watering chicken flavor.
And another awesome perk? It’s been designed with weight management in mind, making it well-suited to four-footers with a little too much “fluff” around the edges.
First Five Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Broth, Turkey Broth, Pork Liver, & Whitefish
- Made in the USA with non-GMO ingredients and no poultry by-products
- Pâté-like smooth texture with chicken flavor
- Rich in omega-3s
- Includes a proprietary blend of botanicals and nutritional supplements
Chicken, Chicken Broth, Turkey Broth, Pork Liver, Whitefish...,
Calculated carb content: 5%
- Low-carb option that’s been formulated specifically with weight management in mind
- The smooth, soft texture means it’s easy to use as a food topper (or stuff inside puzzle toys).
- May help boost hydration levels for poor-drinking doggos
- Some dogs weren’t ecstatic about the taste
- Storing canned leftovers is tricky
4. Primal Freeze Dried Nuggets (Best Freeze-Dried Low-Carb Dog Food)
About: Primal Freeze Dried Nuggets area fantastic low-carb option for dogs who enjoy the taste and texture of freeze-dried dog foods. Nutritionally dense, this food is made from ethically sourced lamb, and packed with USDA-certified organic produce. As a bonus, it also works well as a food topper.
First Five Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Livers, Organic Carrots, Organic Squash, & Organic Kale
- Freeze-dried form with a long shelf life
- Made with grass-fed lamb raised without antibiotics, steroids, or hormones
- USDA-certified organic fruits and vegetables
- Free from corn, wheat, soy lentils, grains, gluten, and synthetic vitamins and supplements
Chicken (with ground bone), Chicken Livers, Organic Carrots, Organic Squash, Organic Kale...,
Calculated carb content: 6%
- Great low-carb option for dogs who prefer freeze-dried foods
- Formulated with digestibility in mind to promote good gut health and nutrient absorption
- Made with sustainably sourced ingredients, including organic fruit and vegetables
- Require rehydration, which can be a hassle (and messy)
- Expensive if you want to use it as your woofer’s main kibble
5. ORIJEN Amazing Grain Dry Dog Food (Best Grain-Inclusive Low-Carb Dog Food)
About: Pup got constipation woes? Then his bowels (and your nose) will love ORIJEN Amazing Grain Dry Food. The low-carb kibble consists of high-quality ingredients and is packed with a premium grain blend to promote gut health and digestion.
It tastes great too, with a freeze-dried food coating that provides a burst of flavor with every bite. It’s gutterly delicious.
First Five Ingredients: Venison, Duck, Flounder, Lamb Meat, & Duck Liver
- Grain-inclusive formula (contains quinoa, millet, chia, oats, and oats groats)
- Suitable for all breeds and life stage
- Packed with minerals and vitamins
- Made in the USA
Venison, Duck (Ground With Bone), Flounder, Lamb Meat, Duck Liver...,
Calculated carb content: 17%
- The first 5 ingredients are fresh or raw animal proteins
- One of the few low-carb, grain-inclusive recipes on the market
- Freeze-dried food coating to maximize flavor
- It’s pricey
- Raw proteins present health risks
Macronutrients and Carbs Explained
Navigating macronutrients — and carbs especially — can be pretty confusing. Before we delve into our top food picks, we’ll get you up to speed on what exactly macronutrients are and what low-carb dog food generally means.
Every food is comprised of different kinds of macronutrients or “macros” — the main nutrients your four-footer (and any animal, for that matter) needs to survive.
There are three primary types of macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (technically, water and alcohol are other types of macronutrients).
Each macronutrient plays a role in helping maintain bodily structures and systems, but we’ll be focusing on carbohydrates today.
Carbohydrates are substances that provide the body with a rich source of energy. More specifically, when carbs are consumed, they’re naturally broken down into glucose, which is the main energy source for cells, tissues, and organs.
Carbohydrates for Dogs: Simple & Complex
Carbs come in a variety of forms and are grouped into two main types: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are sugars. They’re easy for the body to absorb and provide a quick burst of energy.
In comparison, complex carbs include starches and fibers. They’re broken down a lot more slowly, resulting in a more gradual release of energy.
Just keep in mind that fiber isn’t digested like other foods; we (and our four-footers) don’t have the necessary enzymes to properly break down its molecular structure. However, fiber still benefits the body in several ways, from improving digestive health to helping to regulate blood sugar. More on this later.
Both simple and complex carbs can be found in a wide range of foods. Some common carb-rich foods used in dog kibble include:
- Sweet potato (or potato)
- Whole wheat
As a side note, most carb-rich foods used in kibble typically contain fats and proteins as well — two of the other important macronutrients.
What Does “Net Carbs” Mean for Dog Food?
On the topic of carbohydrates in dog food, there’s another concept you’ll want to understand: “net carbs.”
Net carbs refers to the total number of carbs that are actually digested by the body. As we mentioned earlier, fibers are a complex carb that can’t be absorbed. So, net carbs do away with them (as well as a portion of the sugar alcohols in some cases).
Net carbs isn’t an officially recognized term by the AAFCO (or other nutritional health organizations) and there are a lot of opinions about how helpful it is as a guideline. It’s also never going to be entirely accurate because it doesn’t factor in the effects of processing on fiber.
In general, though, it may be worth looking into if your pup experiences blood sugar issues or needs help with weight loss.
Are Carbs Good for Dogs?
In general, carbs are good for our four-footers.
They provide an important source of energy and can help support and maintain their digestive systems. Carbs are also often used to improve the texture and taste of dog kibble — something your pup will no doubt appreciate.
A common misconception is that dogs aren’t able to digest and metabolize carbs properly. However, four-footers are more than capable of digesting cooked carbs, especially in the form and quantity that appears in kibble.
And while carbs aren’t technically “essential” in our puppers’ diets — they have no dietary requirement for carbs and can get everything they need from the two other main macronutrients (proteins and fats) — carbs do have benefits and are often rich in other important nutrients, like antioxidants, vitamins, and fatty acids.
All that said, carbs aren’t ideal for every pup. Some dogs have health conditions that cause them to need fewer carbs than others. We’ll delve deeper into these health conditions below.
Which Dogs Need Low-Carb Diets?
Canines experiencing the following health complications may benefit from a low-carb diet:
- Diabetes: Diabetic dogs struggle with high blood sugar levels, and carbs — which have been known to increase sugar levels — can exacerbate symptoms and make the condition worse.
- Inflammatory conditions: Carbs (particularly refined carbs) have been associated with an increase in inflammation in the body, so cutting down on them may help alleviate inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Epilepsy: A 2019 study has shown that controlling carb content may potentially lead to fewer seizures. Just note that there isn’t much research into this area yet.
- Obesity: Simple carbs provide a lot of energy quickly, but if they’re not used immediately they (or excess calories in any other form) get stored in your four-footer’s body as fat.
- Allergies or food sensitivities: Some pups have allergies or food sensitivities to carb-rich foods, particularly grains like wheat and barley.
Low-Carb Dog Foods: FAQ
Carbs can be tricky to wrap your head around. We’ll try and help clear things up by answering some common questions pup parents have about low-carb dog foods.
What is a low-carb diet for dogs?
A low-carb diet for dogs is a diet that consists of a low carbohydrate intake (which necessitates a higher protein and/or fat content)). The diet can potentially help manage certain health conditions and is particularly well-suited to diabetic four-footers.
Low-carb dog foods generally have a carb content of below 25% and they come in a wide range of forms, flavors, and textures.
Should I consider feeding my dog a low-carb diet?
A low-carb diet can be a good option for pups with some specific health conditions. However, as you should before making any food change, discuss the issue with your vet.
Are low-carb dog foods suitable for all dogs?
Low-carb dog foods are suitable for many dogs, but once again, you should speak to your veterinarian before making dietary changes — the exact amount of each macronutrient a dog needs can vary on factors like age, weight, health, and activity level.
Do note that young puppies and pregnant (or nursing) dogs shouldn’t be put on low-carb diets. They need the carbs to support their higher energy needs and to minimize the risks of hypoglycemia.
What dry dog food has the fewest carbs?
The dry dog food with the fewest carbs is the Ketona Chicken Kibble, with a carb content of around 19%.
Is low carb dog food better?
Low-carb dog kibble isn’t necessarily better than other dog foods. The food that’s “best” for your pup ultimately depends on his individual needs. For example, low-carb dog food may be a great option for pups with diabetes or inflammatory conditions, but it isn’t a suitable option for all dogs.
Is your pup on a low-carb diet? What foods have worked the best for him, and have you noticed any positive effects on his health? Let us know in the comments down below, and feel free to share any other low-carb dog foods we’ve missed!