Most dogs digest cooked starches without issue, but rarely, pups encounter digestive woes or other health problems that make starch-free dog food a must.
Unfortunately, despite the massive dog food market, there aren’t many products that meet this criteria, but there is at least one that may get the job done.
We’ll outline the best starch-free dog food options available and share other things dog owners in this situation can do to satisfy this unique dietary need.
What Are Starches? Are They Bad for Dogs?
Breaking down the definition of starches requires a vocabulary-meets-science lesson.
For one, starches are a form of carbohydrate.
What’s a carbohydrate? One of the three primary macromolecules that are found in dog food.
The other two principle macromolecules found in dog food are proteins and fats. Common proteins include things like beef or chicken, as well as meat meals like pork meal, lamb meal, or salmon meal. Meanwhile, common fats include things like chicken fat or salmon oil.
Carbohydrates take one of three primary forms, including simple and complex varieties.
Sugars are simple carbohydrates and they help provide the body with quick energy.
They are commonly found in processed human foods like candy and desserts, but in the dog world, sugars may be added to kibble or treats for extra flavor. Sugars are also found in natural ingredients like fruits, vegetables, and milk, though in far fewer amounts than processed foods.
Too much sugar can lead to a blood sugar (glucose) spike for your dog, triggering weight gain and complications if your dog has diabetes.
Starches fall into the complex carbohydrate category, as they are comprised of many simple sugars the body has to break down to convert into energy. Because it takes the body longer to break down starches than simple sugars, they’re sometimes characterized as providing “long term” or “long-lasting” energy.
Several vegetables common in dog food, like potatoes, peas, and corn, are classified as starches. In human food, common starchy foods include cereal, bread, and pasta.
Starches are fine for most dogs to eat, though a dog with food intolerances or allergies may need to avoid common trigger ingredients like potatoes or corn. Certain starches also cause more insulin responses in the body, making them poor choices for dogs with diabetes.
Another complex carbohydrate, fiber, is not easily broken down by the body.
This means that fiber doesn’t provide many (if any) calories for your dog, but because it takes up space in his digestive tract, it leaves him feeling full for a long time. Fiber is essential for every dog but is especially common in dog foods for weight loss. Fiber also helps bulk up stools, potentially aiding pups with digestive woes.
Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, seeds, whole grains, and nuts, with the most fiber-rich ingredients often found in dog food being broccoli, berries, and apples. While beneficial, fiber must be fed in moderation to avoid tummy trouble. Excessive fiber consumption can lead to gassiness and frequent defecation.
As discussed above, starches aren’t problematic for most pooches, but like sugar, too much starch can lead to unwanted woofer weight gain or blood sugar concerns if your dog is diabetic.
What Starches Are in Most Dog Foods?
Starches are found in most dog foods, which makes avoiding them difficult, even with grain-free dog foods and limited-ingredient dog foods on the market. Starches are common in canine cuisine because they are rich sources of fiber and fuel, which keep dogs full and energized between meals.
The most common starches in dog food include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Cassava root
Each starch source has its own list of pros and cons to consider. Most dogs tolerate traditional grain-based starches like brown rice, though a few have allergies or intolerances that make grain-free dog food options like chickpeas or lentils more ideal.
What Dogs Need a Starch-Free Diet?
There’s no specific canine health condition demanding a starch-free diet.
However, your veterinarian may recommend feeding your pooch starch-free food if he’s struggling with multiple health concerns or unexplained sensitivities believed to be starch-related. Of course, your vet may prescribe a veterinary diet to address the issue instead, such as hypoallergenic dog food or diabetic dog food.
Some pet parents mistakenly think feeding a starch-free food will help with canine yeast overgrowth or is necessary for grain allergies, but these are both myths.
For yeast concerns, topical treatment and oral medication are generally required, while vet-diagnosed grain allergies mesh well with traditional grain-free dog foods relying on sweet potatoes and other alternative grain sources.
The Best Starch-Free Dog Foods
The dog food market isn’t exploding with starch-free diets; in fact, we’re only aware of one commercially produced starch-free dog food. Let’s sink our teeth into the particulars to see if it fits your floof well.
1. Ketogenic Pet Foods Keto-Kibble™
About: In addition to being a grain-free dog food, Keto Kibble™ by Ketogenic Pet Foods lacks most traditional carbohydrate sources, sticking to a meat-forward recipe packed with a whopping 60 percent protein content. Muscle-fueling chicken meal is the primary ingredient, followed by organic chicken. Dried apple fiber and dried plain beet pulp offer prebiotic goodness, while a mix of probiotics further aid doggo digestion for a settled tummy and firmer poops.
First Five Ingredients: Chicken Meal, Organic Chicken, Chicken Fat, Dried Plain Beet Pulp & Meat Protein Isolate
- Omega-rich flaxseeds and fish oil support your pup’s skin and coat
- Meets AAFCO nutrient profile for maintenance
- Added taurine helps prevent dangerous deficiencies that can damage your dog’s heart
- Kibblet size ideal for dogs big and small
- Made in the USA with
Chicken Meal, Organic Chicken, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Dried Plain Beet Pulp, Meat Protein Isolate...,
- The only commercially available starch-free dog food
- The flavor of this dog food earns high marks with many dogs
- Mix of probiotics provides doggo digestive support
- Taurine gives canine heart health a helping hand
- Lack of options with different animal protein sources (such as a chicken-free option) is a concern for dogs with chicken allergies
- May be too protein-rich for dogs with kidney issues and other health concerns
- Grain-free dog foods have been correlated with DCM
- No bones about it: The dog food this brand offers is pricey
A Custom-Crafted Dog Food: Another Option
Looking for a more personalized starch-free dog food for your floof? Check out JustFoodForDogs.
JustFoodForDogs offers a custom fresh food option where you can work with a nutrition consultant to shape a meal plan that works best for your dog’s needs. This means you can get them to whip your pup up a grain-free dog food or a food with reduced (or no) starch content. From here, a veterinary team looks over your dog’s medical records to further cater your canine’s cuisine to his unique concerns and ensure balance.
Personalized JustFoodForDogs recipes are prepared in the brand’s own kitchens, prepackaged into daily servings, and fresh-frozen before being shipped to your door. Talk about convenience!
Best Dog Food Without Starch: FAQ
Do you still have questions about starch-free dog food and if it’s right for your Rover? Check out the most frequently asked questions and answers surrounding the subject.
Do dogs need starch in their diet?
Carbohydrates, including starches, are vital for energizing your doggo and providing nutrients like amino acids and minerals. However, some starches are more digestible for some pups than others, with grains like barley and millet working well for most doggos, while select sniffers with grain sensitivities may need a grain-free option made with an alternative starch source, like sweet potatoes or chickpeas (which are common in limited ingredient diets).
Which starch is best for dogs?
The best starch for your dog will vary, as every pup is unique. Certain health conditions like kidney disease and diabetes can affect the best starch for your pup, so asking your vet is recommended.
Quality sources of starches in dog food include traditional grains like brown rice, barley, and oatmeal and grain-free carbs like potatoes, peas, and lentils.
What happens if a dog has too much starch?
Starch-heavy diets can lead to weight gain and blood sugar control issues in canines, especially dogs already diagnosed with diabetes. If you’re concerned your dog’s diet is too rich in starches, consult your vet.
Does a grain-free food contain starches?
Most grain-free dog food does, in fact, contain starches. That’s because most grain free dog food simply skip the grains in lieu of other, alternative carbohydrate sources, such as sweet potatoes. Accordingly, switching to a grain-free diet usually won’t eliminate all of the starches in your pet’s diet.
Grain-free foods are helpful for some dogs, but it’s important to discuss the issue with your vet first, as grain-free diets have been correlated with DCM.
Why do vets not like grain-free dog food?
Vets aren’t a monolithic group, but generally speaking, those who caution owners to avoid a grain-free dog food are concerned about the potential link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, a deadly heart condition in canines. Sadly, many pups are fed these diets unnecessarily, as most often, food allergies in dogs are to proteins (often an animal protein) such as chicken, eggs, or beef – not grains.
What is the absolute best food to feed your dog?
The best food for your dog is one that addresses any health concerns he has, meets the AAFCO nutrient profile for his current life stage, and has your vet’s approval. This won’t be the same food for every dog, with some canines excelling on premium dry dog food like Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula while others benefit from customized canine cuisines like JustFoodForDogs or Ollie. And, of course, some dogs will, in fact, need a starch- or grain-free dog food.
Does your dog eat a starch-free diet? Which starch-free dog food does he enjoy? Have you tried a grain-free dog food? Have you found one your dog loves? Did your vet recommend you switch your pup’s dog food to a grain-free diet or did you decide to do so on your own?
Share your starch-free dog food experiences with us in the comments. We’d love to hear!