Grain Free Dog Food Buying Guide

Although grain-free dog foods were not commonplace until a few years ago, their popularity has grown along with gluten-free dietary trends for people. Grains are a possible food allergen for dogs, although dogs are also commonly allergic to various types of meat proteins. The ability to eliminate grains in a dog’s diet - which can also be used as a cheap filler ingredient - can create a solid foundation for your pet’s health.

Types of Grain-Free Dog Food

As a recent trend in dog food, the retail market has exploded with a wide variety of brands, formulations and marketing angles. As a result, shopping for grain-free dog food can be overwhelming, but there are a few categories into which you can separate the foods to help make educated choices for a food that will enhance your dog's health.

Low-Quality Grain-Free Dog Food

Although the term “grain-free” may imply quality, it is important to carefully read the ingredients before determining that the product is worthy of a premium price and a primary component of your dog’s diet. Dog foods that include such ingredients as “meal,” “digest” or “starch” typically contain scraps and byproducts of the food manufacturing industry rather than high-quality whole foods.

High-Quality Grain-Free Dog Food

High-quality grain-free dog foods will offer an ingredient list that sounds like a meal you’d be willing to put on your own plate. Simple, whole ingredients, such as “chicken,” “salmon,” “broccoli,” and “blueberries” are the key to determining if the ingredients in the bag are equal to the premium price. If it sounds wholesome and natural, it may be an excellent choice for your dog’s diet.

Grain-Free Dog Food With Unique Meat Proteins

One of the primary reasons to feed your dog a grain-free diet is to avoid common allergens that can lead to itching, hair loss and diarrhea. However, many common types of meat proteins can also be triggers for allergies, such as chicken, beef or lamb. The ability to eliminate both grains and common meat protein allergens can help you and your dog's veterinarian to determine the source of your dog’s allergies. Novel meats such as fish, duck, venison and rabbit are commonly available in grain-free dog foods.

Pay Attention to

Health needs

It’s always important to start by speaking to your dog’s veterinarian about your dog’s health and unique nutrition needs. Considerations such as the protein and carbohydrate content will need to be considered for dogs who have been diagnosed with a medical issue.

Calorie content

If your dog tends to be overweight or underweight, making a switch to a grain-free food allows you to choose a new food with an optimum calorie content. Combined with exercise, a high-protein, grain-free dog food may help your dog maintain his or her ideal weight.

Kibble size

Many premium grain-free dog food brands are available in small-sized kibble. This is a wonderful option for dogs under 15 pounds or older dogs with fewer teeth. If your dog could benefit from a small kibble size, you can check to see if the manufacturer offers a kibble specifically for small dogs.

Switching to a new food

When making changes to your pet’s dog food, it is important to make a gradual change over time. Suddenly removing his or her old diet and starting a new food can lead to gastrointestinal distress or diarrhea. Mixing the two foods together and gradually increasing the amount of the new food is a simple way to eliminate the shock of a new diet.

Feeding amount

When switching to a high-quality diet, your dog may require much less of the new food. The pure ingredients provide a dense, nutrient-rich food with no empty fillers. Comparing the recommended feeding amounts for both the new and old foods will help you determine how much food your dog needs.

Top Brands and Product Lines


This long-established pet food company provides a wide range of nutritious foods for both dogs and cats. A large selection of grain-free dog foods includes dry kibble, canned food and treats. Special varieties for small dogs and novel proteins such as venison, duck and bison are included. Wellness uses only natural ingredients with no artificial colors or byproducts.

California Natural

This pet food manufacturer has long been known for its simple formulas made from limited ingredients. As a source for dogs with diagnosed food allergies, this brand makes it simple to select a wholesome food. Grain-free dog foods include unique meats such as venison, salmon and kangaroo, and you can search for the origin of each ingredient on California Natural’s website.

Taste of the Wild

This newer line of pet food debuted in 2007, although the parent company, Diamond Dog Foods, has been manufacturing pet food since the 1970s. Taste of the Wild offers grain-free foods based on natural ingredients, and the unique meat proteins include bison, quail and wild boar. Legumes, berries, antioxidants and probiotics are added to the foods, and a small-sized kibble is available for little dogs.

Natural Balance

Seen as a slightly less premium brand, Natural Balance is still a high-quality dog food that is readily available in big box pet stores. The first ingredient is typically potatoes or legumes rather than meat, which is considered a more inexpensive filler compared to foods that focus on meat protein as the first ingredient. Novel proteins include bison, venison, quail and tuna, and little dogs will benefit from small kibble sizes.

Solid Gold

This well-established brand of quality pet foods has holistic roots beginning in 1974. It is one of the few high-quality dog foods that has been established in the market for more than 40 years. Not just grain free, Solid Gold dog foods are also gluten free. Unique proteins include rabbit, buffalo and quail, and the large selection of pet foods includes canned foods and treats.