Food Guidelines

What’s the Scoop on Grain-Free Diets For Dogs?

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Grain-free diets are all the rage in the dog food industry these days. But, since grain-free foods are generally pricier than non-grain-free foods, many consumers are left wondering if it’s worth the added expense or if it’s just a bunch of marketing hype.

Use the information below to make your own educated decision about whether a grain-free diet is right for your dog.

A grain-free dog food is one that contains no wheat or corn. These grains are typically added to our dog’s food as a less expensive source of calories and nutrients than the food they would find in the wild – mostly meat with a few fruits and vegetables.

But, while grains do contain valuable calories and nutrients, they aren’t necessarily the right kind for our furry friends.Valerie Gleaton, a green living expert at Gaiam.com explains,

…grains can cause problems for some companion animals, just as they can for some humans. Grains can aggravate allergies (a friend’s dog has been on a grain-free diet since puppyhood due to severe skin allergies) and can contribute to weight problems.

Aside from these specific ailments, grain is generally more difficult for carnivores like cats and almost-carnivores like dogs to digest than meat.

However, not all experts agree that grain-free is the best choice for our pets. Ian Shoust, a writer for Suite101.com specializing in proper pet nutrition, says,

Corn contains essential fatty acids for a healthy skin and coat.

Beta-carotene, vitamin E, and lutein are natural antioxidants that are present in corn.

Corn should not be the main source of protein in a dog food, though. Dogs need a varied diet to stay healthy, so pay attention to the first three ingredients on a dog food label to ensure that it doe not contain too much corn.

While too much corn in a dog food can cause health problems, corn in and of itself is not harmful.

Whether avoiding grain in your dog’s food altogether or minimizing their grain intake, experts can agree on one thing – meat is still the most important ingredient in your dog’s diet. As a general rule of thumb, steer clear of any dog foods that contain wheat or corn as one of the top three ingredients.

Do you feed your dog a grain-free diet? Tell our readers what led you to that decision in a comment below!

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Avatar Of Zia

    Zia

    says:

    Almost all corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. And much of the expensive soft foods are merely pink slime, are they not? I give my two dog a Taste of the Wild dry food supplemented with fresh organic vegetables and coconut oil or olive oil.

  2. Avatar Of Kylie

    Kylie

    says:

    Yes, perhaps corn does include some valuable nutrients but the problem is that dogs can’t digest corn. Those nutrients in the corn will go in one end of the dog and come out the other end. Corn is a cheap filler which is of no nutritional benefit to a canine. Although I believe that all dogs should have a grain-free diet, it is particularly important for those who have inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.

    There is no such thing as an “almost-carnivore”. Cats are obligate carnivores. Dogs are carnivores.

    It is not only the first three ingredients that are important – every ingredient is important. Petfood manufacturers often split up ingredients into individual components so that it looks like there is less of it than there really is. EG Corn might be displayed in the nutritional list as both corn and corn gluten meal. This allows those two ingredients to be displayed further down the list than ingredients which are actually present in a smaller amount.

    • Avatar Of Erin

      Erin

      says:

      I’ve never heard that dogs are carnivores, rather omnivores. I understand it’s been the topic of much scholarly discussion and perhaps will continue as such into the future, so I don’t know how you can state so forthrightly that dogs are carnivores unless you have some authority everyone else in veterinary science has missed.

  3. Avatar Of Zoe

    Zoe

    says:

    I have recently swapped my six year old Bull Arab mix to a grain and potato free diet in an attempt to reduce arthritic pain, I had trouble finding a grain and potato free dry food, so am now, after a lot of reading and research feeding him a raw diet. While it is time consuming and more expensive and sometimes difficult to find the right components to make him balanced meals he has benefited greatly and does not seem to be in nearly as much pain or discomfort as he was just a few weeks ago.

  4. Avatar Of Sandra

    Sandra

    says:

    My vet put my senior dalmation mix on grain free as he was having bowel
    problems. He would walk and poop or poop in his sleep. He said it sounded like
    a dietary problem and recommended a few grain free dog foods and told me to
    feed him that and nothing else. Sure do hope it works.

  5. Avatar Of Erin

    Erin

    says:

    My puggle, Darla, is allergic to lamb and corn gluten meal so grain-free is a godsend for us! We found a really affordable one called 4Health at Tractor Supply Company. the big bags are only around $20 or so b/c it’s the TSC store brand and is just as good as Blue Buffalo and waaay more affordable too!

  6. Avatar Of Stephen Soucy

    Stephen Soucy

    says:

    We adopted our miniature poodle, and fed a combination of canned and dry food from a local pet store, but he started scratching a lot. Our vet put him on aims fish & potato and that seemed to clear it up for the most part. I found a grain free combination (Evo & California Naturals) which seem to keep him happy and not scratchy.

    I find talking to our pet supply owner, who writes a lot about nutrition, helpful, and am encouraged by his balanced presentation, similar to this article, that mentions the raw diet and the (bad) role that corn and wheat play in our canine’s diet.

  7. Avatar Of Peggy

    peggy

    says:

    We put both our bulldogs on grain free food…
    1 of them got poops so bad on food with corn and wheat in it so we went grain free and food with brown rice all is well now.

  8. Avatar Of Becky Stockum

    Becky Stockum

    says:

    My male lab mix itched all the time & it was keeping both him–& ME— awake at night with his scratching & biting himself. I decided to try a grain-free diet first, rather than take him to vet for testing—and it was almost like a miracle. He stopped the digging & biting himself within days. Yes, it is expensive, but they don’t seem to eat as much as before—do still get some canned food with it—-different brands—-& even without checking the labels, I am sure that sometimes they must have grains in them, because he starts the digging again. That was much easier than numerous trips to the vet for tests!!

  9. Avatar Of Jeannine

    Jeannine

    says:

    Since feeding a grain-free diet to my dog (that likes to sleep back-side pointed to my nose area)has been nearly gas free! That, to me, is worth the extra cost!!!

  10. Avatar Of Heather

    Heather

    says:

    Corn as their example of a healthy grain? Really? I could maybe understand brown rice but corn? I refuse to carry any foods in my store that use corn as a carb source. Unfortunately, Science Diet has their hands in the pocketbooks of the veterinary field and if you note, corn tends to be in the first 4 ingredients of all their food. No thanks. If vegetarian animals such as cows exhibit horrible problems on a corn based diet, then why would dogs do any better?

  11. Avatar Of Paula Harmer

    Paula Harmer

    says:

    Dogs are not ALMOST carnivores, they ARE carnivores. Try putting two bowls of food on the floor, one containing raw meat, the other any kind of kibble you like. Would you lay bets on which bowl the dog goes for? Feed dogs a raw diet, as their digestive system requires and they will not be overweight, their teeth will be clean, breath sweet, poo reduced and not stinky, coat good, allergies at least reduced. But do read up about it first to ensure you know what you need to get into the diet. Never never give cooked bones. Including those terribly splintery things sold in pet shops….lethal!

  12. Avatar Of Cristan

    Cristan

    says:

    I have switched my Cockers to grain-free and chicken free…no more nasty ears, no more itching. There coats are amazing. I use mostly Wellness Core Ocean Blend.But, I do switch it up some times with other brands.

  13. Avatar Of Nicole

    Nicole

    says:

    We switched our dog to grain free within the first year of her life. We saw a huge decline in itching and dry skin! Earthborn wet is one my dog loves. We give her a variety of grain free kibble including Wellness Simple, Merrick Grain Free, Pure Vita, Go Fit and Free etc

    If you need advice on foods, check out the dogfoodadvisor.com They rate dog foods!! Great tool.

  14. Avatar Of Candy

    Candy

    says:

    I started feeding my little yorkie/maltese 4 Health beef and potato grain free about 6 months ago, due to digestive problems she is doing so much better, and the cost is reasonable.

  15. Avatar Of Sharon

    sharon

    says:

    can you tell me which brand is the best so I can buy it for my dog . He’s 8 year old now and not getting any younger just wanted him to eat healthy and stay strong..

    • Avatar Of Heather

      Heather

      says:

      If you aren’t able to do raw or dehydrated raw with your pup, the best kibble hands down is Orijen. The Glycemic Research Institute actually created a pet food category just so they could award Orijen for the last 5 years. Canadian companies have higher meat standards and thus produce higher quality products.

      • Avatar Of Erin

        Erin

        says:

        I agree. We give our pup a mix of Orijen and raw food (Jeffrey’s Natural Foods in San Francisco). People are always commenting on how shiny her coat is. She’s a strong, healthy pup.

  16. Avatar Of Stacey

    Stacey

    says:

    @ Melissa. I also give Memphis Merrick 96% soft food in the morning with his Acana, and he loves it! Excellent food company..

  17. Avatar Of Stacey

    Stacey

    says:

    I agree, my lab is almost 3 and has has a rash of skin ailments his entire life. I stopped feeding him Pro plan by Purina which I only did because at the time that is all his system could handle but since I switched 1 year ago to Acana ranchlands grain free his health, coat and energy level has vastly improved. The extra cost of the food is well worth his health and my peace of mind knowing that I can give him a food good for him and keep him around longer to be with me.

  18. Avatar Of Melissa

    Melissa

    says:

    Merrick is the best grain free dog food…also offers regular food as well..costly but is excellent food. If you contact them they even contact you back..and send you coupons.

  19. Avatar Of Carole Ranger Spencer

    Carole Ranger Spencer

    says:

    I recently switched to a grain free food for my dog. I read about the garbage meat and filler grains that go into supermarket foods and decided that I’d go for a quality food that was mostly meat with a few veggies. It’s only been a few weeks and I can see the difference in her coat and skin and she has more energy. My pup is 11 years old and in good health and I feel the change in food will benefit her a lot. I read all the reviews on Dogfoodadvisor on Facebook and chose the food I felt was best and fit my budget. I’m hoping the switch to a higher quality food will get a couple of extra years of life out of my dog.

  20. Avatar Of Jill Breitner

    jill breitner

    says:

    This is a good article in that give some information to help folks make a more informed decision on what kind of food to feed our dogs however it is lacking some crucial information.

    The industry behind who decides what food is good for us is corrupt. The studies done by universities or any other organizations is sponsored (paid for) by the companies who make the food or will make the food. The only reason that dog foods are even a little better than before is because we the people are getting educated and demanding labels on food. Dogs anatomy and physiology is the same as a wolf or coyote and these animals DO NOT eat grains. Grains are fillers and the industries way to cut costs and it has nothing to do w/ nutrition.

    Thank you for this article.

    ~jill
    aka SheWhisperer

  21. Avatar Of Mahoodie

    Mahoodie

    says:

    My wheaten began exhibiting issues very young. Ear infections and chewing of the feet. The vet put him on a prescription diet and all the symptoms diss appeared but I wasn’t satisfied with all the ingredients nOr the super expensive Price. I did some research, talked to a few people and found a good grain free food that both my wheatens love and doesn’t kill the bank. I’m happy to say they no longer exhibit the itching and haven’t had any ear infection since. it’s been almost a year.

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