What is the Best Grain Free Dog Food on the Market?

You may have heard the hype about giving dogs a grain-free diet, which is a recipe that doesn’t have anything like wheat, rice, or oats in it.

Some dogs are healthier on grain-free diets, but there are some questions you should ask yourself before deciding to switch.

a Dachshund looking up and waiting to eat food
A long-haired Dachshund sitting with a dog bowl

This guide will help you pick the best grain-free dog food and decide whether or not this type of formula is right for your pup.

Top 6 Picks for Best Grain Free Dog Food in 2021

  Best Grain Free Dog Food Recipes Our Rating
Best Overall Grain Free Dog Food Sport Dog Food Elite Grain-Free Turkey

  • Meat is sourced in the US
  • Made for dogs with ingredient sensitivities
  • Nutrient-dense
5
Best Budget Grain Free Dog Food Merrick Real Texas Beef + Sweet Potato

  • Contains real beef, pork, lamb, and beef liver
  • Peas, sweet potatoes, apples, and blueberries add healthy carbs
  • Made without common allergens
5
Best Premium Choice Grain Free Dog Food Orijen 6 Fish Grain-Free Food

  • Real raw mackerel, herring, monkfish, redfish, flounder, and hake
  • Whole beans, peas, chickpeas, pumpkin, carrots, and apples
  • Coated with freeze-dried liver for flavor
5
Best Grain Free Puppy Food  Taste of the Wild Puppy Food

  • Real water buffalo, lamb, and roasted venison
  • Features ocean fish meal and salmon oil
  • Contains flaxseed, salmon oil, fruits, and veggies
5
Best Grain Free Adult Dog Food  Taste of the Wild High Prairie

  • Real beef, buffalo, bison, lamb, and venison
  • Contains healthy fruits and veggies
  • Made with live probiotics
5
Best Grain Free Senior Dog Food  Orijen Senior Grain-Free

  • Contains probiotics
  • Made with whole fruits and veggies
  • Coated in freeze-dried liver
5

Best Grain-Free Dog Food Brands (By Life Stage)

Whether you have a new pup or a dog in her golden years, there’s a grain-free option out there that’s just right.

Sport Dog Elite is a great option for those who are willing to spend a little extra, while Merrick’s real beef formula will please those on a budget.

Best Grain Free Food for Puppies

a Shiba Inu waiting for its soaked dog bowl
Meet Miracle, a hungry Shiba Inu puppy excited for his food – Image source

Giving your puppy a good start in life is essential, and a healthy diet is a key part of that.

These foods include affordable options like American Journey puppy food, along with premium options like Wellness Core for large breed puppies. 

1. Wellness Core Grain-Free Large-Breed Puppy Food 

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Large Breed Puppy Deboned Chicken Recipe Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 4.5
Top Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Peas
Type: Dry

This food is designed just for large breed puppies and doesn’t contain any grains.

Instead, it has healthy lentils, flaxseed, kale, sweet potatoes, and spinach. It also has salmon oil for DHA, which helps support healthy growth. 

Pros:

  • Lots of whole fruit, veggies, and meat
  • Contains probiotics and prebiotics

Cons:

  • Contains tomato pomace and ground potatoes
  • Peas feature high on the list of ingredients

CHECK PRICE HERE

2. Merrick Grain-Free Puppy Food 

Merrick Grain-Free Puppy Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 5
Top Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Sweet Potatoes
Type: Dry

With real deboned chicken and salmon, along with turkey meal and sweet potatoes, this grain-free food is packed with healthy ingredients.

It’s carefully balanced with 60 percent protein and healthy fats and 40 percent healthy carbs, vitamins, and minerals.

It also has glucosamine and chondroitin to help your pup develop healthy hips, joints, and brain.

About 76 percent of the protein comes from animal sources and the kibble is smaller, ideal for small puppy mouths and teeth. 

Pros:

  • Real chicken is the first ingredient
  • Contains glucosamine and chondroitin
  • Lots of whole veggies, fruits, and real meat and fish

Cons:

  • Contains tapioca (a low nutrient filler)

CHECK PRICE HERE

3. Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Puppy Food

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 5
Top Ingredients: Water Buffalo, Lamb Meal, Sweet Potatoes
Type: Dry

This “high prairie” formula food is made with high-quality, novel proteins like bison, water buffalo, and venison to give your dog the kind of diet they crave in the wild.

There’s also chicory and lots of probiotics to support a healthy digestive system. 

Pros:

  • Real water buffalo, lamb, and roasted venison
  • Features ocean fish meal and salmon oil
  • Contains flaxseed, salmon oil, fruits, and veggies

Cons:

  • Contains tomato pomace

CHECK PRICE HERE

4. Canidae Pure Grain-Free Puppy Food

CANIDAE Grain-Free PURE Puppy Limited Ingredient

Our Rating: 5
Top Ingredients: Chicken, Menhaden Fish Meal, Lentils
Type: Dry

Canidae’s limited ingredient diet food only has a handful of ingredients (nine, to be exact) to help limit allergies and support your growing pupper and their nutritional needs.

It has live probiotics, antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and healthy animal proteins.

Pros:

  • Made without fillers like tapioca or tomato pomace
  • No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives

Cons:

  • Higher protein than many other formulas, which can be a concern

CHECK PRICE HERE

5. American Journey Grain-Free Puppy Food

American Journey Puppy Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 4.5
Top Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal
Type: Dry

This grain-free formula has deboned chicken, carrots, dried kelp, and blueberries to give them a healthy balance of carbs and protein.

It’s made with salmon oil to promote healthy skin and amino acids to support lean muscle development.

Pros:

  • First ingredient is real chicken
  • Contains chickpeas, sweet potatoes, blueberries, and carrots

Cons:

  • Contains tapioca
  • Contains dried beet pulp (a cheap filler)

CHECK PRICE HERE

Best Grain Free Food for Adult Dogs

a wide-eye Corgi waiting for his raw meat
Meet Momo, a patient Corgi waiting to have a bite of the juicy meat – Image source

Adult dogs need the right balance of protein – anywhere from 18 to 25 percent, typically, along with carbohydrates and fat.

All of these foods are carefully formulated to keep your best friend healthy without grains. 

1. Nulo Freestyle Grain-Free Dog Food 

Nulo Freestyle Grain-Free Salmon & Peas Recipe Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 4.5
Top Ingredients: Deboned Salmon, Turkey Meal, Menhaden Fish Meal
Type: Dry

Made without any cheap fillers like tomato pomace or tapioca, this food is packed with nutritious ingredients like real fish, turkey, and legumes.

It’s made from low-glycemic ingredients to support healthy blood sugar levels and has 80 percent animal-based proteins. 

Pros:

  • Protein-rich recipe with real fish and turkey
  • Contains Blueberries, lentils, carrots, tomatoes, chicory, and chickpeas

Cons:

  • Higher protein than many other recipes
  • Contains pea fiber

CHECK PRICE HERE

2. Taste of the Wild High-Prairie Grain-Free Dog Food

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 5
Top Ingredients: Water Buffalo, Lamb Meal, Chicken Meal
Type: Dry

This formula combines novel proteins like buffalo and bison with healthy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, blueberries, and peas.

It also has prebiotics from chicory and probiotics to support a healthy digestive system. 

Pros:

  • Real beef, buffalo, bison, lamb, and venison
  • Contains healthy fruits and veggies
  • Made with live probiotics

Cons:

  • Contains tomato pomace
  • Very high protein

CHECK PRICE HERE

3. Orijen Six Fish Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

ORIJEN Six Fish Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 5
Top Ingredients: Whole Atlantic Mackerel, Whole Atlantic Herring, Monkfish
Type: Dry

This is one of the more expensive foods on the list, but you get what you pay for. This food is full of whole veggies, fish, beans, and superfoods like juniper and rosehips.

With carrots, apples, kelp, collard greens, and pumpkin, your pup is getting top-quality pet food to help them feel their best.

Pros:

  • Real raw mackerel, herring, monkfish, redfish, flounder, and hake
  • Whole beans, peas, chickpeas, pumpkin, carrots, and apples
  • Coated with freeze-dried liver for flavor

Cons:

  • Expensive

CHECK PRICE HERE

4. Sport Dog Elite Series Working Dog Grain Free Dog Food

Sport Dog Food Elite Series Working Dog Grain-Free Turkey Formula Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 5
Top Ingredients: Turkey Meal, Dried Sweet Potato, Chicken Fat
Type: Dry

This food is made to support dogs with high energy or working dogs who need a bit more nutrition.

It is low carb but high in fiber and made for dogs with sensitivities to fillers or by-products or with sensitive stomachs. 

Pros:

  • Meat is sourced in the US
  • Made for dogs with ingredient sensitivities
  • Nutrient-dense

Cons:

  • Coconut meal hasn’t been used in dog’s food for very long

CHECK PRICE HERE

5. Wellness Core Grain-Free Original Dry Dog Food

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Original Dry

Our Rating: 4.5
Top Ingredients: Deboned Turkey, Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal
Type: Dry

With lots of protein from salmon, chicken, and turkey, as well as real fruits and veggies, this food promotes healthy skin and coat. It doesn’t have any meat by-products or artificial ingredients.

Pros:

  • No meat by-products
  • No preservatives or artificial ingredients
  • Contains lentils, flaxseed, kale, blueberries, and carrots

Cons:

  • Contains dried, ground potatoes
  • Contains tomato pomace
  • Very high protein

CHECK PRICE HERE

6. Merrick Real Texas Beef + Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dog Food

Merrick Real Texas Beef + Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Adult Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 4.5
Top Ingredients: Deboned Beef, Lamb Meal, Salmon Meal
Type: Dry

This food contains 65 percent protein and healthy fats, with beef as the first ingredient.

It also has lots of fruits and veggies. It’s made without poultry, gluten, corn, or wheat, so it’s ideal for dogs with food allergies. 

Pros:

  • Contains real beef, pork, lamb, and beef liver
  • Peas, sweet potatoes, apples, and blueberries add healthy carbs

Cons:

  • Very high protein

CHECK PRICE HERE

Best Grain Free Food for Senior Dogs

A Tenterfield Terrier sitting on a chair while gazing at grapes
Meet Mini, a Tenterfield Terrier chillin’ out – Image source

As your dog ages, she needs special food to keep her healthy and support her aging body. These foods are made with your older pup in mind.

1. Wellness CORE Grain-Free Senior Deboned Turkey Recipe Dry Dog Food

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Senior Deboned Turkey Recipe Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 4.5
Top Ingredients: Deboned Turkey, Chicken Meal (source of Chondroitin Sulfate), Lentils
Type: Dry

This food is made especially for dogs who are getting up there in years, with glucosamine and chondroitin for joint and hip health. It also has fatty acids to keep your dog’s coat looking healthy and shiny. 

Pros:

  • Contains superfoods like flaxseed, blueberries, kale, and lentils
  • Deboned turkey is the first ingredient
  • No artificial ingredients

Cons:

  • Contains tomato pomace
  • Very high protein

CHECK PRICE HERE

2. ORIJEN Senior Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

ORIJEN Senior Grain-Free Dry

Our Rating: 5
Top Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Deboned Turkey, Atlantic flounder
Type: Dry

Orijen makes this senior dog food with real chicken, turkey, flounder, mackerel, herring, and cage-free eggs.

It also contains whole fruits and veggies like pears, sunflower seeds, carrots, apples, turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, and spinach. 

Pros:

  • Contains probiotics
  • Made with whole fruits and veggies
  • Coated in freeze-dried liver

Cons:

  • Very high protein at 38 percent
  • Expensive

CHECK PRICE HERE

3. Nulo Freestyle Senior Grain-Free Trout & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food 

Nulo Freestyle Senior Grain-Free Trout & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food

Our Rating: 4.5
Top Ingredients: Deboned Trout, Turkey Meal, Salmon Meal
Type: Dry

This food contains all kinds of health supplements to support joint, hip, and brain health in your aging pooch.

It’s free from chicken and egg proteins, as well as grains, so it’s great for dogs with food sensitivities.

Pros:

  • Limited ingredients
  • Contains L-Carnitine
  • Filled with pure probiotics

Cons:

  • Veggies are dried

CHECK PRICE HERE

4. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Turkey & Chicken Grill Grain-Free Senior Canned Dog Food

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Turkey & Chicken Grill Grain-Free Senior Canned Dog Food

Our Rating: 4.5
Top Ingredients: Turkey, Chicken Broth, Chicken, Chicken Liver, Potatoes
Type: Wet

This grain-free wet food contains no gluten, by-product meals, corn, wheat, or artificial ingredients.

It’s made with additives like glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health and keep your dog moving. It also has calcium for healthy bones.

Pros:

  • Limited ingredients for sensitive stomachs
  • The first four ingredients are real meat
  • No artificial additives

Cons:

  • Contains guar gum and cassia gum

CHECK PRICE HERE

5. Blue Buffalo Basics Limited-Ingredient Grain-Free Turkey & Potato Senior Canned Dog Food

Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Grain-Free Turkey & Potato Senior Canned Dog Food

Our Rating: 4.5
Top Ingredients: Turkey, Turkey Broth, Potatoes, Flaxseed, Pea Protein
Type: Wet

Packed with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as chondroitin and glucosamine, this food aims to keep your older pooch feeling good.

The soft food is ideal for dogs suffering from dental issues. Contains none of the common allergens like chicken, beef, dairy, eggs, grain, corn, wheat, or soy.

Pros:

  • Contains no common allergens
  • Contains omega fatty acids
  • Contains real turkey, veggies, and fruits

Cons:

  • Contains Carrageenan
  • Contains guar gum and cassia gum

CHECK PRICE HERE

Do dogs need grain-free diets?

a Goldendoodle happily eating a bacon treat
Meet Tofu, a Goldendoodle smiling and enjoying her treat – Image source

There’s a lot of debate out there right now about whether dogs (and humans) should be eating grains.

It’s fair to say that gluten-free and grain-free is a bit of a trend right now and for the past decade, but that doesn’t mean it definitely isn’t better for your dog.

But is it really healthier for your dog to eat grain-free? The short answer is, not usually.

Some people imagine that a dog is going to be better off if they eat just like wolves do. But dogs are not wolves.

They have evolved alongside humans to be able to eat a broader range of foods and be perfectly healthy. It’s also worth noting that wolves do eat grains, as well.

Dogs have three genes related to starch and glucose digestion that wolves don’t have. Still, scientists are debating whether dogs should be categorized as carnivores or omnivores.

They also have amylase, which aids in digesting carbohydrates, but it’s further down their digestive tract than humans.

Dogs don’t have any amylase in their salivary glands like humans do.

There is even some concern that grain-free foods can contribute to a deadly heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

As the FDA announced, they are currently investigating the link between DCM and a high protein, grain-free diet, though there’s no definitive answer, yet.

This vet discusses the latest on DCM in this helpful video:

There’s also NO guarantee that a grain-free food will have higher quality ingredients, despite the perception that some people have.

That said, going grain-free is appropriate for some dogs. For instance, dogs who have allergies to gluten or grains should avoid any food that contains grain.

That said, it’s very rare for dogs to have a grain sensitivity, as The Atlantic reported.

The most common allergens are protein-based. The top allergens are beef, dairy, wheat, eggs, chicken, lamb, and soy, according to Rover.

Beyond allergies, some people feel better about feeding their dogs a diet that is closer to what they would eat in nature.

It can also be beneficial to feed grain-free because you can be sure you’re not giving your dog-cheap fillers like wheat, corn, or soy.

Grain-free food might also be more nutrient-dense and contain a higher level of protein.

When are grain-free diets a good idea?

It can be hard to tell if your dog has allergies or would do better on a grain-free diet. The best thing to do is talk to your vet and consider switching.

Then, observe your dog. Does your pup look healthier? Act more energetic? Have less gas? Then grain-free may be the way to go!

So when should dogs eat grain-free? Of course, anytime a vet recommends it, especially if your dog is allergic to cereal grains.

You should also try switching if your dog simply doesn’t like the taste of grains in their foods. You may find that many dogs don’t!

Finally, some dogs don’t digest grains as well as others.

If you notice whole grains in their feces after eating rice, wheat, or corn, (I know, gross!), it could mean that your dog is having a hard time processing those grains in their food.

Best grain-free dog food buying guide

a Yorkie happily eating on her human hand
Meet Bella, a spoiled Yorkie being hand-fed – Image source

If you decide to go grain-free, how do you pick the best formula for your dog? First, look at the ingredients. The first few should be real meat.

Avoid foods that contain by-products or grain alternatives that don’t offer a lot of nutrients, like tomato pomace.

Avoid any food that has chemical additives, flavors, colors, or preservatives. Look for food that exceeds AAFCO guidelines. Brands like Nutro, Blue Buffalo, Purina, and Merrick are popular options.

You might think you’re safe if you just go with a big-name brand, but some of the smaller brands out there are making exceptional food.

Affordable foods are worth checking out, though you generally get what you pay for, so premium brands often have better quality ingredients.

Specific benefits of grain-free food options for your dog

Some people believe that puppies should be fed grain-free foods because dogs may develop allergies over time as their bodies reject grains. There’s NO evidence that’s true.

That said, grain-free is generally higher in protein and more nutrient-dense, so it will be more likely to give your growing dog all the energy it needs to be healthy and to grow big and strong.

You may also find that grain-free is better for small breeds and giant breeds for that same reason.

Some dog owners also find that grain-free food gives their dogs better stools. That means the color is dark brown and the texture is firm but not hard.

If so, that’s a good sign that the food you’re giving your dog is a good choice for your best friend.

What to look for in good grain-free dog food?

So now you know how to pick healthy dog food, but how do you find the best grain-free food? 

First, look for a food with whole protein at the top of the ingredient list.

Foods that contain meat meals, like chicken meals, or meat by-products are generally lower quality than those that contain real, whole protein. 

You also want to find a food that is rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, as well as one filled with plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies. 

As we mentioned above, avoid artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, or any food that contains poorly labeled meats.

For instance, some food will call an ingredient “chicken product.” That’s not very specific and it leaves you unclear on exactly what that ingredient is.

Frequently Asked Questions about grain-free dog food (FAQs)

a Corgi and Doxie mix eating the watermelon rind
Meet Teddy, a Corgi x Doxie mix finishing his watermelon – Image source

Can you give grain-free homemade food to your dog?

If none of these foods seem perfect for your pal, you can always make your own homemade food.

But first, check with your vet to ensure that the ingredients for your recipe will give your dog all the nutrients they need.

Try combining 1.5 cups of chickpeas, 3 pounds ground chicken or beef, 3 cups chopped spinach, 1 cup diced carrots, and a tablespoon of salmon oil.

Heat everything together until the ground meat is cooked thoroughly.

You can feed this exclusively to your dog, or add it as a tasty topper to their kibble.

Is grain-free wet food good for dogs?

Grain-free wet food carries the same benefits and potential problems that dry food does. Wet food can be better for dogs who are picky about their food or who have dental issues, though.

Wet dog food costs more than dry food, so some people opt to use it as a topper for dry kibble.

What are the common ingredients to replace grains in a dog’s diet?

Your dog still needs carbohydrates to be healthy, whether they are getting those from grains or not.

Instead of grains, many dog food manufacturers use carbs like legumes, chickpeas, peas, potatoes, and other complex carbohydrates.

For instance, Rachael Ray’s Nutrish grain-free recipe contains sweet potatoes, flaxseed, peas, and pea flour for carbs.

Just keep in mind that some manufacturers use cheap filler carbohydrates.

Like pea flour or pea protein, tapioca, tomato pomace, and beet pulp to bulk up their foods. These ingredients aren’t very nutritious. 

Should you also give grain-free dog treats to your dog?

If you’ve decided to go grain-free, does that mean you can’t give your dog treats that contain grains?

The choice is up to you, but if your dog has grain sensitivities, avoid treats that contain grains. For instance, brown rice might be fine, but wheat is a no-go for your dog.

Otherwise, your dog might appreciate a change in its usual diet and will gobble those treats right up.

Is it true that dogs are allergic to grains?

There is still a lot of information floating around out there that many or even most dogs are allergic to grains. They aren’t.

Some might be, but your dog is actually more likely to be allergic to beef, dairy, eggs, or chicken.

Common grain allergens include corn, soy, and wheat.

It’s not clear that any breed is more prone to developing a grain allergy.

Like Shar-Peis, golden retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, dalmatians, and west highland white terriers appear to be prone to developing allergies in general, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.

Unless you know for certain your dog has a grain allergy, there’s no need to avoid foods that include grains unless you want to for other reasons.

As we mentioned above, there may be some link between grain-free diets and DCM.

But some veterinarians believe the problem is actually “Boutique companies, exotic ingredients, or grain-free recipes” (BEG).

They argue that ingredients like exotic meats and ingredients like chickpeas and lentils may actually be part of the problem, rather than the lack of grains itself. 

Beyond the link to DCM, there doesn’t appear to be any real problem with a grain-free diet.

The most important issue is that you need to be sure you’re providing your dog with high-quality ingredients and a healthy source of protein.

Some tips for feeding a dog with food allergies

If you know that your dog has food allergies, you might opt to feed them a diet specifically made for dogs with allergy issues. We have an entire guide to help you pick the right food.

Remember, grain-free food has its pluses and minuses. It can contain higher quality ingredients and may be ideal for dogs with allergies to common grains.

But it may also contribute to health issues, and just because a food is grain-free, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better.

Transition: Before you switch to a grain-free dog food

an adorable Pomeranian enjoying carrot sticks
Meet Lulu, a veggie-loving Pomeranian eating her carrot treats – Image source

Hopefully, you feel better prepared to deal with all of the questions around picking the right food for your dog, whether that includes grains or not.

Young pups are sure to love our top pick: Taste of the Wild.

By picking the right food, you can extend your pet’s life, give them an energy boost.

Feel good knowing that you’re doing what you can to keep them happy and healthy. Be sure to let us know which food you end up choosing!

Be sure to talk with a trusted vet before changing your dog’s diet.

What’s the best grain-free dog food for your fur baby? Share it with us and fellow paw parents by commenting below.

Further Reading: Finding the Right Food For Your Best Friend

  • Best Dog Food with Grain
  • Best High Protein Dog Food
  • Best Low Protein Dog Food
  • Best Limited Ingredient Dog Food
  • Best High Fiber Dog Food

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