What is the Best Grain Free Dog Food? [2020]

LAST UPDATED 23 JANUARY 2020

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski, BVSC (Hons)

Grain free dog food has become exceptionally popular in recent years, moving in tandem with the rise in popularity of grain and gluten-free diets for us humans.

The grain free pet food industry is not only growing, but developing, at a rapid rate. The popularity of grain free diets has led to an unprecedented explosion of the number of options available. The grain free movement is also evolving to encompass concurrent 'real food', 'ancestral', 'freeze dried' and 'raw' movements.

So, with an ever-growing number of grain free diets gracing the store shelves (or in our case, the web pages!), how do we navigate what seems like a simple question: What is the BEST grain free dog food?

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Contents

What does 'GRAIN FREE' actually mean?

Is Grain Free Food GOOD For Your Dog?

Does Grain Free Dog Food Cause Heart Disease?

1. Best Grain Free Dog Food for Puppies

2. Best Grain Free Dog Food for Adult Dogs

3. Best Grain Free Dog Food for Food Allergies (Novel / Single Protein)

4. Best Low Fat or Weight Management Grain Free Dog Food

5. Best Wet / Canned Grain Free Dog Food

What IS Grain-Free Food?

The definition of grain free dog food is a diet free from all grains, including wheat, corn, rice, oats and barley.

Is 'grain free' the same as 'gluten free'? No. Gluten refers to the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. These are all classified as grains. However other grains exist which do not contain gluten, such as rice. Therefore, grain free food is always gluten free, but gluten free food may still contain some types of grains.

Fun fact: true coeliac disease (gluten allergy) is almost unheard of in dogs and cats, with the exception of Irish setters.

Is 'grain free' the same as 'filler free'? Don't be fooled into assuming that 'grain free' also means 'filler free', or 'carbohydrate free'. It's basically impossible to create kibble without some form of carbohydrate holding the biscuit together. This means that when manufacturers remove grains from the recipe, they often replace them with other carbohydrates such as potato, tapioca, or chick peas. Always check the ingredients if you aren't sure!

Is grain free dog food good for your dog?

This is a complicated question, but ultimately the short answer is: yes! Gone are the days when 'grain free' meant 'hyper holistic' and unbalanced nutritionally. Nowadays, most premium grain free dog foods are complete and balanced in accordance with international feeding guidelines. Furthermore, they actually tend to be very high in quality when compared to many cheap grain-based recipes, with most surpassing supermarket brands and hitting the premium bracket due to their ingredients. No empty husks of rice here, no sir!

"I heard that dogs can't digest grains properly - is that true?"There's a lot to be said on this topic, and you can read more about it in Dr Kim's comprehensive guide to grain free dog food. In short, while your poodle's distant relative may be the wolf, their digestive system has undoubtedly changed a lot over tens of thousands of years alongside humans. To contrast to wolves, domestic dogs have developed plant-digesting salivary and pancreatic enzymes which even cats don't possess! So, in general, most dogs can digest grains just fine.

However, grain free dog food may benefit your dog if they are allergic to grains. Much the same as a lactose intolerent person avoiding milk, a grain free diet is required if your dog is allergic.

But it's important to note that true grain allergies are very rare in dogs. Sure, many people anecdotally report an improvement in their dog's allergies when they swap to a grain-free diet, but the benefit may lie in the quality of the food and its digestibility, rather than the simple lack of grains.

See our section on allergies below for more information on grains and food allergies.

Does Grain Free Dog Food Cause Heart Disease?

In the last few years, veterinary cardiologists in the United States reported increased rates of a deadly heart condition, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), in Golden Retrievers and breeds which are not typically predisposed to DCM in general. Frequently these dogs were noted as being fed 'botique, exotic or grain free' diets, or BEG diets for short.

At this stage, research is still ongoing and it is unclear as to the underlying cause of the reported cases of diet related DCM. Some possible theories include nutritional imbalances in the foods themselves, unknown effects of certain exotic ingredients such as legumes, fruits, flaxseeds etc, or even potentially an unknown toxin.

For pet parents concerned about nutritional deficiencies, feeding a rotational diet may help. A rotational diet offers a your dog with some variety while also reducing the risk of a deficiency developing from feeding a particular diet over an extended period of time. Rotational feeding involves offering your dog a combination of high quality diets, ideally varying protein sources and formats (eg. dry, freeze dried, wet).

1. Best Grain Free Dog Food For Puppies

While there are many factors that come into play when judging the best puppy food, we have based the following assessment on the quality of ingredients, customer reviews, reputability of manufacturing facilities, and palatability.

Winners: Top Grain-Free Puppy Foods

Black Hawk Ocean Fish Puppy

This Aussie-made grain free puppy food is made with ocean fish, making it a great option for puppies with sensitive skin. It is reviewed as highly palatable and adored by Aussie pups all over the country.

Savourlife Lamb Puppy

This natural, grain free dry food is formulated using Australian lamb meal, making it a single source protein diet, rather than a mix of cheaper meats. Plus, Savourlife donates 50% of their profits to help rescue dogs!

Orijen Biologically Appropriate Puppy

One of the highest meat content dry kibbles currently available in Australia, Orijen puppy food is made from a premium mix of deboned meat including turkey, chicken, flounder, and mackerel.

Vetalogica Biologically Appropriate Puppy

This Australian-made puppy food contains 65% meat and animal ingredients plus 35% low GI regional fruits, vegetables and superfoods. It is free from GMOs, gluten, grains, artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives.

Other highly recommended, best reviewed grain free puppy diets include Ivory Coat Puppy, K9 Natural Puppy Cans, Canidae Puppy Food, and Taste of the Wild.

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2. Best Grain Free Dry Food For Adult Dogs

With more than 100 products in this category, judging the best grain free 'adult' dog food is definitely not an easy task. As with our puppy food section above, we've based the following assessment on the quality of ingredients, customer reviews, reputability of manufacturing facilities, and palatability.

Winners: Top 8 Picks for Adult Grain Free Dog Food

Instinctive Bite Chicken and Sweet Potato

Also available in kangaroo or Australian salmon, this Aussie-made grain free food is continuously reviewed as being highly palatable and tolerated by dogs with sensitive stomach and skin.

Black Hawk Salmon

This Aussie-made grain free dry food is made with salmon, making it a great option for dogs with sensitive skin. It is reviewed as highly palatable and adored by Aussie pups all over the country.

K9 Natural Beef Feast

K9 Natural combines the best of both worlds - their food mirrors the ancestral canine diet (with up to 96% meat) to please holistic-minded pet owners, and it is also balanced with research from Massey University, to appease vets and scientists.

Holistic Select Rabbit and Lamb

Promoting digestive health, this diet contains low fat rabbit meat and lamb, and a probiotic blend from yoghurt cultures. With no grains, poultry or potato, this wholesome diet is a great option for dogs with protein allergies.

Savourlife Kangaroo

This natural, grain free dry food is formulated using Australian kangaroo as a sustainable, single source protein diet, rather than a mix of cheaper meats. Plus, Savourlife donates 50% of their profits to help rescue dogs!

Orijen Biologically Appropriate Adult Food

One of the highest meat content dry kibbles currently available, Orijen adult dog food is one of the most popular natural diets in North America and is quickly growing in popularity in Australia too.

Ivory Coat Ocean Fish

With ocean fish meal, this grain free diet is high in nourishing fish oils and is frequently reviewed as promoting healthy skin. It is made in Australia and known for being highly palatable among fussy eaters.

Canidae Pure Land

This all natural, grain free dry food contains only 10 key ingredients plus added probiotics. It is formulated using fresh bison combined with high quality lamb and pork meal for a taste your dog will love. Also available in a range of different meat proteins.

Other highly recommended, top reviewed adult grain free diets include Vetalogica Biologically Appropriate Food, Ziwi Peak, Billy and Margot, and Taste of the Wild.

Curious to see which pet food is made in Australia, and which is made internationally? View our article here for a complete list.

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3. Best Grain Free Food For Allergies (Novel / Single Protein Formulas)

Can my dog go grain free for allergies?

Many people report their dogs doing very well on grain free diets, improving problem conditions such as itchy skin or tummy problems. However, grain free diets will only benefit dogs that are allergic to grains. True food allergies are not actually that common in dogs, with less than 5% of dogs found to have a food allergy. And when a true allergy does exist, the most common allergies are to meat proteins including chicken, beef, or pork, rather than grains.

That said, grain free dog foods can still be a good way to eliminate the itchies: they often use low-allergenic, novel proteins such as kangaroo, duck, salmon, venison, bison and more, reducing the risk of an upset tummy or skin.

Therefore, in order to create a list of 'the best grain free diets for food allergies', we have selected our top novel protein grain free diets. Not only are these free from common allergens such as chicken, pork, dairy, soy and beef, but they are also free from less common allergens such as wheat and other grains.

If you aren't sure what diet is best for your senior pet, feel free to Ask a Pet Circle Vet for some tailored advice!

Winners: Top 4 Grain Free Novel Protein Diets for Allergies

Instinctive Bite Kangaroo

This Aussie-made grain free food is continuously reviewed as being highly palatable and tolerated by dogs with sensitive stomach and skin. Kangaroo meat is not only novel but is a sustainable, lean source of protein.

Vetalogica Biologically Appropriate Fisherman's Feast

This Aussie-made grain free dry food is made with a blend of fish including mackerel, tuna, and snapper, making it high in natural omega fatty acids. It is highly palatable and ideal for sensitive skin pups.

Holistic Select Duck

Promoting digestive health, this diet contains duck meal and a probiotic blend. With no grains, red meat, pork or potato, this wholesome diet is a great option for dogs with common protein allergies.

Billy and Margot Salmon Superfood Blend

Billy and Margot is all made in Australia, and this formula contains single animal protein (which is great for dogs with allergies). With 68-79% meat, this Salmon + Superfood blend is made with Aussie salmon and superfoods such as cranberries.

Want to compare options? Click on the protein below to view all the different options available:

Note: not all of the varieties found via the above links are single protein and may contain a blend of meat proteins. Always check the ingredients before purchasing.

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4. Best Grain Free Dog Food for Weight Control / Low Fat

Which Low Fat Dog Food is Also Grain-Free?

So, you want to feed a grain free dog food, but your dog requires a low fat or weight control formula. You certainly aren't alone! There are many reasons why your dog may require a low fat diet: aside from the obvious reason of weight management (obesity is after all the most common health concern in Australian dogs!), many dogs with a history of pancreatitis or inflammatory bowel disease are not able to digest fats properly.

But it can be difficult to find a low fat dog food which is also grain-free. To help with your search, we've listed our top low fat grain-free dog food formulas below, and have even included the fat percentage so you know whether it meets your dog's requirements!

If you aren't sure what diet is best for your senior pet, feel free to Ask a Pet Circle Vet for some tailored advice!

Winners: Top Grain Free Low Fat Diets

Ivory Coat Fat Reduced Turkey

This all-natural, grain free dry food is formulated using turkey, potatoes and peas, and is lower in fat, making it a great choice to help prevent weight gain in less active and senior dogs. Crude Fat: min 10%

Orijen Biologically Appropriate Fit and Trim

All Orijen foods utilise whole prey ratios of meat, organs and cartilage to deliver complete and balanced nutrition while virtually eliminating the need for synthetic ingredients. Crude Fat: min 13%

Holistic Select Weight Management Chicken and Peas

To help with weight management, this diet is low in fat and calories, and high in fibre. Holistic Select diets are created with a beneficial digestive support system containing prebiotics. Crude fat: min 8%

Savourlife Adult Lite

This natural, Aussie-made grain free dry food uses turkey meal and is low in fat and calories. Extra glucosamine and chondroitin also helps to support joint health. Plus, Savourlife donates 50% of profits to shelter dogs! Crude fat: min 9%

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6. Best WET / CANNED Grain Free Dog Food

We've taken you through all the best grain free DRY kibbles, but what about wet food? There are plenty of grain free canned dog food varieties available nowadays.

Wet food offers your dog many benefits: not only is it highly palatable and useful for tempting fussy eaters, but it provides extra hydration as well as variety in texture and taste.

Winners: Top Wet Grain Free Dog Foods

Black Hawk Wet Cans

A trusted and much-loved Australian brand, Black Hawk's delicious cans are grain free and made with premium Australian meats.

Ivory Coat Wet Cans

This natural, grain free dry food is formulated as a delicious and nutritious stew, using Australian meats and produce.

K9 Natural Wet Cans

This incredible wet food boasts one of the highest meat content values of any wet food currently available in Australia, with 90% lamb, salmon, organs and bone.

Vetalogica Biologically Appropriate Puppy

This tasty 'whole prey' grain-free recipe contains premium New Zealand lamb meat, organs, and bone, as well as high levels of tripe for increased palatability and digestive benefits.

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All in all, choosing a dog food is a personal choice. If you can equip yourself with a keen eye and the ability to read a label, you can help take the guesswork out of which grain free pet food is best for your pet.

Read More

Premium pet food: Is it worth it?

What Is The Best Dog Food for Skin Allergies?

How diet can help your senior pet

Does Grain Free Dog Food Cause Heart Disease?

Benefits and Drawbacks to a Grain Free Diet

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