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Dogs thrive on high-quality food. According to pet nutrition expert and veterinarian Dr. Gary Richter, author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide and a member of Rover’s Dog People Panel, “The single biggest thing you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is to provide them with optimal nutrition.” For some dogs, this could be grain-free dog food.
Is grain-free right for your dog? While allergies are a serious issue for dogs, only about 10% of canine allergies can be attributed to diet. Of those diet-related allergies, most are related to beef, chicken, lamb, eggs, and dairy rather than grains like wheat or corn. A grain-free diet does lower the number of carbs your dog is eating, but keep in mind that many grain-free recipes simply substitute in other types of carbs (rice or peas) for wheat or corn. One of the arguments for grain-free recipes is that they’re generally top-notch: Many are produced by well-regarded companies that use high-quality animal proteins. Learn more with our deep dive into whether grain-free is right for your dog.
What About Grain-Free Foods and “BEG” Diets?
The Food and Drug Administration has been looking into a possible link between DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy) in dogs and the ingredients in certain boutique pet foods. In an article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, veterinarian and certified veterinary nutritionist Dr. Lisa Freeman explains that the issue is not just grain-free diets, but rather, BEG diets, which includes grain-free formulas (BEG stands for boutique companies, exotic ingredients, or grain-free recipes).
“The apparent link between BEG diets and DCM may be due to ingredients used to replace grains in grain-free diets, such as lentils or chickpeas, but also may be due to other common ingredients commonly found in BEG diets, such as exotic meats, vegetables, and fruits,” Freeman writes.
For now, it’s best to check with your vet if you have any concerns. Freeman recommends purchasing food from companies that employ veterinary nutritionists and other experts.
The Best Affordable Grain-Free Dog Food
If you are going the grain-free route for your pup, don’t be discouraged by some of the prices. It is possible to feed your dog a healthy grain-free diet and still stick to your budget. You just have to shop smart—and we’re here to help!
Read the label and check for high-quality ingredients. The food should include:
- Whole proteins like chicken, beef, fish, duck, and eggs
- A recipe that is grain-free, or contains healthy whole grains
- Healthy supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin
- Healthy vegetables like sweet potatoes, peas, beets, and carrots
Avoid foods with ingredients such as artificial colors, artificial flavors, and sweeteners. For information on specific foods, Dog Food Advisor is a great resource.
Read on as we check out some affordable grain-free dog foods, including three grain-free puppy foods.
Celebrity chef Rachael Ray’s Nutrish is a high-quality grocery store brand, and the grain-free formulas are especially healthy. This chicken and sweet potato formula is a great choice for dogs with protein and grain allergies.
Taste of the Wild is a well-regarded, more affordable natural food choice, with six different protein sources to choose from. It’s made by Diamond Pet Foods, a family-owned company that also makes Diamond Naturals Grain-Free. Taste of the Wild receives 4.5 stars on Dog Food Advisor, which also highly recommends this High Prairie formula featuring bison and venison.
Whole Earth promises that all of their foods have no corn, wheat, soy, poultry byproducts, artificial flavors, artificial colors, or artificial preservatives. That checks all the boxes for high-quality dog food, and the price is right, too.
With chicken for protein and brown rice, barley, and oatmeal for easily digestible carbohydrates, this Blue Buffalo blend offers four-star nutrition at a reasonable price. Want to give a grain-free food a try for your pup? Blue Buffalo’s Life Protection formula is available in 3-pound bags so you aren’t risking a big investment testing it out.
This Diamond Natural grain-free brand boasts your choice of three different animal proteins for taste and nutrition and sweet potatoes for carbohydrate energy.
American Journey’s salmon and sweet potato formula starts with deboned salmon, sweet potatoes, and chickpeas, along with wholesome fruits and vegetables. Salmon oil and flaxseed provide omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.
This is one of the best deals we’ve uncovered for grain-free dog food. If your dog tolerates chicken for protein, and many dogs do, this food is a great option.
With both fresh chicken and chicken meal at the top of the ingredients list—plus salmon to boot—this puppy food is packed with lean protein and supplemented with grain-free carbohydrates, such as sweet potato and alfalfa meal, for fiber and essential nutrients.
With 46% protein and 24% fat, this formula is a rich source of energy and nutrition that’s formulated for small- and medium-breed puppies.
Featuring deboned chicken as a lean source of protein, this grain-free recipe is formulated for large-breed puppies to control growth and promote musculoskeletal health.
Before You Switch to a Grain-Free Dog Food
If you decide to go grain-free, transition gradually between the old food and the new food. Start with a mix of 90% old food to 10% new food. Once your dog is enjoying that, slowly change the proportions until you’re serving only new food. This will help your dog’s digestive system adjust properly. During the transition, keep an eye on your dog to make sure they don’t develop diarrhea or constipation.
As always, it’s a good idea to consult your vet before making changes to your dog’s diet and be sure to check for the AAFCO-verified nutritional value on the label. AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials) regulates pet foods in the United States and provides minimum health guidelines for manufacturers and pet owners.
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