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What are the Benefits of Grain Free Dog Food?

What are the Benefits of Grain Free Dog Food?

Food allergies, sensitivities and diets are hot topics these days. You can’t walk down the grocery store aisle without being bombarded by messages extoling the exclusion or inclusion of certain ingredients.

Companies scramble more and more to market to growing groups of careful food consumers whether they are gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, organic, lactose intolerant, nut free or many others. Food sensitivity is big business.

This trend continues in the realm of pet food where hundreds of brands and types of food compete for the consumer dollar. A quick look at Amazon’s top sellers, and they have 1,907 types of food, shows that 6 of the top ten are grain free including the top two.

As a parent of three gluten free kids who have dealt with other allergies and also a person who works in the food service industry that caters to people with restricted diets, I have become increasingly sensitive to the quality and types of ingredients in the meals I serve.

As a dog owner, I carry over this concern to my best four legged buddy.

Let’s face it, most dogs have sensitive stomachs. They eat things they shouldn’t, they graze on grass and gag on sticks when outside.

All of us have had the humbling experience of cleaning up the dog puke off the living room rug.

It’s part of our (pet) parental duty.

But is Grain Free Dog Food Beneficial?

Opinions vary significantly on this topic but the general consensus is that grain free dog food is not necessarily better for your dog.

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While perhaps counter intuitive to our impression of dogs being evolved from meat eating wolves, research shows that K9 stomachs have adapted over time to be able to process grains including wheat, oats and corn.

In fact, it has been shown corn can help give your pet a softer shinier coat.

The bigger question when selecting a dog food is the quality of ingredients and the ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates.

What to Look for in a Grain Free Dog Food

Dog food has changed a lot in recent time.

It was often the case that grains were listed amongst the first few ingredients of dog foods. Grains were used as “filler” in foods where fat and proteins from meat products were sorely lacking. This stigma has blemished the use of grains in dog food where they could in fact be beneficial if quality ingredients are used in a nutritious combination.

The most important consideration in choosing a dry dog food is the quality of ingredients and the nutritional balance.

A great resource for evaluating dog foods is Dog Food Advisor. They exhaustively breakdown and analyze the ingredients of each food and give a nutritional pie chart based on their findings.

The criteria they use to rate foods is:

No controversial chemical preservative, no anonymous meat ingredients, no artificial coloring agents, no generic animal fats, substantial amounts of meat-based protein, fat-to-protein ratio 75% or lower and modest carbohydrate content.

It is interesting to note that their top two rated foods are both grain free. They also have a good resource for food recalls and the history of recalls within a given manufacturer.

Grain Free Dog Food and Allergies

Several years ago my Australian Cattle dog blend began to violently itch herself constantly.

It went on throughout the day and would often wake me at night. It got to the point where she was scratching herself raw and patches of skin were exposed.

This was directly after a camping trip and my initial fear was that she developed some sort of parasite. After several conversations with the vet and multiple tests, we were able to determine that it was actually a seasonal allergy that affected her skin.

Allergies can be distressing for dog and owner alike and dog food allergies are real.

Dogs, like people, are subject to food allergies but unlike people they are less susceptible to many of the things people are sensitive to.

The most common allergens for dogs are:

  • Beef
  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • But lamb, soy, corn, rice and beet pulp could be culprits as well.

The amount of processing your food has undergone could be a factor also either because of toxins that are created or because of high heat processing destroying the nutritional value of ingredients.

If your dog exhibits abdominal discomfort, itches more than normal, licks its feet excessively or has regular diarrhea and gas, it could be the sign of a food based allergy.

The best course of action is to have your dog checked by your vet and discuss the potential triggers of the reaction.

Elimination Diets

Once you feel there is a possibility that your dog has a food sensitivity, it is possible to do an elimination diet.

This takes patience as it can take 6-12 weeks to see results.

The nice thing about having so many food options is that it is possible to eliminate many of the common allergens.

If you want to be serious about the elimination process, many vets recommend paring down to one protein and one carbohydrate and preparing the food yourself.

For example:

Cooking ground turkey and sweet potatoes for every meal.

Once you see improvement in your pet’s condition it is possible to begin reintroducing ingredients over 2-3 day periods to see if there is a reaction.

It is important during elimination diets to be mindful of treats and chews that could also be allergic triggers.


While grain free foods offer a good alternative for many dogs that may have allergies and food sensitivities, the most important thing is to consider when feeding your pet is to nourish them with a nutritionally balanced food made with high quality ingredients.

Do your research, talk to your vet and most importantly observe what makes your dog feel happy and healthy.

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