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What is the Best Grain Free Dog Food for Sensitive Stomach?

A question we get all the time: what is the best grain free dog food for sensitive stomach? We break down the pros & cons of 4 dog foods to help you decide the best for your dog.


Jump directly to current pricing & more information about our picks for “what is the best grain free dog food for sensitive stomach?” :

  1. Canine Caviar
  2. Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free
  3. Wellness Simple Natural Limited Ingredient
  4. Zignature
Does your dog have trouble stomaching its food?

Have you been noticing loose stools, vomit, or even diarrhea?

If so, your dog may have a sensitive stomach or even be allergic to one or more of the ingredients in its food.

Like humans, dogs are plagued with food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies.

Also like humans, these can vary greatly from dog to dog, causing a headache for pet owners trying to choose the right food for their loved one.

Some breeds, such as Irish Setters and Cocker Spaniels, are even more prone to having or developing food sensitivities.

How do I Determine the Cause?

There is no exact science to determining a food sensitivity.

And with many popular dog food brands containing well over ten key ingredients, it can quickly become a guessing game as to which ingredient is offsetting your dog’s stomach.

Identifying dog food sensitivities can be like throwing darts

There are, however, a few ways to narrow your search and to determine your dog’s food intolerance more quickly.

The most common reason a dog shows signs of food intolerance is the meat source in the food. Oftentimes a simple switch can be made to a formula of the same brand that features a different protein source, and the problem will be solved.

Top 3 causes of dog food intolerance: 1) Meat 2) Wheat 3) Dairy. Start there to help diagnose. Click To Tweet It is key to make sure the protein source is a named meat such as chicken, turkey, salmon, etc. Some dog foods simply list ‘poultry’ or ‘ocean fish’ as the meat ingredient.

This indicates that combinations of (most likely lower quality) meats from the same family are being used, effectively making it impossible to identify a single protein source that could be causing your dog’s reactions.

Two other top causes of food intolerance in dogs are:

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  • Wheat products
  • Dairy products

While milk and dairy products are not as commonly found in dog food, wheat products are used in almost every popular brand of dog food as their primary source of carbohydrates.

best grain free puppy food icon

This is beginning to become a controversial practice; proponents of grain-free dog food diets claim that dogs would rarely eat wheat in a ‘natural’ diet.

While this is most likely true, wheat products are far from the only ingredients in dog food that would not appear in a dog’s ‘natural’ diet.

Nonetheless, many dogs do have issues digesting wheat products, and grain-free dog foods should be considered when trying to find a food suitable for your dog’s sensitive stomach.

Apart from the key ingredients, your dog could also show sensitivities caused by artificial preservatives or food colorings. It is always good to avoid artificial ingredients, whether your dog has a sensitive stomach or not.

So What is the Best Grain Free Dog Food for Sensitive Stomach?

Okay, so now you know the key ingredients that may be upsetting your dog’s stomach.

But before you shell out your wallet and begin your trial-by-error, let me highlight a few of the top dog foods for sensitive stomachs that may offer you a better success rate.

When examining dog foods, I looked only at limited ingredient, grain-free foods with a variety of protein choices and all natural ingredients.

Grain-free foods eliminate an entire food group that may upset your dog’s stomach, while limited ingredients feature fewer key ingredients in order to help quicker identify what offsets your dog’s stomach.

I also looked for foods that contain probiotics.

Probiotics:  friendly bacteria that help improve digestion and immune functions.

I also looked for prebiotics.

Prebiotics are essentially the fertilizer needed to help grow probiotics along the large intestine.

Probiotics in dog food - the friendly bacteria

The foods are listed in alphabetical order, with no specific ranking. I find it difficult to rank what will be best for your dog’s specific stomach; I would recommend trying any of the following brands, while keeping in mind your own knowledge of your dog’s stomach.

The best grain free dog food for sensitive stomach is one of these 4. We break down the pros & cons of each to help you decide the best for your dog.

1. Canine Caviar

Canine Caviar exclusively features limited ingredient formulas, and offers three grain-free options.

Their website advertises an alkaline based diet that helps infuse more oxygen into the blood, allowing the DNA’s self-recovery mechanism to function more efficiently while also reducing the risk of kidney problems, liver problems, and diabetes.

Each formula contains only one protein and one complex carbohydrate to make identifying your dog’s food sensitivities easier.

Canine Caviar dog food logo

I examined a bag of Open Sky, and was pleased with what I found.

Open Sky uses duck as its primary source of protein, and chickpeas as a grain substitute. Many grain-free foods use tapioca or potatoes as a starchy substitute for grains, but these are of limited nutrition to your dog outside of the carbs they provide.

Chickpeas, split peas or other legumes are a much more nutritious substitute and are also good sources of fiber and protein. The formula also includes duck fat as a key ingredient, which while it does not sound appealing; duck fat is actually a high quality ingredient that provides linoleic acid, a life-essential omega-6 fatty acid.

Other ingredients to note are coconut and coconut oil, which may strike you as odd in a dog food, but they have a reported number of benefits. These range from an improved skin and coat to, more importantly, improved digestion and a reduction in allergy reactions.

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2. Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Kibble

Instinct is Nature’s Variety’s line of grain-free foods, and features four limited ingredient diet formulas.

Like Canine Caviar, these formulas also feature only one meat and one starch, but also include peas as an added source of carbohydrates and fiber.

Nature's Variety dog food logo

You will notice the word ‘meal’ in each of the formulas. This is not referring to the dog food being a meal, but rather how the meat is processed.

Any time the word meal is used it is referring to a protein-packed meat concentrate. Meat meal can contain up to 300% more protein than fresh meat, as cooking fresh meat reduces much of the protein. As long as the meal is a named meat, it should be considered a high quality ingredient.

If the 'meal' in your dog's food is a named meat, it should be considered a high quality ingredient. Click To Tweet

For the purposes of this article, I focused on the Rabbit Meal formula. The formula uses peas as its primary carbohydrate source, but also includes tapioca as a gluten-free starch.

Please note that while I stated earlier that there are more nutritious carbohydrate sources for your dog than tapioca, it is still a high quality ingredient and, unless you find your dog is sensitive to it, its inclusion in any dog food should be considered beneficial.

Other ingredients to note are the inclusion of coconut and canola oils to supply healthy fatty acid chains, as well as a few unique ingredients.

Montmorillonite clay, a naturally occurring compound, is included for its reported ability to help control diarrhea and irritable bowl syndrome. Nature’s Variety’s site even advertises that their food will cause smaller bowel movements.

Another unique ingredient is the addition of a green tea extract coating to add a pleasant taste and aroma in order to help entice those picky eaters.

It is important to note the absence of any probiotics on this food.

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3. Wellness Simple Grain Free

Simple is Wellness’ line of limited ingredient formulas, and features two grain-free options.

Wellness, by comparison, is a much more affordable option of a limited ingredient dog food, having 26 lb. bags on Amazon for right around $50.

Wellness dog food logo

Wellness’ website advertises the use of prebiotics and probiotics – a good sign if your dog is having digestion issues.

I looked at a bag of Wellness’ Turkey and Potato formula to get a better idea of what they packed their food with. The formula lists turkey and turkey meal as its first two ingredients, showing an emphasis on high quality protein delivery.

As the name implies, potatoes, as well as peas, are used as gluten-free carbohydrate sources. Again, potatoes are not the most nutritious grain substitute for your dog, but assuming your dog’s stomach agrees with them, they should be considered a high quality, natural ingredient.

Flaxseed, one of the best natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the less effective canola oil are also included. Chicory root is included as an excellent source of fiber and prebiotics.

You may notice the absence of some notable ingredients, such as coconut oil or chickpeas, included in the other foods on this list.

This is a direct reflection of the price tag on these products.

Wellness offers more affordable limited ingredient diet formulas, and as such does not include some of the top-tier ingredients.

Having said that, the exclusion of any harmful ingredients is just as important if not more than the inclusion of top-tier ones, and Wellness’ nutrition still meets all the criteria for a high-quality dog food.

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4. Zignature

Zignature dog food logo
Zignature brand of dog food features only limited ingredient, grain-free formulas.

Their goal is to mirror your dog’s natural diet as closely as possible.

And their formulas are absolutely packed with protein.

They pride themselves on avoiding as many allergens as possible, featuring formulas without:

  • Potatoes
  • Grain
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Glutens
  • Tapioca
  • Corn
  • Soy

Zignature also provides a large array of protein choices, even featuring exotic meats such as kangaroo.

I decided to check out a bag of Zignature’s Trout, Salmon Meal formula. Trout and salmon are excellent protein sources, as they are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids that help keep the heart healthy and coat soft and shiny.

Flaxseed is added as another excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

We do see a few inexpensive protein fillers, pea flour and pea protein, which is unfortunate in a food that places emphasis on high protein content.

Pea flour and pea protein are not harmful to your dog in any way, the protein they contain is simply not readily available for absorption.

75% of the protein in pea flour and pea protein is insoluble to your dog, which causes the food to have a higher protein reading than what your dog is actually absorbing. Low glycemic legumes such as peas and chickpeas are used as an excellent carbohydrate source.

The inclusion of beet pulp, in addition to the aforementioned legumes, ensure that the food is rich in fiber. Again, we do not see any mention of probiotics, but Zignature does advertise the inclusion vital antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals that are not present in their limited ingredients.

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Get ready to empty your wallet. As you can see, these grain-free, limited ingredient diets are not cheap, especially if you are buying one without knowing how your dog will react.

Having said that, I included what I consider to be the very top brands, and there are certainly more affordable options out there.  Also, many of the brands offer 3 or 4 lb. bags that may help reduce the cost when trying to eliminate ingredients.

Hopefully you are now equipped to make a well-informed decision on which grain-free food will serve your dog the best.

Best of luck soothing that sensitive stomach!

Now it’s your turn – we want to hear from you in the comments below!

Have you had good or bad luck with Zignature, Wellness, Canine Caviar, or Nature’s Variety?

Maybe we missed your (dog’s) favorite food for calming his sensitive stomach?

The Best Grain Free Dog Food for Sensitive Stomach

Canine Caviar
Nature's Variety

(click to learn about each): Canine Caviar | Nature's Variety | Wellness | Zignature

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