The Rise Of Grain-Free Dog Food
For decades, grains ingredients were a staple of the dog food industry, and there was minimal to no opposition to their use. However, around twenty years ago, many smaller dog food brands started to push the idea of grain-free dog food.
Instead of grain ingredients, these brands chose to use alternative carbohydrate ingredients like Peas, Lentils, and Potatoes. They suggested that this was more in line with a dog’s “natural” diet and that grains were having a detrimental effect on a dog’s health.
While this trend was only small at first, now almost all major dog food brands produce some type of grain-free dog food, with many including it in their primary product lines.
Why Some Dog Owners Disagree With Grain Free Dog Food
Many believe that Grain Free dog food is a fad and a marketing tool used by dog food brands. Based on our research, there has no been conclusive evidence that grain ingredients, such as Rice or Corn, have a negative effect on a dog’s health.
Grain ingredients are a reliable source of nutrition for dogs and can provide a mix of carbohydrates, plant-based protein, fiber, and select vitamins and minerals.
As we mentioned earlier, most grain-free dog food utilizes ingredients like Peas, Lentils, and Potatoes. However, some of the dog food brands promoting grain-free dog food have chosen to use vegetable by-products instead of whole vegetables as an alternative to grains.
These ingredients are widely thought of as poor additions to a dog’s diet, and their inclusion is ironic.
Learn more about these concerning ingredients in our articles Peas, Pea Protein, Pea Flour, and Pea Fiber in Dog Food & Potatoes, Potato Protein & Potato Starch in Dog Food.
This extensive use of legumes, potatoes, and vegetable by-products has come to a head with the recent discovery of a link between their extensive use in dog food and an increased rate of Canine Heart Disease. This link is worrying and is currently being investigated by the relevant authorities.
Read more about this link in our article Best Dog Foods Without Peas.
Lastly, most of those dog owners who are firmly against grain-free dog food are users and advocates of the “big” pet food brands such as Purina, Hill’s Science Diet, and Royal Canin. Supporters of these fans will point out their extensive testing and research behind their products.
While these brands do offer some grain-free products, their staples ranges have and still do use a range of grain ingredients.
The Best Non-Grain Free Dog Food
Victor is a successful brand to feature in this article and one that many of you will be familiar with. Victor is commonly found in local or large pet food stores as well as at a myriad of online retailers.
One of Victor’s most significant advantages is that they sell their range in very high volumes. This approach allows Victor to make use of economies of scale, which results in them being more affordable, which may appeal to owners of large dogs or multiple dogs.
Victor produces a number of high-quality and nutritious formulas, some of which make use of grain-free ingredients like Peas and Legumes. However, there are others that include some of the more preferred grain ingredients, such as Brown Rice or Millet.
A noteworthy example of such a formula is the Hi-Pro Plus. It contains a substantial variety of meat and fish ingredients, all of which are meat meals. Many consumers find meat meals intimidating, but they are, in fact, very nutritionally dense.
This density is as they have had their moisture (water) removed. As long as the meat meal is named, we consider it to be a satisfactory and high-quality inclusion. Examples of meat meals used in Hi-Pro Plus include Beef Meal, Chicken Meal, Pork Meal, and Menhaden Fish Meal.
The formula uses two sources of carbohydrates, Grain Sorghum and Millet. The sum of carbohydrates provided by the portion of these two ingredients is modest and satisfactory for the majority of dogs.
For a variety of food that simply didn’t exist a few years ago, “Fresh Home Delivered” dog food has seen a surge in popularity. This style of dog food is drastically different from traditional dry food or canned food. It is prepared in small bathces, from fresh ingredients, pre-portioned, and then delivered straight to a customer’s door.
Nom Nom, formerly NomNomNow, is one of the most popular providers of this service and is available in all 48 of the contiguous states.
Prospective dog owners enter various key pieces of information in during the signup process, and then Nom Nom interprets this information to tailor-make a diet and gauges the dog’s nutritional needs. You can see an extract of this signup process below.
We’d recommend checking out their FAQ page for the full rundown on how the service works.
Nom Nom currently has four fresh dog food recipes available, and one of these recipes is grain-inclusive.
The recipe makes use of Brown Rice and some unusual vegetable ingredients such as Carrots and Spinach. This mix of ingredients shows that Nom Nom believes that grains are a perfectly acceptable addition to a dog’s diet.
However, the Brown Rice and vegetables aren’t the only ingredients present, and a large portion of Turkey takes center stage. This Turkey is joined by a generous proportion of Eggs, which are one of the most bioavailable sources of protein available and underutilized by many dog food manufacturers.
These ingredients ensure that the nutritional profile of the formula is well balanced, and it provides an above-average proportion of protein and fat.
If you’d like to learn more about Nom Nom, including its ingredient selection, nutritional profile, and recall history, check out our Nom Nom Brand Review.
If Nom Now doesn’t appeal to you, we’d recommend checking out some of the other Fresh Home Delivered dog food brands that utilize grains like Spot & Tango.
Taste of the Wild is a brand that needs no introduction. They are an established powerhouse that many North American consumers will be used to seeing in their local pet food stores and chains.
In the past, many would not believe they would see Taste of the Wild using grains in their recipes as consumers would likely have reacted poorly.
However, with the recent links between legumes, like peas and lentils, and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy, they have intelligently responded to the changing market and knowledge.
Their new “With Ancient Grains” recipes closely mimic their traditional grain-free recipes, at least when it comes to their core meat ingredients but is vastly different on the plant-based ingredient side with a range of less common grain ingredients.
This recent introduction of “Ancient Grains” is widespread among similar brands to Taste of the Wild, like Earthborn Holistic, Zignature, and even Acana. Learn more in our article What Are Ancient Grains In Dog Food?
One of these recipes makes use of Duck as its primary ingredient. This recipe is based on the original grain-free Wetlands recipe, which you can find here.
A combination of Duck, Duck Meal, and Chicken Meal provide an extremely healthy portion of meat ingredients, which provide a plentiful proportion of protein and fat for an active dog.
The selection of grains in Taste of the Wild’s new grain-inclusive recipes is quite large when compared to other grain-inclusive ranges. It includes Millet, Sorghum, Pearled Barley, and Brown Rice. You can learn more about some of these other niche grains in our articles, Millet In Dog Food, Sorghum In Dog Food & Barley In Dog Food.
American Journey Chicken & Brown Rice Review
American Journey is a brand owned by the growing online pet food distributor Chewy. Until recently, American Journey products were only available on Chewy’s website, but they have recently been made available in PetSmart stores after PetSmart’s acquisition of Chewy.
American Journey doubles up on the low cost of shipping offered by Chewy by also making the formulas they produce very affordable, far cheaper than many of the others highlighted in this article.
The brand has a moderately sized range of products, including dry dog food, canned dog food, and limited ingredient dog food.
Their Chicken & Brown Rice recipe is one of their most popular thanks to its simplicity and reliability.
A mix of Chicken and Chicken Meal are the recipe’s primary ingredients, and the combination provides a satisfactory proportion of protein and fat.
Brown Rice is the primary plant-based ingredient and can provide carbohydrates and dietary fiber. However, there is a notable portion of Peas present which provide similar nutrition to Brown Rice. The presence of Peas means that if you are looking for a recipe that only uses grain ingredients, this is not the choice for you.
Sadly, this formula makes use of both Rice Bran and Brewers Rice, which we consider to be lower-quality rice-based ingredients. We would prefer to have seen a larger portion of Brown Rice instead. However, this is the reality of lower-cost dog food.
Earthborn Holistic Unrefined – Smoked Turkey Review
Earthborn Holistic is another staple of the premium dog food market that many will be familiar with. In the past, the brand has relied heavily on legumes as their primary carbohydrate ingredients, like most other brands. However, they recently released a new grain-inclusive range, which is called Unrefined.
While they have never said it explicitly, this release was almost certainly a response to the links between legumes and Canine Heart Disease.
The above Smoked Turkey recipe is one of four available, and its core meat ingredients include Turkey, Turkey Meal, and Eggs. This mix provides a satisfactory proportion of animal-based protein and fat.
Earthborn Holistic made the decision not to use some of the more controversial grains in their new range and instead use some less common ones.
Examples include Quinoa, Buckwheat, Oatmeal, and Chia. This broad range of grain ingredients can provide a modest proportion of carbohydrates, fiber, and select micronutrients. Buckwheat is a particularly uncommon ingredient. You can learn more about Buckwheat in our article Buckwheat In Dog Food.
Solid Gold Hund-N-Flocken’ Recipe Review
Solid Gold is an established brand in the United States and is best known for the often flamboyant and unusual names it gives its recipes. Examples of these include Barking At The Moon, Love At First Bark, and Buck Wild.
Solid Gold produces a large variety of dog food, including both grain-free and grain-inclusive recipes. However, what makes them stand out is that they have some grain-inclusive wet/canned dog food formulas, which are quite uncommon among premium brands.
The above Hund-N-Flocken’ is a prime example of a grain-inclusive wet dog food recipe from Solid Gold and utilizes a small portion of both Brown Rice and Barley. These two grain-ingredients provide a modest proportion of carbohydrates and fiber.
However, the primary ingredients of this recipe are a large portion of Lamb, Lamb Liver, and Whitefish. This combination provides a significant proportion of protein and fat that would be extremely appealing and nutritious.
If you are interested in learning more about the Solid Gold brand, we recommend you head over to our Solid Gold Review.
Nature’s Logic Canine Pork Meal Feast Review
Nature’s Logic is a lesser-known brand, but their recipes fill an essential niche in the premium and hypoallergenic dog food market.
Nature’s Logic’s dry dog food recipes make use of the grain Millet. While we don’t consider Millet to be quite as advantageous as other grains, like Brown Rice and Oats, it is still far superior to low-quality and filler grains such as Wheat and Corn. Nutritionally, Millet provides carbohydrates, some fiber, and a limited range of vitamins and minerals.
The above-mentioned Pork Formula contains a mix of whole Pork meat and Pork Liver. This combination provides a very satisfactory proportion of protein and fat to fuel your dog’s activity.
The Pork Liver can provide some minerals and vitamins that traditional meat cuts can not. The proportion of protein and fat is very satisfactory and suitable for dogs of all activity levels.
There are a number of other formulas available that use a wide range of meat and fish ingredients. Be sure to check out our reviews on their Canine Duck & Salmon Meal Feast and Canine Rabbit Meal Feast, which are some of their other recipes that we are big fans of.
Check out Nature’s Logic’s Brand Page for more information.
Victor Chicken & Rice Formula Review
Victor is the only brand to feature in this article twice but its second inclusion is well justified. On top of their large range of grain-inclusive dry dog food, Victor also has a small number of grain-inclusive wet/canned recipes.
While the economies of scale do not work quite as effectively for wet/canned dog food when compared to dry dog food, Victor’s wet/canned dog food recipes are still very economical when compared to other brands. They are usually sold in large cans and combined into large trays of 12 cans.
The above Chicken and Rice is extremely simple and only contains five main ingredients. The two most abundant of these are Chicken and Chicken Liver which provide the bulk of the recipe’s protein and fat.
As we regularly mention, organ meat such as the liver is an excellent addition to dog food recipes and can enhance flavor and provide beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Outside of these two Chicken ingredients, the recipe includes a small portion of Brown Rice and Barley, which provide a mix of carbohydrates and fiber.
Health Extension Chicken & Brown Rice Review
Health Extension is a family-owned company based in the United States. Health Extension has very impressive transparency about the source of its ingredients, including an interactive map for visitors to their site to explore.
This level of transparency is unprecedented in the pet food industry and is something that many brands could learn from. Health Extension has a moderately sized product range, which includes some very common recipes, like Chicken & Rice, but also some less common ones.
You can learn more about Health Extension and its transparency in our Health Extension Brand Review.
The Health Extensions Chicken and Rice recipe makes use of a mix of Chicken ingredients, including Chicken, Chicken Meal, and Chicken Fat.
The recipe’s primary plant-based ingredient is Brown Rice. Most people believe that Brown Rice is preferred to White Rice or cheaper rice-based ingredients.
However, for those willing to look further down the ingredient list, Health Extensions Chicken & Brown Rice contains some other meat and non-meat ingredients in substantial portions.
Examples of these ingredients include Lamb Meal, Menhaden Fish Meal, and Oatmeal. These ingredients are welcome additions and can provide additional protein, fat, and other nutrients.