What Does Grain Free Dog Food Mean?

what does grain free dog food mean
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Looking at the many food choices for your furry buddy, you’ll likely ask yourself, what does grain free dog food mean?

It can be challenging to decide whether grain-free food is right for your dog or not, especially as there are many differing opinions on the matter.

Before making your decision, let's get into the details of what grain-free dog food is and whether it's necessary.

What Does Grain Free Dog Food Mean?

When you find a dog food that is advertised as grain-free, it means it lacks many ingredients regular recipes have.

Grain-free dog food doesn't contain:

  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Rye
  • Soy
  • Barley
  • Oats

However, it is incredibly essential that dogs get a substantial number of carbohydrates throughout the day.

You'll find most grain-free dog foods will have alternative sources of carbs, such as pea flour or potatoes.

Several things go into a pet parent’s mind when wondering whether grain-free dog food is right for their pets or not.

Many manufacturers market their products as the more expensive and luxurious options for unique pets.

You might think that because pet food is specially designed and more expensive, it's better for your dog. However, not every dog requires a grain-free meal plan; in fact, very few do.

Grain-Free vs. Regular Dog Food

When put to the test, regular dog food might outperform grain-free in several ways.

First, you'll find that there will be far more nutrition in regular dog food, especially vitamins and minerals.

Whole grains contain plenty of selenium, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, and fiber. All of these work together to promote your pets' overall vitality and ensure they have plenty of energy.

Another benefit of whole grains is that they can help with digestion, especially with their high fiber content.

This reason is one of the many as to why your dog might experience stomach upset if you switch to grain-free food.

It's also important to note that every grain-free dog food recipe differs from each other.

Some pet parents believe that there has to be more meat included in the formula if there aren't grains.

However, you'll find that manufacturers will use other ingredients, like potatoes, to substitute the grains.

Some pet foods will have higher meat content, but it's not guaranteed by switching to grain-free.

It's also important to note that even though it could be more expensive, it doesn't mean it has higher quality ingredients.

Most brands of grain-free food have the same quality ingredients as regular dog food.

Are There Benefits to Grain-Free Dog Food?

There is plenty of skepticism regarding grain-free food, especially as dogs have a particular diet.

Ideally, your pet should get at least 50% vegetables, 40% meat protein, and 10% grain within their food.

High-quality and dependable grain-free dog food can be beneficial in many ways, including:

1. Better Satiety

Have you ever felt like you were still hungry after eating?

If you're not eating a well-rounded meal, such as one packed with carbs, you're likely to get hungry faster.

The same theory applies to dog food, as the lower quality it is, the hungrier your pets will be.

Reliable grain-free dog food can help your dogs to have better satiety after eating, reducing their food intake.

The higher-quality brands focus primarily on whole ingredients instead of fillers and by-products.

This process helps to ensure your dogs consume foods packed with nutrients that keep them full.

2. Increased Energy

The same theory applies to your dog's energy as their satiety.

The higher quality ingredients they eat, the more expendable energy they'll have during the day.

If you're able to find a recipe that contains more protein than their original dog food, their energy will increase.

3. Reduced Digestive Discomfort

Some pets will take to a grain-free diet than others, which can be beneficial for pet parents. Not only will your pets have firmer stools, but they will also have less gas.

With that said, this diet isn't recommended for every pet, and some grain-free foods can cause excessive indigestion.

Many grain-free dog food recipes are easier for your pet's digestive system to handle. It is always crucial that you consult your vet before switching your dog's food.

what does grain free dog food mean

Are Grain Allergies Common?

Interestingly enough, grain allergies might not be as common as you might think.

An interview of board-certified veterinarians from Veterinary Practice News sheds a little light into the industry.

The concept of grain allergies is relatively new, and most professionals don't know where it came from.

Not only is it rare for pets to have significant allergies to food, but grain allergies are also rare.

According to the interviewed veterinarians, the majority of dog food allergies pertain to dairy and beef. Only 10% of dog allergies relate to food in total.

With that said, grain allergies are far less common than you would expect.

You mustn't switch your dog food haphazardly, especially if you don't have professional assistance.

If you think your dog is suffering from food allergies, your vet can recommend a great allergy-friendly food.

Is Grain-Free Carb-Free?

Effectively managing your dog's diet is something every pet parent considers. You might want to reduce their carb intake or boost the amount of protein they consume daily.

Unfortunately, opting for grain-free food doesn't mean you'll be reducing the carbs your dogs eat. Also, it's important to note that carbs are an essential part of your dog's diet.

As mentioned, the majority of dog food manufacturers will find alternative sources of carbohydrates in grain-free foods.

You'll find higher concentrations of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and legumes in the recipes. However, some of the grain-free carb options can be healthier and more beneficial.

This point is especially true when compared to corn and wheat, which can be empty carb-loaded calories. Garbanzo beans and pea protein, for example, are a better alternative.

Is Grain-Free Gluten-Free?

The only way to determine if a pet food is genuinely gluten-free is to look at the ingredients list.

Just because the packaging says it's free of grains doesn't mean it's entirely free of gluten. Often, you'll find recipes that have hidden sources of gluten, such as powdered grains.

There's also the likelihood of cross-contamination during the manufacturing process.

However, it should be relatively easy to find gluten-free dog food if your veterinarian recommends it.

There are plenty of specialty factories that work solely on gluten-free ingredients to protect your dog's health.

Grain-Free Dog Food Concerns

Making the jump to grain-free dog food is something to take with a grain of salt as more research emerges.

One of the most pressing issues is an FDA investigation into grain-free dog food and its health.

The FDA Investigation

The investigation's primary purpose is to determine whether grain-free dog food has a link to heart disease in dogs.

Known as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) or Canine Heart Disease, it can significantly impact your pet.

Researchers and investigators consider whether legumes, legume seeds, and potatoes have a link to the disease.

The investigation was initially launched after an uptick in DCM cases over the past few years.

The majority of pets with the disease were on a grain-free diet, which could mean a link.

Although Dilated Cardiomyopathy isn't rare in all dogs, it was considered rare in the report's dogs.

There were plenty of breeds that aren't predisposed to the disease included in the complaints.

Over 524 pets were brought to the FDA's attention between 2015 and 2019, with 515 dogs and nine cats.

Understanding Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Canine Heart Disease is just as its name suggests, a disease that affects the hearts of dogs.

There are plenty of large breeds with a predisposition to the issue, such as Saint Bernards and Great Danes.

You'll find that it's far less common in medium and small breeds, like Cocker Spaniels.

When a dog is diagnosed with DCM, it means their heart is experiencing a decreased ability to pump blood. Over time, this leads to congestive heart failure.

Is Grain-Free Dog Food Safe?

As the FDA's investigation hasn't concluded, there's no definitive answer to whether grain-free dog food is safe.

With that said, it can be a good idea to consider transitioning your dog back to their original diet unless instructed otherwise.

Consuming anything in excess is dangerous for your dogs, just as it is for humans.

If you're looking for a way to change your pet's diet to something healthier, there are many ways to do so.

By using these tips, you can ensure you're protecting your dog without revolutionizing what they eat.

Tip #1: Avoid These Ingredients

  • White flour
  • Artificial colors and flavors
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • By-product meal
  • BHA/BHT fillers
  • Cheap fillers
  • MSG
  • Excessive salt
  • Excessive oils
  • Sugar alcohols
  • Rendered fats

Tip #2: Homecooked Food

If you can make your dog food at home, it can be a better option. When given in combination with supplements, you will have control over what your pets eat.

Owners can choose whether to use regular or organic vegetables and manage the ingredients in their meals.

Often, pets with true food allergies will benefit the most from homecooked food. Also, you might find it's less expensive than using specialty pre-made dog food.

Tip #3: Avoid Dog Food Trends

Unless a medical professional advises it, it's best for pet parents to avoid dog food trends.

Your pets have a specific number of vitamins and minerals they need to consume daily.

You mustn't follow fad diets or trends, as they could have long-term implications for their health.


If you're wondering what does grain free dog food mean, the answer is currently unclear.

Until the FDA's investigation is concluded, deciding between regular and grain-free food can be challenging.

If possible, opting for a healthier diet is preferable, without the avoidance of traditional grains.

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