As a dog owner you’ve probably occasionally looked at the ingredients on the sides of the tins or packets of dog food you buy and wondered what all those unfamiliar names are and what exactly they do to enhance the meals you’re feeding your pet. Are they all really necessary? Many of them sound like the sort of stuff you’d find in a chemistry lab rather than in a balanced diet, but presumably those are all needed or they wouldn’t be in there, right?
Of more concern to you, however, may be the actual food items contained in the ingredient list alongside familiar words such as beef, chicken, lamb or fish. Vegetables such as potatoes, peas and carrots you would expect to see…but wheat? Soy? Corn? What are they doing there? Surely your dog can’t digest those? She’s a meat-eater, a carnivore. Look at those canine teeth for heaven’s sake! Her ancestors wouldn’t have eaten corn or wheat in the wild so why should you be feeding her such stuff now? What are the benefits?
The truth is that corn, soy and wheat have been used in animal feed for a long, long time, not only in pet food but in large farming enterprises. They’re relatively inexpensive foodstuffs and help to bulk up the feed while at the same time providing enough of the essential proteins and carbohydrates that tame animals and livestock need to function. And dogs these days aren’t like their wild ancestors. They’ve been tamed and domesticated and their digestive systems have adapted to cope with the diets they now regularly enjoy.
However if you’ve read or heard about the ongoing debate surrounding grains in pet diets then maybe the inclusion of soy, corn and wheat in that list of ingredients will be of more concern to you. The truth is that such food items have a lot of people worried because digesting grains can be difficult for some dogs. They’re the cause of allergic reaction in some pets and they’ve also been linked to diseases like diabetes or conditions such as bowel inflammation or obesity.
As a result many dog owners are now actively seeking out alternative foods for their furry friends and specifically that means a grain-free diet. (Corn and wheat are true grains while soy is technically a legume, but many people lump it in with the other two because its effect is so similar). Consequently I’ve put together a list of what I believe are the top 9 grain-free dog foods on the market today, but first let me tell you the five main reasons to avoid corn, wheat and soy in your dog’s diet together with the six main benefits of moving your pet to a grain-free future.
- 5 Reasons to avoid Corn, Wheat and Soy
- 6 Benefits to a Grain-Free Diet
- Overall Best Dog Food without Corn, Wheat or Soy
- 6 More Top Rated Foods without Corn, Wheat or Soy
- Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Adult Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food
- Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon & Rice Formula Dry Dog Food
- Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Sweet Potato & Fish Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
- Merrick Grain-Free Real Texas Beef & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food ($59.99)
- Nutro Wholesome Essentials Large Breed Adult Farm Raised Chicken
- Victor Hi-Pro Plus Formula Dry Dog Food
- Frequently Asked Questions
5 Reasons to avoid Corn, Wheat and Soy
- The inclusion of grains such as wheat and corn, and legumes such as soy, can lead to lower quality food. The core ingredients of meat and vegetables are bulked up with these items and the result is a food that, although nutritious, can be lighter in rich protein, vitamin, mineral and essential amino-acid content than should ideally be the case.
- Grains can be difficult for some pets, particularly smaller dogs, to digest, unless the grain has gone through a proper refining process, as there usually be a surfeit of carbohydrate. Unrefined grain can also lead to intestinal problems and loss of appetite.
- The inclusion of grains can cause weight gain and even obesity in dogs, particularly if the refining process has released more carbohydrates than would be advisable in a balanced diet.
- Sadly grains in food can lead to allergic reactions in a few dogs. Just like in humans their digestive systems can react badly to certain foods, and corn, wheat and soy have all been shown to have allergenic effects in some cases. This only happens with a minority of animals but new reports occur with sufficient frequency to make this a cause for concern.
- The use of corn syrup can make the food addictive and sweet which will occasionally cause or exacerbate medical conditions such as diabetes by raising the blood sugar levels of the animal as a result of eating more.
6 Benefits to a Grain-Free Diet
- Because corn, soy and wheat are absent the main expected ingredients of the food such as meat and vegetables and fiber are present in larger quantities leading to a higher quality, more nutritionally-balanced diet.
- A grain-free diet releases fewer carbohydrates and so the food can be more easily digested by your pet, smaller dogs included. The absence of hard grain kernels will in turn lead to a reduction in bowel problems and the resultant appetite suppression in those dogs often affected by both.
- As a result of both fewer carbohydrates and the absence of corn syrup the weight of the dog can be more easily controlled. Additionally a grain-free diet will keep your pet feeling fuller for longer, leading to a happier and more active animal.
- As soy, corn and wheat are all known to have allergenic properties their absence drastically reduces the incidence of allergic reaction in the small number of dogs that may be prone to it. It should be stressed however that allergies can result from exposure to many things, not just grains, so the introduction of a grain-free diet is not necessarily insurance against all future allergic reactions…but it helps.
- A grain-free nutritious diet will result in your beloved friend attaining a stronger, healthier, thick and shiny coat which will, in turn, lead to much less shedding of hair…something I’m sure every dog owner would welcome with open arms!.
- The general health of your dog will improve all around, leading to a more active animal with loads of energy. And what’s more, health includes dental hygiene too, so no more bad breath!
So, with all of that out of the way, let’s get on without further ado to a review of (in my opinion) the 9 best dog foods you can buy that don’t contain corn or wheat or soy:
Overall Best Dog Food without Corn, Wheat or Soy
- The main ingredient is buffalo, followed by bison, roasted venison and roast beef
- Also includes ingredients for better health such as blueberries, raspberries and tomatoes
- Contains no grains, artificial preservatives or coloring
- Highly digestible and rich in nutrients
- Natural recipe from sustainable sources
- Made by a family-owned US company using scientifically advanced food safety protocols
This is made from ingredients you don’t usually find in pet food, namely bison, buffalo and venison – protein-rich lean meat with much fewer calories, low cholesterol and much less fat than would normally be the case in regular dog food.
The food is extremely digestible and would be perfect for all breeds and sizes of dogs. It’s very rare to come across a dry dog food that has such universal suitability, and so I have no hesitation in making this my number one choice.
- Very high in essential proteins and vitamins
- Very low in fat
- A complete balanced and nutritious diet
- Highly digestible
- None as far as I can see! This is a value product made from premium ingredients.
- Completely free of wheat, corn and soy to aid pets with food sensitivities
- Contains real deboned salmon which provides amino acids to maintain lean muscle
- Vitamins, minerals and natural antioxidants supporting the immune system are supplied by vegetables and fruit such as carrots, blueberries and dried kelp
- Also contains chickpeas and sweet potato for a natural boost of energy
- Flaxseed and salmon oil provide omega-3 and six other fatty acids to aid skin and coat health and to help with brain and eye development
- Manufactured in Kansas with ingredients sourced from reputable US suppliers
Most Inexpensive (Cheap) Dog Food without Corn, Wheat or Soy – Another high-quality product that is ideal for dogs with sensitive stomachs and which uses an unusual variety of different vegetables to provide all of the vitamins, minerals and fatty acids that a healthy animal would need.
The low-fat percentage of this dry food is also an obvious plus thereby avoiding the pitfalls so common among some other dry products. All in all a worthy highly-placed addition to our list
- A high proportion of essential proteins and vitamins
- Very low-fat percentage
- Premium quality vegetables and salmon
- If transitioning to this from another feed it’s recommended that you mix the two feeds gradually over one to two weeks until the transition is complete which some people may find irksome.
- Grain-free recipes including Beef & Chicken and Chicken & Turkey
- Each can contains real meat from premium animal proteins providing essential amino acids
- Omega-3 and omega-6 oils have been added to aid healthy coat and skin
- Prepared to a paté formula without gravy (as some dogs dislike that)
- Packed in BPA-free cans for added safety. (BPA is an industrial chemical found in polycarbonate plastics but is not used here)
- Prepared in the US with premium ingredients sourced globally
Best Canned Dog Food without Corn, Wheat or Soy – The fact that these cans are free of BPA is deeply impressive as this chemical is usually ubiquitous and found in cans on every supermarket shelf. I wish other manufacturers would follow suit but that’s probably a forlorn hope.
The food itself is highly nutritious and meat-heavy, which suits some dogs who (like some children) don’t get on with vegetables! My only caveat is that there are only two flavors in the “variety” pack, but I don’t suppose your dog will complain. Another superior product from the same manufacturer of the first two foods on this list.
- Premium quality meat is used in these recipes
- BPA-free cans are used, which is unusual but very welcome
- There are only two flavors in this variety pack, so it’s not much of a variety!
6 More Top Rated Foods without Corn, Wheat or Soy
- No corn, wheat, soy or chicken by-products are included in this recipe
- Apples, pumpkin, spinach and blueberries provide all of the vital vitamins, fiber and antioxidants needed for optimum health
- Calcium, phosphorus and essential vitamins have been added for strong bones and teeth
- Glucosamine has also been added to aid the development of healthy joints
An excellent dry dog food that manages to avoid the trap that so many others fall into of using chicken by-products rather than the pure meat itself I also like the fact that “holistic veterinarians” have put together a blend of vitamins and minerals to add to this food. I wonder where you would find one of those? But it’s impressive all the same.
I’m a little disturbed by the use of brown rice as some dogs don’t like that ingredient, but I suppose the majority of them will have no problem with it and it is very digestible and nutritious. So if your dog turns her nose up at this move on to something else.
- High in protein and very low in fat
- This formula uses a precise blend of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants selected by holistic veterinarians to help promote immune system health
- Some dogs can be intolerant of brown rice so caution may be advised in those cases
- Real salmon provides high-protein to support lean muscle mass
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been added to support joint health and mobility, together with omega-6 and zinc to benefit the skin and coat
- Oatmeal is used as an easily digestible source of carbohydrates making this diet ideal for dogs with sensitive stomachs
- Manufactured in the US without any soy, corn, wheat or artificial flavoring or colors
So many dogs these days have sensitive digestive systems but this food looks tailor-made for them. The use of oatmeal is interesting as it supplies an easy source of carbohydrate without upsetting the stomach too much, so this appears to be an innovative workaround.
Salmon too is the ideal meat for a food intolerant dog as it’s very digestible and high in essential fatty acids. Again this is another worthy addition to our list.
- Perfect for dogs with sensitive digestion
- Provides the optimum protein to fat ratio to help dogs maintain their ideal condition
- A 7 to 10-day transition is advised from a previous diet which may prove troublesome
- Grain-free recipe with limited carbohydrates and no artificial flavors or colors
- Dietary fiber is provided by sweet potatoes for good digestive health
- Flaxseeds provide omega-3 fatty acids for a healthy and shiny coat
- A single animal protein source (salmon) aids those dogs with food sensitivities
Another dry dog food that’s very low in fat and carbohydrates but high in protein. The sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of fiber and the salmon is perfect for a sensitive stomach.
My one real worry is that it seems a little pricey for what it is, but some dogs with food sensitivity can be very picky so if yours likes this you’ll just have to go ahead and pay the extra!
- Ideal for dogs with sensitive stomachs or food allergies
- Very low in fat
- A 5 to 7 day transition period is recommended if switching to this feed from another diet
- Grain-free recipe with no added gluten, preservatives or artificial flavoring and coloring
- Uses real deboned beef, fruits and vegetables, and has a poultry-free formula to aid dogs with a sensitivity to poultry ingredients
- Omega-3, omega-6 and glucosamine added to support healthy joints
- Made in Merrick’s Texas facility using locally sourced ingredients from known and trusted suppliers
I like the fact that a poultry-free formula is used here as so many other feeds seem to ignore this. Even dogs without intolerance to certain foods have been known to have problems with chicken by-products so hats off to the manufacturer for promoting this.
The high levels of fatty acids are also a big plus, as is the level of protein, so this food scores highly on our list.
- Only highly digestible ingredients are used
- Very high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
- At least 55% level of high-quality protein
- A 5 to 7 day transition period from another diet is advised
- This recipe is grain-free with no wheat, corn or soy protein and no artificial preservatives, flavoring or coloring
- The primary ingredient is farm-raised chicken fortified with essential vitamins and minerals
- Glucosamine and chondroitin sourced from chicken meal support healthy joints, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been added to provide for a smooth coat and healthy skin
- Produced in the US using natural ingredients sourced from trusted suppliers
This is the only food on our list to make a point of using genetically unmodified ingredients in its recipes and for that reason alone it deserves a little kudos.
As it also avoids chicken by-products and uses farm-raised chicken (which I take to mean free-range rather than caged birds) this is one of the most ethical foods I’ve come across and deserves to be on our list.
- Uses real chicken and omits any chicken-related by-products from the recipe
- All recipes are made with non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) ingredients
- A transition period of 6 days is advised if moving your pet from another diet
- Contains no wheat, corn, soy or gluten
- Comprised of 88% meat protein using premium beef, chicken and pork
- Essential fatty acids, amino acids and proteins have been added for a healthy digestive and immune system
- This is a nutrient-dense recipe for all life stages of your pet
I like the fact that this food uses only natural plant-based preservatives as none of the others state that. I wonder what they are, but alas the manufacturer didn’t expand on that so I’m none the wiser (although I’m sure it’s true). So many food items these days lather their wares in chemical preservatives so it’s refreshing to find one that doesn’t.
The only thing that worries me a little is the mix-up they seem to have been experiencing with the changes to their packaging and formulation but I doubt it’s anything to worry about and probably by the time you read this it’ll all have been sorted out. But this dry dog food still occupies pride of place as the last item on our list of the 9 best dog foods without corn, wheat or soy.
- Perfect for all dogs regardless of their stage of life
- Only uses natural plant-based preservatives
- A transition period of 7 to 10 days is advised if moving from another diet
- This product has undergone a packaging and formulation change but some customers still appear to have been receiving the old formulation and packaging so make sure you check what you’re ordering!
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is no corn, wheat or soy the same as grain-free? – No, this is a common misconception. Grains are hard dry seeds (usually from the family of grasses) cultivated for both human and animal consumption and wheat and corn are by no means the only grains that might be present in a food designed for dogs, because other grains such as rice, barley, oats or rye might be included in the mix. Soy refers specifically to the bean of the soy plant and isn’t generally regarded as a grain. If in doubt check the ingredients in your dog’s food and if any of the above are present then it isn’t grain-free!
- Are corn, wheat and soy bad for dogs? – That depends on the individual dog. Generally speaking, none of these ingredients are harmful in themselves, particularly in their processed forms, and are great sources of energy and protein….but some dogs just don’t take to them. Corn has nutritional value including some fatty acids essential to a dog’s diet, but if any kernels are present a smaller dog may not be able to digest them which in turn could lead to intestinal problems such as constipation or pain resulting in a loss of appetite. Wheat and soy are also safe but can produce an allergic reaction in some animals, just as they can in some humans.
- Do these ingredients cause allergies? – All three of these ingredients have been known to cause an allergenic response, but it’s important to remember that allergic reactions will vary depending on the individual. An allergy is a response of the immune system rather than a digestive intolerance and, just like people, some dogs will display an allergic reaction to certain foods while others will happily digest everything put in front of them without any problem.
- Is Corn Gluten bad for dogs? – Corn gluten, often known as corn gluten meal, is a product of corn processing rather than a naturally occurring gluten such as we find in wheat, rye or barley, and because it’s high in protein it’s regularly been used to bulk out animal feed However this protein isn’t as nutritionally wholesome as the proteins found in meat or eggs and can cause health disadvantages in some dogs if exposed to it for long periods of time, such as corn allergies, ear infections or urinary stones.
I hope by now you can see the benefits of a grain-free feeding regime, and that by omitting corn, wheat and soy from your dog’s diet she’ll be a happier, healthier, lighter animal with boundless energy and a joie de vivre that would put a kid on a bounce house to shame! In truth it isn’t going to work exactly that way for every dog so I’m not offering you a cure-all, but the results of replacing a low-quality bulked-up food with a high-quality super-nutritious one can’t fail to have many positive effects leading to an improvement in your pet’s quality of life.
So go ahead and try a new grain-free diet out. If your dog doesn’t take to it she doesn’t take to it and there’s nothing more to do…but I bet she will. That tail will be going like greased lightning long before every mealtime and you’ll be a happier, more content owner. Sorry, did I say “owner”? You both know your relationship goes much deeper than that…..