Grain-Free Dog Food: Is it Right For Your Dog?

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These days, you’ll find entire aisles at the grocery store dedicated to foods that are “free” of one thing or another. From sugar free to dairy free, to gluten free, consumers are gobbling up these specialty foods to uphold a perceived "healthier” and “more natural" nutrition for themselves… as well as their pets.

Interest in more healthful nutrition has rolled right into the pet aisle, and why wouldn’t it? Your dog is a member of your family, after all, and they deserve to be just as healthy as you. Among the recent trends in pet food is grain-free dog food, but contrary to popular belief, allergies and intolerances to grains are rare in our canine companions.

Should dogs eat grains? The truth is that grains have a purpose in dog foods to provide a variety of important nutrients that dogs need.

Bottom line, grain-free dog food isn't necessarily better for your pup. Here are some common grains used in dog food and why you should consider keeping them in his dish.

Common Grains Used in Dog Foods

When looking at the list of ingredients in your dog's food, you might see grains such as:

  • Barley
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Sorghum

You may be familiar with most of these grains, as some of them are just as popular for your own consumption. Some, like barley, have been described as a " superfood." Barley is high in fiber, both the soluble and insoluble kind. Oats are known for their benefit to heart health in people when eaten as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Do these ingredients have the same benefits for dogs? Should dogs eat grains?

Husky with blue eyes and blue collar staring up at owner.

Whole grains such as corn provide dogs with important digestible nutrients including energy, protein, vitamin E and linoleic acid. It is those nutrients that are crucial to a dog's overall health. The most important thing to remember is to choose a food that provides your dog with complete and balanced nutrition. This is true whether or not the food contains grains.

Grain-Free Isn't Carb-Free

Veterinarians also frequently hear confusion from pet parents regarding grain-free and low-carb foods. Grain free and low carb do not go hand in hand. To replace grains, grain-free pet foods often use ingredients such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, quinoa and peas. In fact, some grain-free pet foods contain carbohydrate levels similar to or even higher than dog food containing grains.

Allergies and Grains

Veterinary Practice News interviewed four board-certified vet nutritionists about allergies and the role grains play in them. The nutritionists told the magazine corn, wheat and soy are rarely the cause of food allergies.

"I honestly don't know where that got started. It's not based on any data, and there are excellent foods that contain one or more of those items," said Cailin Heinze, MS, VMD, and a diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

Clinically speaking, the most common food allergens are beef and dairy, with only 10 percent of all pet allergy cases being caused by food at all. Most pets actually have reactions to the world around them, like pollen from grass, trees, molds and fleas, not foods. If you suspect your dog suffers from an allergic reaction — either environmental, food, or a combination of the two — talk with your vet about the issues your poor pal is experiencing. Then, under consistent professional treatment, you can determine if he has a food allergy and to which ingredient your pup is reacting adversely through some careful food trials.

The Right Grain-Free Food for Your Dog

In the rare case where a dog is, in fact, sensitive to grain, you should first talk to your pet's veterinarian and they may recommend a special food or a high-quality, grain-free dog food that still provides balanced nutritional content. Again, your veterinarian can be a great resource for a recommendation.

How do you know if what you're feeding your dog is high in quality?

Like humans, dogs can have their own unique nutritional needs. When choosing the right dog food for your furry friend, make sure to talk with your vet and do your research before committing, so you can find the right balance that meets your pup's needs.


1Eckstein, S. (n.d.). Caring for a Dog with Food Allergies. Retrieved August 1, 2019, from

Contributor Bio

Kara Murphy Contributor Bio Image

Kara Murphy


Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle puppy named Maddie.


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