Is Grain Free Bad For Dogs?

With the increasing popularity of grain-free dog foods in current times and the panic surrounding the latest studies regarding the correlation between grain-free dog foods and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in canines.

Nowadays, more dog parents are facing the dilemma of whether to feed their pups on grain-free or on regular diets.

Here are some of the latest research results, tips for choosing the best grain-free dog food, and ingredients to watch for when buying one.

The FDA Study May Have Been Debunked

In 2018, the FDA threw dog parents into a panic after releasing an alert that the consumption of grain-free dog foods is linked to an increased risk of DCM in pups. Since then, online and offline discussions have been ongoing among veterinarians, nutritionists, and dog parents.

The good news is that this supposed link led to new scientific research and new answers and information regarding this possible correlation and other health effects of feeding dogs grain-free foods.

These newer scientifically based studies have proven that the original correlation found by the FDA cannot be proven.

In other words, the claim that grain-free food alone increases the risk of heart disease in dogs was debunked by extensive scientific research performed by various independent scientific research groups. Some of these studies also examined the effect of the most common ingredients used for making grain-free dog foods on the health of canines.

Some other results of these studies showed that grain-free dog foods do not affect taurine levels and bile excretion.

They also found faults in over 150 of the earlier studies which had determined such correlations. They found problems with sampling biases, conflicting and incomplete medical data, and other issues that make these earlier findings problematic and non-relevant.

So, while the exact causes of cardiac disease in dogs are still under investigation, the studies which have already been performed have found no scientific evidence of a direct correlation and relationship between DCM and grain-free dog foods.

In other words, these latest findings are good news for dog parents who prefer feeding their pets grain-free foods and diets.

Still, it would help if you kept in mind that not all grain-free wet and dry dog foods are as good for your dog as you may think.

And it helps to perform your research and speak to your veterinarian to determine whether a grain-free diet is the best choice for a complete, balanced, healthy dietary regimen for your furbaby.

How To Choose The Best Grain-Free Dog Food

Overall, grain-free foods are still considered specialty foods and tend to be more expensive than regular ones. But there are still some grain-free foods that are not the best choice for your pup.

While some of these foods are definitely still grain-free, they may not be as healthy and nutritious as the higher quality foods of this type.

All grain-free foods do not contain any grains. But the higher quality ones have real meat and other healthy primary ingredients.

The less the food has been processed, the more biologically appropriate it is, and the more moisture it contains – the better the grain-free food is for your pup.

Some grain substitutes in lower quality grain-free foods, such as starchy peas or potatoes, can lead to other health issues in dogs. These include obesity, skin conditions, digestive upsets, and more.

And unlike meat-based proteins, the plant-based proteins from these substitutes can lack amino acids, which are essential for the pup’s health and wellbeing.

The Most Important Characteristics To Look for In Grain-Free Dog Food

Here is a quick guide to help you choose the best grain-free food for your four-legged companion.

Meat As The Main Ingredient And Primary Protein Source

Typically, high-quality grain-free dog food should have meat as its primary ingredient. And it should not contain unhealthy fillers such as starchy potatoes, peas, or soy-based products.

While dogs can get some of the essential nutrients from plant-based products, they are still mainly carnivores. So, real meat should be their number one protein source.

Thus, opt for food that lists real meat as its first ingredient if you want to ensure that your four-legged companion is getting the best protein essential for its overall health.

The Less The Ingredients Are Processed – The Better

The highest quality grain-free dog foods contain minimally processed ingredients. This means that they are made of natural, whole meats and products which have not been subjected to too much heat and other processes which can remove their vital and healthy nutrients.

Plus, the less the ingredients are processed – the better the dog food will taste.

The best option is to choose a minimally processed grain-free wet dog food as the closest to a natural diet for your pup.

Some dry foods are cooked at high temperatures several times, diminishing the flavor and the nutritional value of the ingredients used.

The More Moisture – The Better

A dog’s natural diet should contain about 70% moisture, which is the ratio offered by manufacturers of some of the higher quality wet grain-free dog foods.

In comparison, most kibble contains much less moisture. This, in some cases, can lead to or worsen any existing digestive issues, urinary tract infections, and obesity in dogs.

The Things To Avoid When Shopping For Grain-Free Dog Food

A rule of thumb is to keep it simple when selecting the best grain-free food for your pup. Always read the ingredient list to check whether the first ingredient listed is whole meat, and the next ones are minimally processed, natural, and healthy.

To make your choice easier, here is a list of the ingredients you should steer away from in grain-free dog food:

Meat And Bone Meal

These are sub-products of the meat rendering industry and are ingredients that are unsuitable for human consumption. Meat and bone meal is highly processed and thus harder to digest. It is also of a much lower nutritional quality and tastes worse than real, unprocessed meat.


Many grain-free dog foods utilize cheaper starches as substitutes for grains. Some of them, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, beet pulp, or green peas, can be bad for the pups’ digestive systems and health. Since starches are not a natural part of the canine’s diet, they can contribute to weight gain, obesity, and other health problems.


This thickening agent is often used to improve the texture of grain-free dog food. The problem is that it has zero nutritional value and can lead to gastrointestinal issues and inflammations in some pups.

Soy-Based Products And Ingredients

These products are less expensive protein sources, commonly used in lower-quality dog foods that are highly processed and not biologically appropriate for carnivorous canines. Also, they are usually GMO products (genetically modified) which can lead to digestive and overall health problems in pups.

Artificial Ingredients And Preservatives

These are commonly used in dog foods to increase their shelf lives. But we recommend that you avoid grain-free dog foods containing artificial ingredients. In excess, they can lead to toxicity and other health issues in canines.

The Best Grain-Free Dog Food

Dog parents should remember that every dog is unique, so there is no single best dog food for all pets.

A good rule of thumb is to monitor your pup’s health and wellbeing. If it is happy, active, fit, and produces a healthy and firm stool, then the grain-free dog food of your choice is probably fine.

Overall, the best grain-free dog food is rich in moisture, made of minimally processed natural ingredients, and has real meat as its primary ingredient.

The food should not contain any artificial preservatives or unhealthy fillers.

As we always recommend, dog parents should speak to their vets for the best advice on the food their dogs should eat. Your veterinarian will advise you of specific dietary requirements depending on your dog’s health, age, weight, and activity level.

Further Reading:

Similar Posts