Is Grain Free Dog Food Healthier for my Dog?


The Beagle

Sales of grain-free dog food have been trending for several years now. Is the grain free movement simply a marketing bonanza or are there real health benefits gained by feeding grain free dog food? To find out let’s look at the rise of grain free foods….

The Grain Free Dog Food Trend

Magazines, television commercials and food packaging all sing the virtues of “super foods” promising us improved health and well being. Supermarket shelves are graced with the likes of chia seeds, goji berries, protein shakes, coconut water and gluten free foods – just a sample of the current “in crowd” of human health foods!  And of course it doesn’t stop here with many such trends now flowing on into the pet food aisles. 

 Considering the rapid growth of the human gluten free market, it is not surprising just how popular the grain free dog food movement has become. Grain free dog food has gained such popularity that nearly all major brands of dog food have now launched their own grain free line to avoid missing out on this new market. 

Grain free dog treats
Grain free dog food accounts for 30% of dog food sales in the US.


The trend for grain free dog food is so widespread and highly marketed, owners who have happily been feeding dog food containing grain, are starting to question whether in fact they have been doing harm!

So the question begs… Should we be feeding grain free dog food? And is grain free dog food healthier than regular dog food? 

To answer these questions, it helps to understand the reasoning behind the grain free dog food movement. Advocates of grain free dog food primarily argue grain is an ‘unnatural‘ canine food source and grain is an allergen causing ill health.

Dog vs Wolf

 It is true that our dogs fore bearers would have been unlikely to consume grain, other than grains contained in the stomach contents of their prey. However unlike wolves our modern day domestic dogs are capable of digesting grain based carbohydrates. Cohabitation with humans over tens of thousands of years has resulted in physiological changes to the gut and the enzymatic digestion processes of our pet dogs. Quite simply domestic dogs are more adjusted to a humanised diet than their wolf fore bearers.

Modern day dogs have evolved from wolves
The digestive systems of modern day pet dogs have evolved physiologically to be able to digest grain.

Whilst on this point it is interesting to note that many brands of grain free dog food substitute grain with alternative carbohydrates such as potato, sweet potato, pumpkin and rice. From a historical perspective, carbohydrates such as these could also be argued as being “unnatural”.

Grains can act as allergens. Fact. This is backed by “grain allergic” and “grain sensitised dogs” who suffer ill effects such as itchy skin and gastrointestinal upset from ingesting certain plant and grain-based proteins.

 However, it is important to realise that almost every food source has potential to act as an allergen. And it is interesting to note, allergies caused by animal based proteins such as beef and dairy, far outnumber those caused by grain.* 

Grain free Benefits

An often-unheralded benefit of grain free dog food is their tendency to provide increased levels of animal-based protein. Egg and meat proteins (beef, poultry, fish, lamb, pork) are quality amino acid sources which are readily digested and converted by dogs. Naturally dogs thrive on such quality ingredients. 

Grain free dog foods tend to have a higher protein content, which from a weight management point of view can be beneficial. Increased protein content enhances satiety levels (a feeling of fullness) and helps to maintain muscle mass during dog weight loss.  

As pet parents it is important to realize, what works well and benefits one dog will not necessarily do so for another. There is no one-dog-food-fits-all approach. Hence the millions of dogs who consume grain in their diet and remain perfectly healthy!

 It is important for pet parents not to be pressured by feeding trends. Ultimately it is your choice what to feed. So rather than following perceived health benefits of the latest food trend, invest your efforts in finding a quality food your dog enjoys and thrives on. 

Whether your dog’s diet contains grain or not, if your dog sports a glossy coat, healthy appetite, formed stools and an energetic and playful outlook, you are onto a winner! 

Grain Free Diet Tips: 

Grain free dog food
Grain free dog food is necessary only for the small percentage of dogs who are allergic to grain.

Is grain free dog food healthy for your dog? 

2018 reports by the FDA have linked grain free dog food with taurine deficiency and the development of congestive heart failure (dilated cardiomyopathy).  Ingredients of concern are potato, peas/ legumes and lentils. Avoid foods which list these as their main ingredients. 

There is a tendency for grain free dog food to be high in calories so always check the calorie content (ME content) and portion meals according to your dog’s healthy weight. 

Is grain free food necessary for your dog? 

No, not unless your dog has a grain allergy or grain free food is your personal preference. 


* Carlotti DN, Remy I, Prost C. Food allergy in dogs and cats. A review and report of 43 cases. Vet Dermatology 1990;1:55-62.
Chesney CJ. Food sensitivity in the dog: a quantitative study. J Small Animal Practitioner 2002;43:203-207. 
Jeffers JG, Meyer EK, Sosis EJ. Responses of dogs with food allergies to single-ingredient dietary provocation. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996;209:608-611.
Paterson S. Food hypersensitivity in 20 dogs with skin and gastrointestinal signs. J Small Animal Practitioner 1995;36:529-534. 
FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease.https://www.fda.gov/animalvete...


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