What Is Grain Free Dog Food?

One of the biggest breakout trends in dog nutrition in recent years has been the evolution of grain-free dog food. But what is it and how can you tell if your dog will benefit from a grain-free diet?

Well, if your dog is showing signs of digestive troubles or red, itchy skin (or both at the same time), then he might have food allergies and be reacting to grains in his food.

Some experts believe the diet has grown as we look to match our pet's diets to our own. We spoke with Dr John Lowe, canine nutritionist at Autarky to find out more about the emerging diet.

He told us, “Animal feed often follows trends from the human market, so the grain-free market has certainly mirrored human trends. It is noticeable that there is so much talk around plant-based feed at the moment too.”

What Is Grain Free Dog Food?

So, what is grain-free dog food?

In essence, grain-free pet foods are recipes designed to exclude cereal grains, such as rice, barley, wheat, oats, maize and any of their by-products.

John tells us that as a consequence, grain-free diets tend to fulfil their carbohydrates using vegetables, pulses and fruits.

Grain-free dog food myths

Are grains ‘bad’ for dogs?

John tells us, “Grains are not inherently bad for dogs, nor are such substitutes as potato necessarily better.

“The nutritionist that designed the food will have taken into account the properties of the various ingredients available and allowing for processing, designed the food to deliver the correct amounts of nutrition. It is about the owner choice as to whether you select a diet without cereal or with cereals."

“There may however be a few dogs that exhibit adverse reactions to specific ingredients, in which case you would select a diet that does not contain such ingredients.”

What Is Grain Free Dog Food?

Is it easy to tell a grain-free dog food from the pet food label?

John believes so. He tells us that when looking for a balanced grain-free food dog owners should look to find a complete food that fits a dog’s life stage or lifestyle.

This is the best way to feed a diet that’s balanced and tailored to a dog’s needs to maintain a healthy weight.

Whole grains contribute important nutrients to your dog’s diet, such as vitamins, minerals, and fibre.

However, grains that have been heavily processed will lose much of their nutritional benefit.

Processed grains may often appear in ingredients lists under the following names:

  • Wheat gluten
  • Corn gluten meal
  • Wheat middling
  • Cereal fines
  • Grain hulls

What Is Grain Free Dog Food?

Do percentages matter on a dog food label?

John reiterates that it’s more important to find a balanced diet that fits a dog’s age or lifestyle adding, “the actual percentages are more a function of design preferences and there would be no right or wrong amounts.”

FDA’s recommendation

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in July 2018 that it had begun investigating reports of Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods, with a majority of these foods being labelled “grain-free".

These grain-free formulas boasted a fairly high proportion of peas, lentils, or other legume seeds, or potatoes in various forms, such as whole potatoes, flour, protein, among others.

The FDA stopped short of recommending that consumers switch their pets off the grain-free foods.

A spokesperson for the FDA reasoned, “Because we have not yet determined the nature of this potential link, we continue to encourage consumers to work closely with their veterinarians to select the best diet for their pets”.

What Is Grain Free Dog Food?

Pros and cons of a grain-free dog food

Just like any other type of dog food, a grain-free dog diet has both advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of a grain-free dog food

Ideally, grain-free dog food will come with meat-based ingredients like beef, lamb, chicken, fish, buffalo, bison, turkey, etc. They also include non-grain products, for instance, vegetables.

Easily digestible

Your dog will not be able to digest some grains, such as corn if they don’t have adequate amounts of amylase enzyme. Amylase is a crucial enzyme required in the breaking down of starch and carbohydrates.

As such, your dog is likely to suffer from gastrointestinal problems if they don’t have enough amylase enzymes. In such a case, you should consider feeding your dog a grain-free dog diet.

It is less allergenic

If your dog is known for food intolerance, then grain-free dog food may come in handy. Ideally, compared to dog food formulated with grains, grain-free dog food is less allergenic.

Among other things, grains can cause intestinal problems to dogs with food allergies.

For instance, most dogs are allergic to gluten, a specific protein found in wheat, rye, oats, and barley. You can, therefore, do your dog a huge favour by feeding them with grain-free dog food.

Helps boost health and activity level

Apart from helping prevent allergic reactions, grain-free dog food plays a crucial role in improving your dog’s overall health and levels of activity.

Ideally, grain-free dog food provides your dog with the much-needed energy for optimal activity.

Beneficial for dogs with diabetes and cancer

A diet rich in simple carbohydrates can raise your dog’s blood sugar levels if it’s diabetic.

Carbohydrates can also lead to the overproduction of insulin and weight gain, eventually resulting in diabetes.

Gluten and lectins in some grains can cause inflammation, leading to cancer in the long run.

What Is Grain Free Dog Food?

Disadvantages of grain-free dog food

Even with the many benefits that come with a grain-free dog diet, there are still some disadvantages that come with it.

More expensive

A grain-free diet will cost you more than a grain-based one. Compared to other generic dog food, grain-free dog food is more expensive.

Not ideal for less active dogs

Grain-free dog treats can lead to weight gain for dogs that live a sedentary lifestyle. Older and less active dogs do not need the energy that a protein-rich diet provides.

It is also not good for dogs that are already overweight or have limited mobility.


Even if grain-free dog food is becoming increasingly popular, sometimes availability can be a challenge.

As such, it may not be readily available at the pet store or supermarkets.

It can be challenging for picky eaters

In cases where your dog is a picky eater, sometimes your dog may not just like it.

As such, if your dog has been used to grain-based dog food, it may take some time before accepting grain-free dog food.

While it’s normal for a dog to turn down new food during the first try, if they keep avoiding it multiple times, then you should consider feeding them the kind of food they like.

High in carbohydrate

Grain-free dog food can still have high carbohydrate content. As such, it may not be ideal if your dog is on a low carbohydrate diet.

For instance, if your dog is Type 1 Diabetic or is strictly on a non-carbohydrate diet, then feeding him with grain-free dog food may not be ideal.

This article is sponsored by Autarky.


Autarky’s unique and delicious recipes are specially formulated by one of Britain’s leading canine experts. Our holistic approach ensures working dogs get the nutrition they need to support a healthy, active lifestyle.

What Is Grain Free Dog Food?

Our delicious feeds feature succulent meat, high-quality carbohydrates as well as nutritious vegetables and beneficial herbs.

Each unique recipe has been created to give your dog exactly what it needs at every life stage. Every recipe includes natural antioxidants to ensure each bag of Autarky stays fresh and tasty.

All our naturally balanced recipes contain no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.

Find Out More at www.autarkyfoods.com

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