Let's Talk: Grain-Free Pet Diets


Should my pet be eating grain-free food? Are grain-free diets better than others? If you’re thinking about switching your pet to a grain-free diet, or maybe just wondering what all the buzz is about, this article is for you.

What is Grain-Free pet food?

Before we jump right in, it’s important to know what grains are commonly used in pet foods - they include corn, wheat, rice, barley, oats, rye, soy or by-products of such. Hence, any pet food made without the aforementioned ingredients is considered “grain-free”.

Does Grain-Free mean high meat & carb-free?

There’s been a misconception that grains are replaced by meat in grain-free products. However, that is simply NOT true. It’s important to note the grains are mostly substituted with other non-grain carbohydrates that can include sweet potatoes, potatoes, peas, lentils, quinoa etc. This is due to the need for a binder to turn pet food into kibble form during extrusion.

Thus, grain-free pet food is NOT carbohydrate-free. In some cases, a grain-free diet may contain a higher level of carbohydrate than pet food with grains.

However, this explanation applies mainly to dry kibble products. Most freeze-dried or air-dried products are grain-free and made with >80% meat. Grains in freeze-dried or air-dried products are almost entirely replaced with meat products.

If you are unsure if your grain-free product contains carbohydrates, simply flip your dog food around and look at that ingredient list on the label!

What’s the difference between Grain-Free and Grain Pet Food?

As mentioned above, grains in regular pet food have simply been replaced with non-grain carbohydrate sources.

Grain-free dog diets may include more high-quality ingredients, but this would be the same with grain dog food. As with any diet, grain-free or not, the quality of ingredients can vary drastically.

A grain-free diet might be beneficial for dogs suffering from medical conditions exacerbated by grains. An example would be food allergies toward grain containing products. Do consult your vet regarding this matter or if your dog suffers from chronic medical conditions.

Does Grain-Free Dog Food Cause Heart Disease?

If you’re obsessed with animal nutrition (like us), you may be aware of recent concerns regarding the safety of grain-free foods and its possible correlations to heart disease in dogs.

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opened an investigation into the development of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs on grain-free diets. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a heart disease that results in weakened heart function which can result in heart failure or death. While investigations were ongoing, the FDA put out an article listing many popular grain-free brands as a warning as it was a call for concern for pet owners.

However, there are no definitive answers on the association between non-hereditary DCM and grain-free diets. As mentioned by FDA, “FDA has received reports of non-hereditary DCM associated with both grain-free and grain-containing diets. Most of the diets associated with reports of non-hereditary DCM have non-soy legumes and pulses (e.g., peas, lentils, etc.) high in their ingredient lists. However, it is important to note that legumes and pulses have been used in pet foods for many years, with no evidence to indicate they are inherently dangerous.”. With no definitive answers, the FDA plans to continue investigating the factors that contribute to the development of non-hereditary DCM in dogs. Read the full FDA update here!

Do we recommend Grain-Free Diets?

We highly recommend grain-free diets in which grains have been replaced with meat resulting in a diet of >80% meat content for healthy pets. This would be the case of Freeze-dried and/or Air-dried pet food. (Speaking of which... check out our list of curated freeze-dried and air-dried products!)

For dry food (i.e kibble products), we’ve concluded that there isn’t a drastic difference between grain-free or not. What’s more important is the ingredients used. Every brand, product or range uses different qualities of ingredients regardless of type of food. Rest assured, we have curated an array of Paws & Play Approved grain-free and grain dog food on our website. We leave it to you to decide what you prefer to feed your pet!