Holistic Grain-Free Dog Food 101

A human hand holds a few pieces of kibble while a dog reaches up to eat it out of their palm

Choosing dog food can be an overwhelming task. With so many different brands and varieties on the market, figuring out what to buy for your dog can seem daunting. However, if you’ve managed to narrow it down and think that a grain-free dog food may be a good option for your four-legged friend, we have several grain-free recipes to choose from and have rounded up everything to know about why you might consider grain-free food for your pup.

What is Grain-Free Dog Food?

Grain-free dog food is food without grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, and barley, among others. Since grain allergies in dogs can sometimes be a common issue, a grain-free diet may be a great option for dogs who struggle with a sensitive stomach or itchy skin. If your dog does have a grain allergy, switching to a grain-free diet can usually provide them with relief from a variety of symptoms.

A dog lays in front of a mountain scenery next to a bag of Earthborn Holistic Primitive Natural dog food

Additionally, many limited ingredient diets are also grain-free to eliminate common allergens. Our Venture limited ingredient diets, for example, are all grain-free and are also free of other ingredients that tend to be an issue for dogs with allergies like chicken, eggs, and potatoes.

In grain-free dog food, the addition of Taurine in dog food is also a great benefit for your dog’s heart health. That’s why every one of our dry kibble recipes feature high quality protein sources combined with a tasty list of superfoods like pumpkin and blueberries and is enriched with the amino acid, Taurine, for added overall health benefits.

Grain-Free Dog Food Benefits

There are several benefits in choosing to feed a grain-free diet to your dog. A lot of grain-free recipes offer a high-protein diet which is important if you have a dog that requires more energy on a daily basis. Our Primitive Natural recipe, for example, is a grain-free diet that is loved for its high protein levels and added L-Carnitine to help burn fat and maintain lean muscle mass. The addition of probiotics in our dry recipes also help with digestion and can improve gut health.

Switching to a grain-free dog food may also help with allergies. If your dog struggles with skin allergies, switching to a grain-free recipe with an ideal ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids can help curb allergy symptoms for your dog and support beautiful skin and a healthy coat. For example, finding a grain-free recipe with a fish protein is a great option for dogs with skin issues or allergies. Our Venture Alaska Pollock Meal & Pumpkin recipe is a limited ingredient diet that’s made with sustainably-sourced pollock meal and has fewer ingredients that may cause issues for your dog with allergies. If a limited ingredient diet seems like a little much for your dog, our Coastal Catch recipe is another grain-free formula made with herring meal that’s great for sensitive skin and stomachs.

Another benefit of grain-free dog food is that grain-free recipes are often also gluten-free. A main source of gluten in dog food recipes comes from grains like wheat, barley, and rice, so if you are feeding your dog a grain-free diet these ingredients aren’t present–and neither is gluten. While gluten allergies in dogs tend to be rare, they are still possible. If your dog has a gluten allergy, switching to a grain-free diet with optimal nutrition will help tremendously.

Grain-Free vs. Whole Grain Dog Food

When it comes to whether dogs should eat a grain-free or whole grain diet, it’s entirely up to the pet parent to decide on what’s best to fill their dog’s daily nutritional needs. While some pet parents prefer to feed a diet filled with healthy whole grains, some dogs have sensitive stomachs or allergies to grains or gluten that makes grain-free diets better options for them.

A bag of Venture Duck Meal & Pumpkin dog food sits next to a dog food bowl in an apartment

What Are Whole Grains? Whole grains can be a great source of energy and come from a variety of ingredients, ranging from brown rice to barley to quinoa to oats. Refined grains on the other hand are things like white flour and white rice.  Whole grains and ancient grains are umbrella terms for a variety of ingredients:

  • Whole wheat
  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Corn

While all of these are options that are commonly found in dog food, some are better than others. For example, you’ll never find corn, wheat, or soy on the ingredients list of any of our whole grain Earthborn Holistic or Unrefined recipes. Instead, you’ll find things like oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa added to our whole grain recipes. That being said, there’s a chance grains might not agree with your dog’s stomach.

Different breeds of dogs all have unique dietary needs so how can you tell if a recipe is working properly for your dog? If your dog is experiencing healthy bowel movements it’s a good sign that your dog’s system is adjusting to the new food without issue. If you’ve transitioned to a new food and your dog is experiencing an upset stomach, it may be a sign you either transitioned too quickly (which we’ll discuss next) or that the new food isn’t quite a good fit for your dog, either. If this is the case, we recommend having a conversation with your vet to determine next steps. They can also help you choose a different recipe that may work better for your dog.

Transitioning to a Grain Free Diet

If you are thinking about transitioning to a new grain-free diet it may be a good idea to set up a vet appointment to discuss the switch with a professional who knows your dog’s health & previous medical conditions. Your vet may want to review the dog food label to look at ingredient lists and how it compares with your current food brand you are feeding and then set up a period of adjustment so you can switch over gradually.

When transitioning to a new recipe we normally recommend a gradual change over a 7-10 day period mixing in the new food with the old food until you are feeding only the new food. This feeding schedule allows your dog’s body time to adjust to the new food and hopefully reduce the amount of stomach upset. Here is the recommended breakdown of the seven day switch:

Days 1 & 2 – 25% new food, 75% old food
Days 3 & 4 – 50% new food, 50% old food
Days 5 & 6 – 75% new food, 25% old food
Day 7 – 100% new food

If you change foods too quickly, this can increase the risk for stomach upset mentioned earlier. If the recipe you’re switching to is drastically different (grains to grain-free and a change in protein, for example) you may even consider switching over the course of longer than seven days. After you’ve chosen a new formula, check with your vet to determine the right course of action. 

Grain-Free Dog Food for Sensitive Skin

A dog stands on a bench next to a bag of Coastal Catch dog food

What is the best grain free dog food for skin allergies? This can depend on a lot of factors and it’s always important to work with your vet to properly diagnose a potential food allergy or intolerance to determine the best path forward. While allergies aren’t overwhelmingly common for dogs, they do still happen so working with your vet to determine if your pet is actually experiencing an allergy or if it’s just an intolerance or sensitivity is an important step when trying to choose the best dog food for your dog.

That being said, if your pup is dealing with skin sensitivities, some of the best dog food for skin and coat issues often contains fish as the main protein. Fish contains omega fatty acids that work to help maintain healthy skin and coat. Often, a dog food with fatty acids like Omega-3 and 6 for dogs and a sustainable fish protein like Alaska Pollock will do wonders for helping relieve itchy or sensitive skin.

A dog lays in a field next to a bag of Meadow Feast dog food

Our Venture Alaska Pollock Meal & Pumpkin limited ingredient diet is made with Alaska Pollock meal, pumpkin, tapioca, sunflower oil, and flaxseed and is mixed with a lineup of essential vitamins and nutrients to help dogs with allergies or sensitivities receive great nutrition. Made without grain, gluten, potatoes, eggs, colorants, fillers, by-products, or artificial flavors, this Venture recipe is everything you want, nothing you don’t. Pair this tasty recipe with our EarthBites Skin and Coat dog treats for the ultimate boost in skin and coat health. 

If a limited ingredient diet isn’t what you’re looking for, our Coastal Catch recipe is another option that has a fish protein as the first ingredient and features a long list of healthy, nutrient-rich superfoods like apples, blueberries, cranberries, carrots, and spinach to give your dog the protein and nutrients it needs. 

Taurine in Grain-Free Dog Food

If you’re looking into a grain free dog food option, odds are you’re also probably on the lookout for a food that is enriched with taurine for heart health. But what is taurine? Taurine is an amino acid that has health benefits for both dogs and cats. The main difference, though, is that while cats cannot produce their own taurine and must intake it through their food, dogs can produce their own taurine. For that reason, taurine is technically considered a “non-essential” amino acid for dogs, meaning they don’t have to have it in their diet. 

That being said, many dog food companies still choose to add taurine to their recipes (Earthborn Holistic included!) to decrease the risk of taurine deficiency and Jo Myers, DVM says in an article for Daily Paws that, “any commercially prepared dog food with an AAFCO label on it saying it is ‘nutritionally complete’ will provide all the taurine and/or materials your dog’s body needs to make its own taurine.” Myers also explains that beef, poultry, fish, pork, and eggs are all natural sources of taurine. 

Taurine is important in maintaining heart health and healthy eyes in dogs, but is also important for overall health as well. If you’re looking for heart healthy dog food, finding a food with added taurine is a great option to help give you peace of mind. Thankfully, all of our Earthborn Holistic kibble recipes are enriched with taurine to contribute to your dog’s heart, eye, and overall health.

Holistic Dog Food vs. Natural Dog Food

A small dog sits in the backseat of a car next to a bag of Earthborn Holistic Great Plains Feast dog food

When it comes to dog food labeling, there’s a common misconception that holistic dog food and a natural dog diet are the same thing, when that’s not necessarily true. However, learning the difference between the two will help you make a more educated decision when choosing your dog’s food.

What is Natural Dog Food? Natural dog food recipes are recipes that are made without artificial ingredients, colors, flavors, food additives, or preservatives. For a dog food to be labeled as natural, it can’t have any man-made ingredients included. According to the American Kennel Club: “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for enforcement, but since the FDA has not defined ‘natural’ in relation to pet food labeling, it requires only that the labeling not be misleading.

“For the consumer who is researching pet foods, this can be quite confusing. Since most ingredients in pet foods are derived from ‘plant, animal or mined sources,’ these will all be considered as natural ingredients. Any ingredients that are synthetically derived do not meet the requirement to be labeled natural. These include chelated minerals, mineral amino acid complexes, vitamin supplements, propylene glycol, calcium ascorbate, and other preservatives, such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), as well as artificial flavors and colors.”

This is why anytime we talk about our natural dog food, you’ll find it’s with a statement about added vitamins and minerals. Even though our ingredients are natural, the added vitamins and minerals technically aren’t. However, we choose to include them to further benefit the overall health and lifestyle of your dog (which is why our dog food is also considered holistic!). 

More of Our Grain-Free Recipes

A smiling dog lays behind a stack of canned K95 dog food

Wet Dog Food

If kibble isn’t for you, all of our wet dog food recipes are also grain-free. Whether your dog prefers cans or tubs, our K95 recipes or our convenient tubbed formulas are great for picky eaters and are complete and balanced for optimal nutrition. With a range of protein options, our wet food recipes are sure to please any pup and can even make a great topper or mixer to add to your dog’s favorite grain-free kibble.

A dog lays on the ground in a pet food store with a bag of Venture dog food in front of her and is resting her head on top the bag

Venture Limited Ingredient Diets

Allergies are always tricky to work around when trying to find a new food for your dog, but our Venture line makes it super easy to find a limited ingredient diet for your dog or puppy with sensitivities. With six protein options to choose from and added taurine for heart health, these grain-free diets are perfect for dogs with allergies that need a shorter ingredients list to find some relief.

Original Recipes

If allergies or picky eaters aren’t a concern in your household, our original Earthborn Holistic recipes are popular with pet parents looking for a grain-free option. With fish, lamb, bison, and turkey proteins to choose from, you’re sure to find a recipe that suits your dog’s taste buds. Enriched with taurine for heart health and made with added vitamins and minerals, these holistic grain-free recipes are sure to please.

In the end, what you choose to feed your furry family members is a personal choice. Different recipes will always work differently for different dogs and that’s totally okay! When it comes to pet food, there’s never a one-size-fits-all option. Dogs, just like humans, are unique in their own ways and finding a food that meets their individual needs is the most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a food. 

If you think grain-free dog food is the best option for your dog, shop our grain-free recipes today. 

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