Affordable and well balanced choices for a sensitive pooch
Grain free food has been given a lot of attention in recent years. While some dog owners clinically wave it off as a marketing tactic, others swear up and down that it is a lifesaver. Numerous scientific studies have shown that grains aren’t, in fact, the main culprit when it comes to dog allergies. There are valid reasons to avoid unnecessary fillers and foods that are basically cornmeal in a form of kibble, but some misconceptions have to be put out of the way.
Dogs are omnivores with strong preference for meat. Canines not only can, but need to eat plant based material to maintain healthy. Even wolves don’t rely solely on game – hunting requires a lot of time and energy and while meat is a valuable energy source, fruit, vegetables and mushrooms are fairly common in their diet. Today, many dog food manufacturers use creative marketing terms such as “all natural”, “raw” and “wild” while giving little to no regard to actual scientific facts about canine nutrition.
The most important part of this misconception is that, while the food can be 100% grain free, this gives no guarantee that it is also allergen free. Or even high quality. Protein sources for the formula can come from cheap animal by-products such as wool, feathers, hair, horns and hoof cuts. Technically protein, but far from what constitutes a healthy and nutritious diet. Even if every ingredient listed is top quality, there is no guarantee that the food is hypoallergenic. Proteins are by far most likely to cause allergic reactions, especially when they are randomly thrown into the mix just to add to that magical “protein percentage” that every dog owner religiously looks for on the back of the food bag. Proteins have very unique and complex biochemical properties, meaning that certain combinations can be less desirable, even harmful for the digestive system. Well balanced food with mutually beneficial ingredients is the only guarantee of a good diet.
Nevertheless, no amount of scientific mumbo jumbo will convince some dog owners that grain free food is not the absolute best, and for a good reason. Some dog breeds have a inherent sensitivity to grains, especially soy, corn and wheat. This condition is often related to insufficient presence of pancreatic amylase – the enzyme in the small intestines that helps break down carbohydrates. Grain free food is definitely a necessity to some, but not all brands are same.
How to Shop for Grain Free Dog Food
Many manufacturers put “Grain Free” labels on their food bags, but this is far from enough to make the formula optimal. The most important factor is the amount of the whole animal protein. This should be the number one ingredient. The source of this protein also plays an important role – beef and chicken are known allergens, so bison, venison, rabbit and others might be preferable. Artificial additives are a big no-no for dogs prone to allergies, and so are some natural taste enhancers.
To summarize our criteria, we looked for:
- Formulas with ingredients that are not toxic to dogs -some ingredients might be all natural but still harmful to dogs. Members of the Allium plant family, such as scallions, leek, onion and garlic are toxic to canines. Even though this is considered common knowledge among the dog owners, some food formulas contain these plants as taste enhancers. Since consumption of such foods can cause anemia, we have a strict rule of eliminating them immediately.
- Meat vs. meal ratio – meat is meat, there is not much to explain there. When it comes to meat meal, the area becomes gray. There is no doubt that some manufacturers are honest, but unless you already have a well researched and trusted brand, be careful about meat meals. This product is basically highly concentrated meat, processed under high temperature and high pressure, meaning that a smaller volume has a higher concentration of nutrients. The problem is that not all procedures are the same, and a lot of valuable substances can be destroyed in the process. Additionally, AAFCO allows all ingredients coming from mammals (with the exception of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats) to be described as “meat meal”. Now, isn’t that convenient?
- No fillers disguised as plant based protein – Corn, peas and other vegetables shouldn’t be the first ingredient of any dog food. In fact, best formulas have 80:20:0 ratio (80% meat and fish, 20% fruit, vegetable and botanical extracts and 0 additives) or 60:40:0 for specific dietary requirements. Formulas that are not by these standards were not taken into consideration.
- No artificial additives – The main culprit in allergic reactions is just this. Artificial colorings, moisturizers, food enhancers and preservatives may cause health conditions such as kidney disease, liver failure, stunted growth, hypertension, diabetes and yeast infections and may also be the main reason behind gas, bloating, bad breath and diarrhea. These should be avoided at all costs.
- No extra water to increase total mass – FDA limits the amount of moisture in dry foods to 78%. However, if the label contains words like “sauce”, “gravy”, “soup” or similar, that percentage goes up to 87.5%. That is quite fine, but since there is no specification for any of those terms, you might just be giving money for extra water added. This of course refers only to dry food products.
Hypoallergenic Formula with Turkey Meat
This brand is a default go-to when it comes to all natural, grain free formulas. We chose the Wellness Core classic as a representative, but there is also a line for puppies, seniors and small breeds. The weight control line is absolutely amazing! There are also options with lamb, white fish or game, depending on your dog’s preferences.
- Made in the USA
- All Natural
- 80:20:0 formula with real lamb meat and vegetables
- Contains antioxidants, omega fatty acids and probiotics
- Flaxseed and fish oil for the coat
- Great price to quality ratio
- Also available in retail stores
- Fast shipment
- Great customer care and money back guarantee
- The transition period might be longer than usual
- The packaging is low quality
13oz. Can (12 Pack)
Wet food for picky eaters
Zignature offers lamb, multi-protein and turkey formulas. The food is in the pate form so it’s great as a topper, too. This brand is famous among the parents of very picky dogs which is why we recommend it to owners who have a difficulty introducing new food to their dog’s menu. Zignature is great for weight control because they put an accent on low-glycemic carbs such as chickpeas. The “Limited formula” is what makes this food really stand out. Basically, it is as close to the raw diet as a commercial brand can get.
- Made in the USA
- Chicken free
- Contains essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and all needed vitamins and minerals
- No high-glycemic carbohydrates
- Available through Amazon and retail stores
- No recalls so far
- No probiotics
- No information about BPA presence in the cans can be found
Highly concentrated meat bits
The price might give you vertigo, but the quality really justifies it. All meat used for the formula comes from free-range and grass-fed cattle from the New Zealand farms. The beef is free of antibiotics and hormones, and all the nutrients are preserved in the air-drying process. This is probably a formula with the shortest list of ingredients on the market, because it is mostly meat. The lack of fillers somewhat justifies the price, because you need to feed your dog a lot less than with regular kibble.
- Great choice for traveling and backpacking because it’s highly concentrated
- Naturally preserved with mixed tocopherols.
- Chondroitin and Glucosamine from green mussels for joint health
- Great as treats
- No recalls so far
- This food needs to be stored away from sunlight, heat and humidity so make sure that your seller has decent quality control.