Grain-Free Vs Grain-Inclusive Dry Dog Food Explained

Grain-free vs grain-inclusive dry dog food : which food truly reigns supreme? Let’s Delve into the science, ingredients, and benefits of each in this comprehensive comparison that will help you make an educated decision for your pet’s nutrition.

One common debate in the pet food industry is whether grain-free or grain-inclusive dry dog food is the better option for our dogs.

Grain-free and grain-inclusive dry dog food are two of the most popular options for pet owners. While both types of food offer their own benefits, they also have their own set of differences that can impact your dog’s health and well-being.

In this article, I’ll cover 15 key differences between grain-free and grain-inclusive dry dog food to help you make the best choice for your dog’s nutrition.

1. Ingredients

  1. Ingredients Grain-free dog food doesn’t contain any grains such as wheat, corn, or rice. Instead, it may use alternative carbohydrate sources such as sweet potatoes, peas, or lentils. On the other hand, grain-inclusive dog food uses grains as a source of carbohydrates and may include a variety of grains such as rice, barley, or oats.
Grain-Free Vs Grain-Inclusive Dry Dog Food

2. Nutritional Value

Both grain-inclusive and grain-free dog food can provide complete and balanced nutrition for your dog. The key is to ensure that the dog food you choose meets the minimum nutritional requirements set by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) for your dog’s life stage.

3. Digestibility

Grains can be harder for some dogs to digest, leading to gastrointestinal issues like bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Grain-free dog food may be easier on your dog’s digestive system if they have a grain sensitivity.

4. Protein Sources

Grain-free dog food may contain higher levels of protein from animal sources like meat, fish, or poultry, while grain-inclusive dog food may contain more plant-based proteins from grains like corn or wheat.

5. Carbohydrate Sources

Grain-inclusive dog food relies on grains as its primary carbohydrate source, while grain-free dog food typically uses alternative sources like sweet potatoes or peas.

6. Allergies and Sensitivities

If your dog has a grain allergy or sensitivity, grain-free dog food may be the better option. However, it’s essential to note that not all dogs with allergies or sensitivities to grains will necessarily benefit from a grain-free diet.

17FB5B2F D469 4780 938F 5B5A21414CAE

7. Caloric Density

Grain-free dog food tends to be more calorie-dense than grain-inclusive dog food, meaning that your dog may require smaller portions to maintain a healthy weight.

8. Cost

Grain-free dog food is typically more expensive than grain-inclusive dog food, as it often contains higher levels of protein and alternative carbohydrate sources.

It also often contains higher-quality ingredients and excludes cheaper filler ingredients like grains. If you’re on a tight budget, grain-inclusive dog food may be a better option for you and your dog.

9. Availability

Grain-free dog food is becoming more readily available in pet stores and online, but it may not be as widely available as grain-inclusive dog food in some areas.

10. Environmental Impact

The production of grain-free dog food can have a higher environmental impact than grain-inclusive dog food. This is because many grain-free dog foods use alternative sources of carbohydrates like peas, lentils, and potatoes. 

These ingredients require more resources to grow and process than traditional grains like rice and wheat. 

Additionally, the high demand for these alternative ingredients can lead to increased monoculture and pesticide use, which can have negative environmental consequences.

11. Taste and Texture

Grain-free dog food often has a different taste and texture than grain-inclusive dog food, and some dogs may prefer one over the other.

12. Dental Health

Some types of grain-inclusive dog food, particularly those with crunchy kibble, can help improve your dog’s dental health by reducing plaque and tartar buildup. 

Grain-free dog food may not have the same effect, although some brands offer dental-specific formulations.

F16284C5 691F 44A1 848E CE4AEF5B8FD0 1

13. Life Stage

Senior dogs or dogs with certain health conditions may benefit from a grain-inclusive diet as it may be easier on their digestive system.

14. Weight Management

Grain-free dog food may be a good option for dogs that need to lose weight, as it is often more calorie-dense than grain-inclusive dog food and may require smaller portions.

15. Breed and Size

Different breeds and sizes of dogs have varying nutritional requirements, and this can also affect whether grain-free or grain-inclusive food is more suitable for them. 

For example, larger breeds may require more carbohydrates and fiber in their diets, which can be found in grain-inclusive foods. 

On the other hand, some smaller breeds may have difficulty digesting grains and may benefit from a grain-free diet. 

It’s important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the specific nutritional needs of your dog based on their breed and size, and to select a food that meets those requirements.

Key Takeaways

In conclusion, the differences between grain-free and grain-inclusive dry dog food are significant. While grains provide essential nutrients for dogs, some may have allergies or sensitivities to them. 

Grain-free food can be a good alternative for these dogs, but it is important to note that it may not necessarily be healthier than grain-inclusive food. 

In fact, some studies suggest that grain-free diets may increase the risk of heart disease in dogs.

When considering cost, grain-inclusive food tends to be more affordable than grain-free options. However, it is important to prioritize your dog’s health and nutritional needs over cost when making this decision.

Overall, pet owners should consult with their veterinarian before making any changes to their dog’s diet. It is also important to carefully read labels and research brands before purchasing any type of dog food.

Do vets recommend grain-free dog food?

5331D2EE 36B1 4815 801F 4D6159134CA8 1

Concerns have been raised about the safety and nutritional value of grain-free dog food, leading some to question whether vets recommend it.

The main concern with grain-free dog food is the potential link to a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM is a serious condition that can lead to heart failure and even death in dogs.

In 2018, the FDA issued a warning about the possible link between grain-free dog food and DCM after receiving reports of dogs developing the condition while on these diets.
The exact cause of the link between grain-free dog food and DCM is not yet fully understood.

However, it is thought that certain ingredients commonly found in grain-free diets may be to blame. These include peas, lentils, chickpeas, and potatoes, which are often used as substitutes for grains like wheat and corn.

Despite these concerns, some vets still recommend grain-free dog food. They argue that every dog is different and that some may benefit from a grain-free diet if they have allergies or sensitivities to certain grains.

Additionally, some vets believe that high-quality grain-free diets can provide all the necessary nutrients for dogs without any adverse effects.

However, other vets caution against feeding dogs a strictly grain-free diet. They argue that grains can be an important source of carbohydrates and fiber for dogs and that removing them entirely from their diet could lead to nutritional deficiencies over time.

So what should pet owners do? The best course of action is to consult with a veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s diet.
A vet can help determine whether your dog has any specific dietary needs or health concerns that should be taken into account when choosing their food.

Additionally, pet owners should carefully read the labels of any dog food they are considering and look for products that have been certified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

This organization sets standards for pet food ingredients and nutritional requirements, so choosing a product that meets their guidelines can help ensure that your dog is getting a balanced diet.

In conclusion, while some vets may recommend grain-free dog food for certain dogs, concerns about the potential link to DCM mean that pet owners should exercise caution when choosing their dog’s diet.

Is grain free dog food better than grain inclusive?

Grain-free dog food has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many pet owners believing that it is healthier for their furry friends. The idea behind this trend is that dogs are carnivores and do not need carbohydrates in their diet.

However, this belief is not entirely accurate. While it’s true that dogs are primarily carnivorous animals, they still require some carbohydrates to maintain a healthy diet.

Carbohydrates provide energy and help regulate blood sugar levels. Additionally, grains such as rice and oats contain essential nutrients like fiber and vitamins that dogs need to stay healthy.

On the other hand, some pet owners argue that grains can cause allergies or digestive issues in their pets. While this may be true for some dogs, it’s important to note that only a small percentage of dogs have actual grain allergies or sensitivities.

Furthermore, many grain-free dog foods substitute grains with other ingredients like potatoes or peas. These ingredients can also cause digestive issues if overused or improperly balanced in the diet.

Ultimately, the decision between grain-free and grain-inclusive dog food comes down to individual needs and preferences. If your dog has a known allergy or sensitivity to grains, then a grain-free diet may be necessary.

However, if your dog does not have any issues with grains and enjoys them as part of their diet, then there’s no reason to switch to a grain-free option.

It’s also important to note that not all commercial dog foods are created equal – regardless of whether they’re grain-free or not.

It’s crucial to read ingredient labels carefully and choose high-quality options with balanced nutrition profiles.

In conclusion, while the debate over grain-free vs. grain-inclusive dog food will likely continue, it’s important to remember that both options can be healthy for dogs when chosen and balanced correctly.

Pet owners should consult with their veterinarian to determine the best diet for their individual pet’s needs and preferences.


1. Freeman LM et al. “Diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs: what do we know?” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2018;253(11):1390-1394. 

2. Larsen JA et al. “Evaluation of nutrient adequacy of commercial vegetarian diets for dogs.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2013;243(5):676-679.

3. National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on Dog Nutrition. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats: National Academies Press (US); 2006. 

4. Swanson KS et al. “Nutritional Sustainability of Pet Foods.” Advances in Nutrition 2013;4(2):141-150.



Here's More...

More Form Our Blog