Grain or Grain-Free: Which Food Is Best for My Dog?

Redbarn Team January 11, 2020
Grain or Grain-Free: Which Food Is Best for My Dog?

As a pet parent, you want to give the best food to your babies, so making the right choice is essential. You might already have a preference for the type of food you like to feed your dog. Still, with recent media centered around canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), it’s easy to wonder if you should feed a grain-free diet or grain-friendly formula. 

Guess what? The answer isn’t as cut and dry as it seems. 

For instance, think about all the diets out there –– keto, paleo, plant-based, vegan, pescatarian, and vegetarian. There are so many options, and not one is “the best choice” because it depends on your unique needs. Plus, other factors like age, weight, and overall health play a role as well. 

This same concept applies to your dog’s food. Just like us, you want your furry family members to eat foods designed to help them run, fetch, and cuddle with you for years to come! But dogs aren’t all the same, and different breeds, including dogs within those breeds, have diverse needs. Keeping this in mind, your dog might thrive on a grain-friendly diet, while not doing so well on a grain-free diet, and vice-versa. 

Things to consider before selecting a dog food:

  • Allergies
  • Health Conditions
  • Digestive Issues
  • Age
  • Activity Levels
  • Reproductive Status


Grain-free dog food excludes commonly used cereal grains like wheat, corn, rice, sorghum, barley, and rye. These grains are often replaced with legumes like lentils and peas or white potatoes and sweet potatoeswhich are high in fiber and other nutrients while also maintaining a low-glycemic index. Pet parents may find this diet beneficial for their dogs who have food allergies, digestive issues, and difficulties with weight management. 

But it’s also important to understand these formulas will not eliminate carbohydrates out of your dog’s diet. 

But wait, aren’t carbs bad? 

Not at all! 

Carbohydrates may not be the most important part of your dog’s diet— like protein— but they provide a great source of energy. Always be sure their food has the right amount of protein, especially in the first five ingredients, to ensure they are getting the essential nutrients first.

Should I feed my dog a grain or grain-free diet?


Grains aren’t all created equal, and they aren’t all bad. Depending on the type of grains in your dog’s food, they can provide your dog with additional nutrients and fiber.

It’s important to note that there isn’t much of a difference between whole grains and ancient grains – meaning, they’ve been around for the same amount of time. However, ancient grains have been virtually unchanged over time while whole grains are more popular.

Whole Grains

There are three main parts to grains: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Each piece functions in a unique way, and when kept intact, they are high in essential vitamins and nutrients like selenium, B vitamins, fiber, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus, which promote healthy skin and coat, heart function, digestion, and other health benefits. 

Studies show whole grains are more nutrient-dense than refined grains, which are processed to remove the bran and germ. Types of refined grains include white flour, white rice, low fiber cereals, and desserts. 

Whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, barley, rye, oats, amongst others. 

Ancient Grains 

Just like the name suggests, ancient grains have been around since the dawn of time. Virtually unchanged through processing, they are packed with essential nutrients and fiber, plus they offer an abundant source of plant-based protein. These grains commonly include chia, quinoa (which doubles as both whole grain and ancient grain!), teff, spelt, kamut, millet, and amaranth. 

If your dog is sensitive to gluten, amaranth and millet are naturally gluten-free (fun fact, amaranth is considered a grass and millet is a seed). 

Some ancient grains are also considered superfoods, like quinoa and chia seeds, because they contain a higher than average nutrient content  — did you know quinoa is a complete protein containing over nine essential amino acids? Wow. 


Extremes in any diet can cause health issues. What if you wanted to lose weight for the New Year? Your doctor wouldn’t suggest you drink only celery juice for seven days straight. Sure, you’d probably slim down pretty quickly, but you’re also putting your body at risk. 

You’d also never want to give your fur babies anything extreme because it can be harmful to their health. Aim to purchase high-quality food free from the bad stuff, regardless if it’s with grain or without.

Ingredients To Avoid

  • By-product meals 
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Corn Syrup
  • Rendered Fats 
  • Harmful Preservatives: BHA/BHT
  • Cheap Fillers 
  • MSG
  • White Flour
  • Artificial Colors
  • Xylitol or Sugar Alcohols
  • Salt
  • Vegetable Oil 

We suggest avoiding diets that lean too far in one direction or another— instead, aim for formulas promoting a complete and balanced diet, featuring a healthful amount of protein, vegetables, and oil.

As a rule of thumb, always read the back of your dog food label before purchasing. 

Dog eating food


Dogs are carnivores, and they love protein. Large amounts of protein help maintain their energy levels while also making sure their muscles are working at optimal levels. Ideally, you want to make sure their food has a quality protein source including the essential amino acids crucial to your dog’s health. 

When you are shopping for food for yourself, what’s the first thing you notice about the ingredients? 

In the hierarchy, we prioritize the first five ingredients listed because we know they are larger in quantity, decreasing as you travel down the list. If your dog’s food starts with significant amounts of protein as the first ingredients, it’s safe to assume there’s a high protein content. But again, be mindful of the type of protein source.

Also important to note: 

If the formula starts with a grain or a grain-free substitute, there might be a higher carbohydrate to protein ratio— and contrary to popular belief, vegan diets may be great for humans, but they won’t give your dog all the fuel they need. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before feeding foods that are low in meat, fish, or poultry-based protein. 

Choose Wholesome Nutrition

We know you want the best for your dog, which is why Redbarn has a line of wholesome Rolled, Dry Dog Food and Air Dried Food made with quality proteins, healthy vegetables, clean carbohydrates, and functional ingredients like salmon oil, flaxseed, and nutrient-rich antioxidants. 

Whether you choose grain-free or grain-friendly, be sure to know your dog’s unique needs and read the back of your labels to check the ingredients. Here at Redbarn, we are all about transparency, so if you have any questions about our food, please give us a call Monday- Friday 8 am - 5 pm PST at (562) 495-7315.