Many of these low-quality grains — like brewer's rice, feeding oatmeal, cereal food fines, corn germ meal and corn gluten meal — are the inexpensive by-products of highly processed foods intended for human consumption. Or put another way, the leftover husks, hulls, pulp and gunk they clean out of machines. Needless to say, there isn't much in the way of nutrition left by the time it reaches your dog but hey, the by-products are really cheap, and they make pretty good binders and fillers.
Biologically, your dog just isn't that well-equipped to deal with such high volumes of low-quality carbohydrates — neither are humans, really — and years of consumption can lead to all kinds of disorders and diseases: digestive issues, allergy issues, food sensitivities, obesity, diabetes, problems with their skin and coat, frequent ear infections, behavioral problems. It's a long, controversial list.
The recent popularity of grain-free foods is part of a larger response to consumer demand for pet foods that actually provide your dog with a complete, balanced diet more in keeping with their ancestral heritage.
Before you go grain-free, keep in mind that you'll still need to examine your pet food for other forms of fillers that have gradually crept into the pet food market. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas and tapioca are common ingredients that can really add up in the carbohydrate column.
Also, going grain-free isn't right for every pet, especially older pets or pets with limited mobility. Grain-free food is packed with nutrients and is usually recommended for active dogs that can tap that extra energy, but consult with your veterinarian before you pull a switch on your pooch.
Featuring the lean, high-quality "muscle meat" of wild kangaroo, Addiction's Outback Kangaroo Feast is designed to keep your dog running at peak performance. (Addiction, $26 for 2 pounds — makes 6 pounds)
Honest Kitchen's Preference Base Mix makes it easy to make natural, human-grade food for your dog right in your kitchen. Just add water and the meat of your choice for picky eaters or pups with specialized needs. (The Honest Kitchen, $29 for 2 pounds — makes 12 pounds)
Nature's Variety Instinct Raw Boost makes it more convenient than ever to feed your dog high-quality food by mixing high-protein kibble with freeze-dried raw pieces for a complete and balanced diet. (Nature's Variety, $20 for 4.1 pounds)
Image: Only Natural Pet
Scientifically developed to mimic the diet of wild canines, Primal's venison formula uses the highest quality ingredients — fresh venison, organic produce and organic and unrefined supplements — for a nutritionally superior way to feed your dogs a safe and convenient raw-food diet. (Primal Pet Foods, $52 for 3 pounds)
Made with turkey, duck and quail, Merrick's Backcountry Raw Infused game bird recipe dog food gives your canine the grain-free nutrition it needs and the fresh taste it loves. (Merrick, $20 for 4 pounds)
The organic ingredients and thorough testing that goes into every can of Castor & Pollux Organix ensure your pet isn't eating chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, artificial preservatives or added growth hormones or antibiotics. (Castor & Pollux, $36 for 12 [12.7-ounce] cans)
Nulo Freestyle turkey & sweet potato recipe is like Thanksgiving in a bowl for your pooch. You can even use it to top your dog's everyday dry kibble when it's been especially good. (Nulo, $31 for 12 [13-ounce] cans)
Two deliciously distinct layers of shredded meat and diced fruit make each TruFood Tasty Pairings a special treat. (Wellness Natural Pet Food, $60 for 24 [5-ounce] cans)
Like their grain-free hearty duck stew, Whole Earth Farms specializes in making affordable but high-quality natural pet food recipes that both you and your dog will love. (Whole Earth Farms, $24 for 12 [12.7-ounce] cans)
Premium meats and huge helpings of fruits and veggies, like pumpkin and carrots, prove that I and Love and You cares as much about your dog as you do. (I and Love and You, $32 for 12 [13-ounce] cans)
Loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals, PetSmart's exclusive Authority Grain Free puppy food will give your growing boy or girl a complete and balanced diet without any extra fillers. (Authority, $8 for 5 pounds)
Formulated with just a limited amount of ingredients, Fromm's grain-free lamb and lentil dry dog food is a natural way to feed a pet with food sensitivities or allergies and help maintain a healthy weight. (Fromm, $33 for 12 pounds)
Spot's Stew grain-free hearty surf n' turf recipe from Halo is made with whole egg, butcher-quality meats and farm-raised vegetables for the ultimate in pure nutrition and easy digestion. (Halo, $14 for 4 pounds)
Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets potato & duck formula is designed to maintain skin and coat health and promote easy digestion. Duck is also an excellent protein source full of amino acids that encourages strong muscle tone. (Natural Balance, $17 for 4.5 pounds)
Feed your dog as nature intended with Orijen Regional Red grain-free dry dog food that uses a wide array of world-class ingredients: free-range meats (like wild boar, lamb, pork and bison), wild-caught fish and regional fruits and vegetables that will provide complete nourishment for your four-legged friend. (Orijen, $27 for 5 pounds)
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