best grain free puppy food (1)

When you bring home a new puppy, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. You’ve taken the time to puppy proof the house and you’ve stocked up on toys, but there’s one thing you shouldn’t forget – your puppy’s food.


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All puppy food is not created equal, and the quality of your puppy’s diet has a direct impact on his growth and development. If you’re new to dog ownership, you may not know what to look for in a good puppy food. Fortunately, we’re here to help!

Most Affordable

American Journey Puppy Food

  • High in protein (30%)
  • Buy 1 Get 1 Free

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Best Overall

Taste of the Wild Puppy Food

  • Rich in omega fatty acids
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Affordable

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Best LID Puppy Food

Canidae Pure Puppy Food

  • Limited number of ingredients
  • Real chicken first ingredient

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In this article, we’ll cover the subject of puppy nutrition to help you understand your puppy’s nutritional requirements. We’ll also talk about grain-free diets for puppies and what to look for in a grain-free puppy food. You’ll also see our top picks for the best grain-free puppy food.

What Do You Need to Know About Puppy Nutrition?

Quality nutrition is important for all dogs, but it is particularly important for puppies because they are growing and developing. You may not realize it, but puppy food is actually very different from adult dog food – feeding your puppy adult dog food may cause nutritional deficiencies and other health problems.

So, what is the healthiest dry dog food for puppies? Keep reading to find out.

Protein is the most important nutrient for any dog, and, in puppies, it supports the growth and development of healthy muscles as well as lean mass. Your puppy needs a minimum of 22% protein in his diet to fuel that growth, but more is generally better. Protein should come from animal sources rather than plants because animal protein is more digestible for dogs and it is a complete source of protein, meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids your puppy needs.

After protein, fat is the next most important nutrient.

Fat provides a concentrated source of energy for your puppy to support his growth. While protein and carbohydrates only contain 4 calories per gram, fat contains 9. It should also come from animal sources (like chicken fat and salmon oil) to ensure digestibility. Your puppy needs a minimum of 8% fat to fuel his growth and he needs a blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.

On top of protein and fat, your puppy needs essential vitamins and minerals in his diet, as well as fiber and water. Most puppy foods are complete and nutritionally balanced according to AAFCO nutrient profiles, so you generally don’t have to worry. In a later section, we’ll cover the specific things to look for in puppy food to ensure that your puppy’s needs are met.

Is a Grain-Free Diet Safe for Puppies?

There is always a debate regarding the carbohydrate content of pet foods, more so for cats than for dogs. Within the past year, however, a new concern has come to the surface – the potential dangers of a grain-free diet for dogs.

The FDA released a report in July 2018 stating that they had begun investigating reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain grain-free dog foods. The dog foods being studied contained high levels of grain-free carbohydrates like lentils, peas, and legumes as well as potatoes in various forms within the first 10 ingredients. It is important to note that many of these cases included dog breeds not previously known to have a genetic predisposition to DCM.

More research is required to determine whether the link between DCM and grain-free dog foods is supported by evidence, but it is something to keep in mind in the meantime.

Until the FDA makes an official announcement, the thing you need to keep in mind right now is that a grain-free diet is not inherently healthier for dogs than a grain-inclusive diet. Both can be high in carbohydrates, especially dry food. The primary reason you might consider a grain-free diet for your puppy is if he is allergic or sensitive to grains.

If your puppy exhibits frequent digestive issues like flatulence, loose stools, or diarrhea as well as recurrent skin issues like itching, scratching, and chronic ear infections, it could be a sign of a food allergy or sensitivity. The best course of action, then, is to switch to a limited ingredient dog food formulated for puppies that is made with a novel source of protein and carbohydrate.

After 8 to 12 weeks, if all signs of the allergy disappear, you know that was the problem and you can keep feeding the limited ingredient diet or reintroduce grains and other allergens one at a time until you find the problem.

What to Look for in Grain-Free Puppy Food

Before switching your puppy to a grain-free puppy food, you should consult your veterinarian to make sure it is a safe and healthy choice. Carbohydrates like grains should never be the focus of your puppy’s diet – it is more important to choose a recipe that is rich in protein and healthy fats to support your puppy’s growth and development. Carbohydrates are simply used as a supplemental source of energy, fiber, and essential nutrients.

If you choose to feed your puppy grain-free food either because he has an allergy or because you’re trying to avoid one, there are still other things to look for.

Here are some general things to look for in the best puppy food for a grain-free diet:

  • High-quality, natural ingredients. The more natural your puppy’s food, the more easily his body will be able to digest it and absorb nutrients. Avoid fillers, by-products, and artificial additives.
  • Premium animal protein. Protein is the building block for healthy growth and strong muscles in puppies, so look for a quality source of animal protein as the first ingredient.
  • Rich in healthy fats. Fat provides a concentrated source of energy to fuel your puppy’s growth and it provides support for healthy skin and coat as well. Look for animal-based fats to provide a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Essential vitamins and minerals. Your puppy needs specific amounts of certain vitamins and minerals as well, so make sure the recipe is complete and balanced for growing puppies.
  • Beneficial supplements. On top of the essential vitamins and minerals, other supplements can benefit your puppy. Prebiotic fiber and probiotics support healthy digestion and glucosamine and chondroitin support joint health.
  • No artificial additives. In addition to checking that your puppy’s food contains certain ingredients, you also want to make sure that it does NOT contain certain things. Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives have no nutritional benefit and shouldn’t be in your puppy’s food.

Now that you have a better understanding of your puppy’s nutritional requirements and what to look for in grain-free food, you’re ready to start shopping! If you’re still not quite sure where to start, keep reading to see our top 10 picks for the best puppy food for a grain-free diet.

best grain free puppy food

The 10 Best Grain-Free Puppy Foods

All puppies have the same basic nutritional requirements, but there are slight differences for small-breed and large-breed puppies. Small-breed puppies have very fast metabolisms and may need an extra meal to support it. Large-breed puppies, on the other hand, are at risk for growing too fast which could put extra strain on their developing bones and joints.

The best dog food for puppies is one formulated for your puppy’s breed size. Make sure it is AAFCO approved to meet the nutritional requirements of growing puppies and that it adheres to the specifications reviewed in the previous section.

Here’s our top pick for the best grain-free puppy food:

NomNomNow Dog Food Delivery

Overall Best Grain-Free Puppy Food: No matter what age your dog is, fresh food offers the highest quality nutrition available in commercial dog food diets. Fresh food is similar to your dog’s natural evolutionary diet and offers excellent digestibility. NomNomNow is a dog food delivery service that enables you to customize your dog’s food to his nutritional needs. It is fresh food made from healthy, high-quality ingredients including premium proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and essential nutrients. Choose from three grain-free recipes featuring beef, chicken, and pork with fresh fruits and vegetables that provide natural sources for key nutrients. These recipes feature a limited number of main ingredients as well as NomNomNow’s nutrient mix and fish oil to support your puppy’s healthy skin and coat.

  • Pros: Fresh food delivered to your door, customizable for puppy’s nutritional needs, premium animal proteins, high-quality nutrition, rich in omega fatty acids, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Cons: Expensive compared to most dry puppy food

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula

Most Popular Grain-Free Puppy Food: If you’re not sure what to buy for your puppy, you can’t go wrong with a popular choice like this Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula. It features a nutritious blend of high-quality animal proteins including real buffalo, bison, venison, and beef. It is naturally grain-free, with digestible carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, peas, and potatoes. This recipe contains a rich blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat with plenty of fiber that works with the probiotic supplements to ensure healthy and regular digestion. This formula contains fresh fruits and veggies as well which act as natural sources for key nutrients to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.

  • Pros: Variety of premium animal proteins, rich in omega fatty acids, fresh fruits and vegetables, probiotics for digestion, chelated minerals, rich in fiber, nutritionally balanced
  • Cons: Contains some plant protein (pea protein)

American Journey Lamb & Sweet Potato Grain-Free Puppy Food

Most Affordable Grain-Free Puppy Food: If you’re on a budget, you don’t necessarily need to sacrifice your puppy’s nutrition. American Journey Lamb & Sweet Potato Grain-Free Puppy Food is a great option that is also very affordable. This recipe is loaded with nutritious ingredients including deboned lamb, sweet potatoes, and chickpeas. It is packed with animal protein to provide the amino acids your puppy needs to build strong muscles with plenty of omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. It is supplemented with chelated minerals to ensure optimal nutrient absorption and contains dried fermentation products for probiotic support. This formula is also made with fresh fruits and vegetables to provide natural sources for key nutrients, but also contains vitamin and mineral supplements as needed to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.

  • Pros: Real deboned lamb first ingredient, high in protein (30%), digestible grain-free carbohydrates, rich in omega fatty acids, fresh fruits and vegetables, chelated minerals, probiotics
  • Cons: Contains some plant protein (pea protein), not a single-source protein recipe

Canidae PURE Grain-Free Puppy Real Chicken, Lentil & Whole Egg Recipe

Best Grain-Free Puppy Food for Sensitive Stomach: If your puppy suffers from food allergies or sensitive stomach, limited ingredient dog food may be the best option. Not all limited ingredient diets are grain-free, but many are. You still need to make sure the one you choose features a premium source of novel protein and a digestible carbohydrate. Our top pick is this Canidae PURE Grain-Free Puppy Real Chicken, Lentil & Whole Egg Recipe. This formula is made with just 9 simple ingredients, featuring fresh chicken as the first ingredient and a premium source of animal protein. This recipe is naturally grain-free, relying on digestible carbohydrates like lentils and potatoes. It is supplemented to ensure complete and balanced nutrition, providing a total of 30% protein, 12% fat, and 4% fiber at about 520 calories per cup.

  • Pros: Limited number of ingredients, real chicken first ingredient, grain-free carbohydrates, complete and nutritionally balanced, probiotics, chelated minerals
  • Cons: Not a single-source protein recipe, expensive to feed as a staple diet

6 More Top-Rated Grain-Free Puppy Foods

If the four grain-free recipes reviewed above don’t seem like the perfect fit for your puppy, don’t worry – there are plenty of other options available! Keep reading to see six more top-rated picks for the best grain-free puppy food.

Blue Buffalo Freedom Small-Breed Puppy Chicken Recipe

All puppies grow quickly, but small-breed puppies reach their adult size even faster than other puppies. It is important, then, to provide your puppy with a high-protein, high-energy diet to support his growth and development. This Blue Buffalo Freedom Small-Breed Puppy Chicken Recipe is a great choice because it is uniquely formulated to meet the nutritional needs of your small-breed puppy but is made with wholesome natural ingredients. This recipe features deboned chicken as the main ingredient with digestible grain-free carbohydrates like peas and tapioca. You’ll also find fresh fruits and vegetables to deliver natural sources for key nutrients with a blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. It’s also supplemented with fiber and probiotics for healthy digestion.

  • Pros: Formulated for small-breed puppies, rich in protein (30%), digestible carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of omega fatty acids, probiotics, chelated minerals
  • Cons: Contains some plant protein (pea protein)

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Large-Breed Puppy Chicken Recipe

Large-breed puppies have an increased risk for joint problems, so it is important to keep them from growing too quickly. This Blue Buffalo Wilderness Large-Breed Puppy Chicken Recipe is uniquely formulated to provide for the protein and energy needs of your large-breed puppy without going overboard. It is naturally grain-free and features fresh chicken as the main ingredient. This recipe is loaded with omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat, plus it contains supplemental sources of fiber as well as probiotics for healthy digestion. It contains fresh fruits and vegetables, plus essential vitamins and chelated minerals to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.

  • Pros: High-protein recipe (35%), formulated for large-breeds, calcium and phosphorus for strong bones, controlled fat and calorie content, fresh fruits and vegetables, rich in omega fatty acids, probiotics
  • Cons: Contains some plant protein (pea protein), may be too high in fiber for some dogs

Merrick Grain-Free Puppy Real Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe

Formulated neither for large or small breeds, this Merrick Grain-Free Puppy Real Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe is a great choice for medium-sized puppies. It features real chicken as the first ingredient with chicken meal as a supplemental, concentrated source of protein. This puppy food is naturally grain-free, relying on digestible carbohydrates like potatoes, peas, and sweet potatoes for carbohydrate energy. It also contains fresh fruits and vegetables which are rich in antioxidants as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Plus, it contains chelated minerals for nutritional balance. All in all, this is a protein-rich recipe that will more than provide for your puppy’s nutritional needs.

  • Pros: Real chicken first ingredient, digestible grain-free carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of omega fatty acids, chelated minerals, probiotics for healthy digestion
  • Cons: Contains some plant protein (potato protein), not size-specific

Earthborn Holistic Puppy Vantage Grain-Free Dry Food

The best dog food is one made with healthy, high-quality ingredients. This Earthborn Holistic Puppy Vantage Grain-Free Dry Food is uniquely formulated for puppies and it is a holistic, natural recipe as well. This formula features premium sources of animal protein like chicken meal and whitefish meal, as well as plenty of healthy fats. It provides a balance of omega-3s and omega-6s for healthy skin and coat with fresh fruits and vegetables to provide natural sources for key nutrients. This recipe contains 28% protein and 18% fat, plenty to support your puppy’s healthy growth and development.

  • Pros: Holistic natural recipe, real chicken as first ingredient, fresh fruits and vegetables, rich in omega fatty acids, high in protein and fat, probiotics for healthy digestion
  • Cons: May be too high in fat for large-breed puppies

Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free Organic Puppy Recipe Dry Food

Your puppy deserves the highest quality diet you can give him, and nothing is better than organic. This Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free Organic Puppy Recipe Dry Food features real organic ingredients including free-range chicken as well as sweet potatoes, peas, and chickpeas. This recipe features a unique blend of superfoods to deliver a powerful pack of nutrition as well as fiber to support your puppy’s healthy and regular digestion. This recipe is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat, plus it is supplemented with essential vitamins and minerals to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. Overall, it provides 25% protein with 14% fat and 5% fiber at 362 calories per cup.

  • Pros: Features organic ingredients, real chicken first ingredient, fresh fruits and vegetables, superfoods, chelated minerals, blend of omega fatty acids, probiotic supplements
  • Cons: Contains some plant protein (pea protein), fairly expensive to feed as a staple diet

Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Grain-Free Puppy Recipe

Raw pet food is the closest thing you can get to your puppy’s natural evolutionary diet. Unfortunately, it is very expensive, and it isn’t as convenient to store as dry food. If you want your puppy to have the nutritional benefits of raw food while you maintain that convenience, consider this Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Grain-Free Puppy Recipe. This formula features high-protein kibble infused with freeze-dried raw bites. It is made with deboned chicken as the first ingredient, supplemented with chicken meal to deliver a powerful punch of premium animal protein. This formula contains fresh fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and essential nutrients, plus it provides a blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.

  • Pros: High-protein kibble and freeze-dried raw bites, fresh fruits and vegetables, antioxidant-rich, plenty of omega fatty acids, chelated minerals, probiotics, high in protein (30%)
  • Cons: Expensive compared to typical kibble, contains some plant protein (potato protein)

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is grain free good for puppies? – A grain-free diet is a good choice for puppies that are allergic or sensitive to grains. The thing to remember is that protein and fat are more important nutrients than carbohydrates, so these are the ingredients you should be focusing on when choosing a puppy food. As long as the recipe provides for puppy’s protein and fat requirements, you can choose either a grain-free or grain-inclusive food.
  • What are the benefits of a grain free diet for dogs? – Grain-free dog food is not nutritionally superior to grain-inclusive dog food, it’s just different. The benefit of grain-free dog food is that it won’t trigger allergies in dogs that are allergic or sensitive to grains. Some grain-free dog foods are also highly digestible when they rely on fresh fruits and vegetables as the primary carbohydrates. Just avoid diets that are too high in legumes and potatoes because these have the potential to cause issues of their own in high quantities.
  • How much should I feed my puppy? – The amount you feed your puppy depends on several factors. Your puppy will be growing quickly during the first few months, so it makes sense to simply make food available for your puppy to eat as needed. Between 4 months and 12 months of age, however, it is best to feed your puppy the same food and the same amount of food. That amount can be determined by his body weight and age – use the feeding recommendations on the puppy food package for guidance. Remember, you need to control the growth of large-breed puppies, so make sure you choose a breed size-specific recipe to start with.
  • How many times a day should I feed my puppy? – During the first three months or so, your puppy needs plenty of food to provide a steady stream of energy to fuel his growth and development. Many puppies do well with free feeding while others need scheduled meals, about 3 to 4 meals a day. Between the ages of 4 and 6 months, you should start feeding your puppy three meals a day. After that, you can go down to two meals a day. Always keep an eye on your puppy’s body weight and condition to make sure he’s growing properly but not getting fat.
  • How long should puppies eat puppy food? – There is no exact answer to this question because it depends on the situation. Generally speaking, you should feed your puppy the same food from month 4 to month 12 to encourage steady growth. Some puppies reach their adult size before 12 months, however, but you may still want to feed puppy food until the 1-year mark. Another idea is to switch your puppy to adult food when he reaches about 80% of his expected adult size. This is when his growth rate will slow down, so it is a good time to switch.

Your puppy is going to grow up fast, so it is important that you provide him with a healthy, high-quality diet. A balanced diet is essential to make sure your puppy has the energy he needs to sustain his growth with optimal protein levels to support muscle development. If your puppy suffers from food allergies or sensitivities, grain-free puppy food might be your best bet.

After reading this article, you should have a more thorough understanding of grain-free diets as well as your puppy’s individual needs. If you’re still not sure where to start looking for puppy food, try one of our top 10 picks for the best grain-free puppy food that we have reviewed above.

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