Our Top 5 Picks for Low Carb Dog Food

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If you’ve been keeping up with trends in the dog food industry, you are probably already familiar with the grain-free pet food trend that seems to be all the rage. Manufacturers of grain-free pet foods suggest that a diet free from grains and limited in carbohydrates is closer to the natural evolutionary diet your dog was meant to follow. But what role do carbohydrates actually play in your dog’s diet and what are the benefits of low carb dog food? Keep reading to find out.

What Role Do Carbohydrates Play in a Dog’s Diet?

Dogs are carnivores by nature, but not strict carnivores. Cats are obligate carnivores which means that meat is a biological necessity – their bodies are optimized to digest and absorb nutrition from animal products. Dogs, on the other hand, are scavenging carnivores. This means that they are primarily meat-eaters but they can subsist on plant foods when meat is not available. If you think about it, this makes sense in terms of the domestic dog’s evolution. In the wild, wolves feed primarily on other animals but they don’t pick and choose which parts of the animal they eat – as they feed they may eat the stomach contents of their prey which, in most cases, consists largely of plant materials.

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This brings back to the question, what role do carbohydrates play in a dog’s diet? It is important to note that dogs don’t have any specific biological need for carbohydrates – protein and fat are the most important macronutrients in a balanced diet for dogs. Carbohydrates can, however, provide your dog with usable energy as well as dietary fiber and key nutrients. The thing to remember with carbohydrates, however, is that there are two different kinds – simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates require little digestive breakdown and the energy can be absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, take longer to break down which means they provide a steady stream of slow-burning energy – it also means that they have a lesser effect on your dog’s blood sugar levels. This is important because high blood sugar can contribute to weight gain in dogs and it may also lead to diabetes.

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What Are the Benefits of a Low Carb Diet for Dogs?

Though carbohydrates do serve a few important purposes in your dog’s diet, that doesn’t mean he can’t do without them. Going back to the example of wild wolves, it is possible for your dog to get all of the nutrients he needs from a balanced meat-based diet. Unfortunately, raw food diets for dogs are pretty expensive and making your own meat-based diet at home requires a good bit of research and planning. The easier and more affordable alternative is to feed your dog a commercial dog food which, in most cases, means feeding him some carbohydrates. If you really want to mimic your dog’s natural evolutionary diet, however, you should find a product that is low in carbohydrates.

Switching your dog to a low carb diet isn’t just a means of making your dog’s diet more natural – it can also provide significant health benefits in certain cases. Low carb diets are particularly beneficial for dogs that have digestive issues like inflammatory bowel disease or food allergies and sensitivities. These conditions can lead to chronic inflammation in the digestive tract which can not only cause symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting but can actually interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients. Low carb diets can also be beneficial for dogs who are overweight and obese and for dogs with diabetes or certain types of cancer. The key is to make sure that your dog is still getting all of the nutrients he needs.

Tips for Choosing a Low Carb Product

When shopping for a low carb dog food you want to use the same degree of caution you would use when shopping for any other type of pet food. First and foremost, you want to check the label for an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy that confirms the product is complete and balanced for your dog’s life stage (or for all life stages). Next, take a look at the guaranteed analysis to make sure the product exceeds your dog’s minimum requirements for protein and fat. Adult dogs need a minimum of 18% protein and 5% fat while puppies need at least 22% protein and 8% fat. Remember, protein is the most important nutrient for your dog so you want that number to be as high as possible. Fat is a concentrated form of energy for your dog so it should be higher than 5% but not so high that it leads to an excess in calories that could cause your dog to gain an unhealthy amount of weight.

After you’ve determined that the product will meet your dog’s nutritional needs you should check the list of ingredients. No matter what type of dog food you are shopping for, you want to see a high-quality source of animal protein (poultry, meat, or fish) as the first ingredient. Most commercial dog foods list at least one carbohydrate within the first five ingredients and several within the first ten. This isn’t a problem for most dogs as long as those carbohydrates come from high-quality, digestible sources and they don’t outweigh the meat-based ingredients. For dogs that don’t have food allergies or sensitivities, whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, and barley offer decent digestibility. For other dogs, however, gluten- and grain-free options like sweet potatoes, tapioca, peas, and lentils are more digestible. You’ll also want to make sure that the recipe includes high-quality, animal-based fats as well as fresh fruits and veggies plus beneficial additives.

In addition to evaluating a low carb pet food by the quality of the ingredients, you should also get a feel for the amount and type of carbohydrates used in the product. Unfortunately, pinpointing the exact carbohydrate content of a dog food is difficult because pet food manufacturers are not legally required to disclose this information. You can, however, use the information provided in the Guaranteed Analysis to make an estimate. To do so, you’ll need to remember that the crude protein and fat content plus the ash, moisture, and carbohydrate content will all add up to 100%. To calculate the estimated carb content of the product, then, you simply subtract the values you are given from 100% and whatever is left over will be the estimated carb content. Once you have that value, you can make a direct comparison of different products until you find the one that is right for your dog.

Our Top 5 Picks for Low Carb Dog Food

If you were to peruse the selection of recipes offered by most of the top pet food manufacturers, you would probably come across at least one low carb recipe. Not all pet food companies are dedicated to upholding a low carb nutritional philosophy, however. If you want to find a low carb product that adheres to your dog’s natural evolutionary diet, we recommend the following brands:

EVO Grain Free Red Meat Formula Buy It

First 5 Ingredients : Beef, Pork Meal, Salmon Meal, Tapioca Starch, Peas

EVO Grain Free Red Meat Formula

This pet food company follows the tagline, “The ancestral diet meets modern nutrition”. EVO is a pet food company that strictly offers high-protein, low-carb pet foods as a convenient alternative to raw food. This brand doesn’t offer as many product choices as some pet food manufacturers, but each of their recipes is an example of high-quality nutrition for pets. There are three dry food and two wet food formulas to choose from. Among the dry food recipes, two are available in “large bites” and “small bites” formulas and the third is specifically an adult dog recipe. EVO uses premium-quality proteins like turkey, chicken, herring, salmon, and beef in their recipes with complex, digestible carbohydrates like tapioca starch, peas, and fresh fruits and vegetables. None of their dry foods has more than 3% crude fiber and they each have a protein content of 42% with at least 18% crude fat. All of these things confirm that the EVO brand of pet food is indeed a great option for low carb dog food.

ACANA Appalachian Ranch Regional Formula Buy It

First 5 Ingredients : Deboned Beef*, Deboned Pork*, Deboned Lamb*, Lamb Meal, Beef Meal

ACANA Appalachian Ranch Regional Formula

Known for their biologically appropriate pet foods, the Acana brand offers what they call “a new class of meat-based foods to mirror your dog’s evolutionary diet”. Every one of their products is designed to mirror the high and varied inclusions of whole, fresh meats that dogs are naturally evolved to eat. There are three distinct product lines, each filled with high-protein and carb-limited recipes made with the finest ingredients available. The Heritage line features three recipes, each made with at least 60% meat and designed in keeping with WholePrey ratios. The Regionals line features formulas made with fresh, regional ingredients with at least 70% meat inclusions and limited carbohydrate content. The Singles lineup features four limited ingredient recipes made with 50% meat ingredients, each with a single source of animal protein and digestible carbohydrate. With a total of eleven dry food formulas to choose from, Acana is another great choice for low carb pet food.

Nulo Freestyle Turkey & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Adult Dry Dog Food Buy It

First 5 Ingredients : Deboned Turkey, Turkey Meal, Salmon Meal, Chickpeas, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols & Citric Acid)

Nulo Freestyle Turkey & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Adult Dry Dog Food

Though not one of the largest brands on the market, Nulo is unique from other pet food manufacturers in their commitment to offering fresh, protein-rich, and low carb recipes for dogs. This brand currently offers two product lines – Medal Series and Freestyle. Both of these product lines are grain-free and made with high-quality ingredients like real meat and fresh fruits and vegetables. Nulo makes sure that each of their recipes contains at least 80% protein from real meats like chicken, turkey, salmon, and lamb. They also state that each of their recipes in low in carbs and contain only low-glycemic ingredients like lengils, chickpeas, and sweet potatoes. They promise not to use any corn, wheat, or soy ingredients and every product is supplemented with probiotics to ensure healthy digestion.

Wysong Epigen 90 Starch-Free Formula Buy It

First 5 Ingredients : Chicken Meal, Organic Chicken, Meat Protein Isolate, Chicken Fat, Gelatin

Wysong Epigen 90 Starch-Free Formula

Established all the way back in 1979, the Wysong pet food company was one of the first pioneers in the natural and holistic pet food industry. This company takes pet nutrition very seriously and they state that each of their products is designed for state-of-the-art nutrition. This company designs their products to mimic the archetypal canine diet, using only the highest quality proteins and other healthy ingredients. Wysong offers a large selection of dry food, canned food, and even raw foods and supplements for dogs. Most of their recipes are high in protein with limited carbohydrate content – they also offer their Epigen starch-free recipe. Another point that makes this brand unique is the fact that many of their recipes are formulated for both dogs and cats.

The Honest Kitchen Force Grain-Free Dehydrated Dog Food Buy It

First 5 Ingredients : Chicken, Organic Flaxseed, Potatoes, Celery, Sweet Potatoes

The Honest Kitchen Force Grain-Free Dehydrated Dog Food

One of the few pet food companies that actually offers “human grade” pet food, The Honest Kitchen is committed to providing high-quality pet foods made with the healthiest ingredients. Not only are their products made from human-grade ingredients, but they are made in human food facilities and held to the highest standards for quality. The Honest Kitchen uses fresh meats, fish, and produce, including many certified organic ingredients. All of their products are dehydrated as well, which means that the raw ingredients retain more of their nutritional integrity. Every recipe The Honest Kitchen has to offer is rich in protein, limited in carbohydrates, and properly balanced for complete nutrition. They do offer some products made with whole grains, but there are grain-free recipes as well.

If you want to feed your dog a pet food that mimics the kind of natural, meat-rich diet he was evolved to follow, a low carb diet might be your best bet. Shopping for a low carb diet can be tricky, though your odds of finding one are better if you stick to the 4-star and 5-star brands. If you need help getting started in your search for the perfect low carb dog food, consider one of our top-rated brands reviewed above. Each of them offers multiple product choices that are high in protein and low in carbs – exactly what you are looking for.

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