When you think of wheat you probably think of it as a healthy whole grain. While this might be true for you, it may not be true for your dog. Not only is wheat one of the most common food allergens for dogs, but there are some other issues that make it a poor choice for dog food. Keep reading to learn why wheat is an ingredient you should avoid in dog food and to learn about four of the top brands that don’t use wheat in any of their products.
Why is Wheat Bad for Dogs?
Though there are some who say that wheat is nothing more than a healthy whole grain for dogs, there are many who disagree. In fact, this is something of a polarizing issue within the pet food industry – but where does all of this animosity come from? It may have something to do with the massive pet food recall of 2007 where thousands of pets were poisoned by contaminated wheat gluten sourced from China. The wheat gluten had been contaminated with industrial chemicals that were used to increase the protein content of low-quality pet food products without adding real meat. The thing to remember here is that the wheat ingredient itself wasn’t the problem, it was the chemicals with which it had been contaminated. Either way, this incident left a sour taste in many pet owners’ mouths about wheat.
Another thing you need to know about wheat is that it is one of the most common food allergens for dogs. Grains in general are some of the more common allergy triggers, though you should remember that any ingredient has the potential to trigger an allergy for your dog, especially with frequent exposure. But what about the nutritional value of wheat and its digestibility for dogs? These are the real questions you should be asking.
Many of the top manufacturers describe their products as “biologically appropriate,” suggesting that they are formulated to mimic the natural evolutionary diet dogs were meant to follow as descendants of wild wolves. If you think about it, it only makes sense that grains and other plant products might not be the best ingredients in dog food because wolves are not biologically adapted to digest and absorb nutrition from plant products as well as animal products. What you may not know, however, is that domestic dogs have evolved over thousands and thousands of years to the point where they now have specific genetic differences from wolves that enables them to digest plant products more easily. Domestic dogs have thirty copies of the gene for amylase which is a type of enzyme produced in the pancreas that aids in the digestion of starch.
Because dogs have evolved over the years, they are better able to digest grains and other plant products than their wild counterparts. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that wheat is a good choice as an ingredient in dog food. Wheat does contain dietary fiber which can support your dog’s digestion and it also contains carbohydrate energy to fuel your dog’s metabolism. The main drawback of wheat is, of course, its potential for triggering food allergies, but even some dogs who don’t have an allergy or sensitivity to grains find wheat difficult to digest. It is up to you to decide whether to include wheat in your dog’s diet, but our recommendation is that if you choose to do so, keep it to a fairly limited amount and avoid wheat by-products and fillers that don’t offer much nutritional value.
What is a Healthy Alternative to Wheat?
Although protein is the most important nutrient in your dog’s diet, carbohydrates shouldn’t be completely overlooked. Dogs are not obligate carnivores like cats – they are scavenging carnivores – which means that most of their diet should come from animal products (meat) but they do have a limited ability to digest plant foods. Carbohydrates provide your dog with a usable source of energy as well as dietary fiber and vital nutrients – the key is to ensure, however, that any carbohydrates in your dog’s diet are highly digestible. Here is a list of digestible carbohydrates which might offer a healthier alternative to wheat for your dog:
- Barley – Though this is a gluten-containing grain, it is generally considered digestible for dogs who don’t have allergies or sensitivities to grains. Barley is rich in plant protein and dietary fiber as well as manganese, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, niacin, and vitamin B6.
- Brown Rice – A gluten-free grain, brown rice is rich in fiber as well as manganese, phosphorus, niacin, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin E. White rice can also be used but it has had a significant amount of the nutrient content stripped away.
- Legumes – Beans and legumes like chickpeas and lentils are a gluten-free and grain-free source of carbohydrate energy, plant protein, and dietary fiber – they are also rich in nutrients.
- Oats – Whole grain oats, oatmeal, and rolled oats are all excellent additions to a healthy dog food recipe. In addition to being gluten-free and grain-free, oats are rich in dietary fiber as well as beta-glucans, and B vitamins.
- Peas – One of the most common grain-free carbohydrates used in quality pet foods, green peas are rich in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, and vitamin K. One thing to remember is that they are also high in protein so make sure they aren’t being used to replace an animal source of protein.
- Potatoes – White potatoes are considered highly digestible for most dogs because they are full of starch. Potatoes are rich in dietary fiber and they also contain vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese.
- Sweet Potatoes – A complex carbohydrate, sweet potatoes offer more slow-burning energy than white potatoes, though they are still rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
- Tapioca – This is a type of starch derived from the root of the cassava plant and it is a highly digestible carbohydrate for most dogs. Tapioca is gluten-free and grain-free, plus it is rich in iron, calcium, copper, selenium, and vitamin B6.
These are just a few of the many carbohydrates used as an alternative to wheat and other grains in dog food. If you do some research of your own, you might find a few more.
The Top 4 Brands of Wheat-Free Food
While some dog owners believe that wheat is a perfectly healthy ingredient for dogs, many do not. If you find yourself in this second school of thought, you might be on the lookout for a wheat-free brand of dog food. To help you get started in your search for a wheat-free dog food, here are some reviews for our top 4 choices of wheat-free dog food:
Acana – The Acana pet food brand is known for their “biologically appropriate” diets which feature WholePrey ratios of fresh meat, organs, and cartilage to deliver complete and natural nutrition to negate the need for a long list of synthetic supplements. Acana makes sure that each of their recipes is densely packed with protein, energy, and nutrients to ensure that your dog’s nutritional needs aren’t just met, but exceeded. This brand understands the importance of a quality diet for dogs which is why they hold themselves to the highest standards for quality and safety. Their recipes are made with premium proteins, digestible carbohydrates, and healthy fats with no wheat or other grains. This brand produces and manufactures all of their own products in company-owned DogStar kitchens located in Kentucky – they also make an effort to source as many of their ingredients locally or regionally as they can.
When it comes to their products, Acana has a fairly limited selection compared to many pet food brands, but you can count on each of them to offer uncompromising quality and nutrition. Acana’s recpies are divided into three product lines: Heritage, Regionals, and Singles. The Heritage line of products features three recipes made with 60% meat inclusions including things like free-run poultry, nest-laid eggs, freshwater fish, and heritage meats. The Regionals line of products includes five recipes that are made with 70% meat and ½ fresh or raw ingredients. As is also true for the Heritage line, all of the formulas in this lineup are carbohydrate-limited. The Singles product line features four limited ingredient diets made with a select number of main ingredients and plenty of premium animal protein. Acana also offers a line of Singles dog treats made with up to 95% meat from a single protein source.
Evolve Pet Food- Self-described as a super premium pet food company, Evolve has more than 50 years of experience in the pet food industry. This company understands the importance of quality nutrition to support the total-body health and wellness of pets which is why they use only the freshest ingredients that nature has to offer. Not only do they offer high-quality formulas, but they manufacture all of their products in company-owned facilities and they make an effort to offer them at affordable prices. When it comes to their ingredients, Evolve doesn’t cut corners – all of their recipes are “scientifically blended & balanced” for optimal nutrition. This brand offers an assortment of dry and wet foods as well as a lineup of dog treats, none of which include any corn, wheat, or soy ingredients.
In regard to their products, Evolve offers a selection of original, grain-free, and limited ingredient dry foods. Their original recipes are made with common proteins like chicken and beef with rice as the primary carbohydrate. Evolve’s grain-free dry foods are made with novel proteins like turkey, salmon, and duck as well as grain-free carbohydrates like sweet potato, peas, and garbanzo beans. There is currently just one limited ingredient diet and it is made with lamb meal, brown rice, and peas. There are seven recipes for wet food, all of which come in 13-ounce cans. Each recipe features a premium protein like chicken, lamb, turkey, or venison and is cooked in a flavorful broth. In addition to their dry and wet food offerings, Evolve has four different recipes for dog treats, each of which is rich in protein and natural meat flavor.
Primal Pet Foods – If you’re looking for a top-quality brand of wheat free pet food, it is hard to do better than Primal Pet Foods. This brand was founded in 2001 and for the past decade and a half has been dedicated to elevating the health of pets through the power of quality nutrition. This brand is unique in that they offer only raw pet food products, though they do come in different forms such as fresh, frozen, and freeze-dried. Primal Pet Foods is based in San Francisco, CA, and they own and operate their own manufacturing facilities so they can control the quality and integrity of their products. This brand understands the importance of quality nutrition in preserving the longevity and vitality of pets which is why all of their recipes are made to feature fresh, human-grade meats as well as certified organic produce. All of their meats, poultry, and game are sourced from US-based ranchers and produced through natural and sustainable means. Their products are made with only the best ingredients and designed to ensure a balance of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals for complete nutrition.
When it comes to their dog food products, Primal Pet Foods offers a pretty extensive variety. Their raw frozen formulas are made with 100% human-grade ingredients including animal proteins that are both antibiotic- and steroid-free. If you are looking for a product that offers the nutritional benefits of raw food but the convenience of dry, try Primal Pet Foods’ freeze-dried formulas which come in bite-sized pieces of protein-rich, freeze-dried food. This brand also offers their raw pronto formulas which are quick to portion and quick to thaw, making it easy to feed your dog a raw food diet. They also offer a variety of raw frozen mixes and raw frozen grinds as well as raw meaty bones. All of Primal Pet Foods’ products are supplemented with ground bone for calcium as well as essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and naturally-occurring enzymes. Their recipes are designed for quality and nutrition, pure and simple.
Bravo Pet Foods – Bravo Pet Foods is a family-owned business that has been producing high-quality and meat-rich pet foods since 2002. This brand is based in Manchester, Connecticut and it got its start as a provider of quality meats to fine dining establishments. Today, Bravo Pet Foods is a company committed to producing premium pet foods which is why they use only antibiotic-free poultry, responsibly harvested fish, and select cuts of meat. With more than 125 different products to choose from, Bravo offers an excellent selection but what really matters is the kind of products they offer – frozen and freeze-dried raw products as well as canned food and treats. This brand believes that a raw, natural diet is what dogs are biologically adapted to eat and that it is also what they crave. Their products also provide a variety of health benefits including firmer stools, higher energy levels, improved weight control, cleaner teeth, fresher breath, and a healthier and shinier coat.
The Bravo Pet Foods company understands that all dogs are different which is why they offer a variety of formulas instead of following a “one size fits all” approach. For their raw frozen formulas, there are four options – Boneless, Basics, Blends, and Balance, all of which are protein-rich and nutritionally balanced. If you prefer the convenience of dry food, Bravo offers a selection of freeze-dried raw recipes in three flavors which can be rehydrated with warm water and ready for feeding in just 15 minutes. For their canned food products, Bravo offers a selection of flavorful and nourishing canned dinners that are completely grain-free and made without any artificial additives. You’ll also be glad to know that this company offers an assortment of all-natural dog treats as well as dental treats, bones, bully sticks, and more. You can count on the fact that every recipe is held to the highest standards for safety and quality – plus, your dog will love the natural meat flavor!
As a pet owner, it is your choice what you decide to feed your dog but it is your job to make a smart decision. The more you know about your dog’s nutritional needs the better equipped you will be to evaluate the quality of a product and to decide whether or not it is right for your dog. If you think that a wheat-free dog food is the right choice, start your search with one of our top-rated brands reviewed above.