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If you compare the ingredients in a grocery store brand of dog food to a premium recipe, you’ll notice a stark difference. Cheap dog food tends to make heavy use of grains, often listing them before the primary source of protein. Grains aren’t necessarily bad for dogs, but some are better than others and they should never outweigh the animal ingredients in a dog food recipe.
Quality nutrition is the best way to support your dog’s long-term health and wellness. You don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune on dog food every month, but you should at least consider switching to a dog food without low-quality grains and fillers such as corn, wheat, and soy ingredients.
Here’s what you need to know about your dog’s nutritional needs and why corn isn’t the best ingredient to support them.
The Trouble With Corn in Dog Food
In general, while dogs can eat corn (it’s not toxic to them), and corn is not the absolute worst ingredient for your dog, its inclusion implies the manufacturer is more concerned about cost than quality. Corn is a carbohydrate that can provide a natural source of essential nutrients as well as dietary fiber, but it’s cheap and easy to source, and in inexpensive dog foods, such grains are “used as a cheap (and incomplete) source of protein, not because of their carbohydrate content,” says Sabine Contreras of the website, The Dog Food Project, a resource that helps pet parents understand more about the ingredients in pet food.
Even though dogs are omnivores and do not require a 100% meat-based diet, “the protein source in dog food should be 100% meat-based,” says Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian on The Dog People Panel.
To make sure the protein source of your dog’s food is meat-based, and to avoid feeding your dog potentially incomplete plant-based sources of protein, a whole source of animal protein (deboned chicken, or salmon, for example) should be listed as the first ingredient in your dog’s food.
Dog Food Advisor, a dog food review website and up-to-the-minute recall tracker, offers these additional reasons why corn in your dog’s food is not the best ingredient to support a balanced diet:
- As a whole plant food, corn is difficult for dogs to digest.
- Because corn is generally refined into a flour or meal in pet kibble, this increases its “glycemic index,” raising your dog’s blood sugar more than other grains.
- Corn has low biological (usable or “bioavailable”) value compared to animal proteins like eggs and meat.
Corn is a carbohydrate—it doesn’t provide a significant amount of protein or fat.
At this point, you may wonder why corn is such a common ingredient in dog food if it doesn’t provide much nutritional value. Good question!
The truth is carbohydrates are cheap. Inexpensive, processed carbohydrates like corn add bulk and calories to dog food without significantly increasing the cost for manufacturers.
Meeting Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs
The easiest way to determine nutritional adequacy in dog food is to look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement. “What this tells you is that your pet’s basic requirements are met,” explains Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, a veterinarian on Rover’s The Dog People Panel. These are “the minimum percentages of protein and fat and the maximum percentages of certain parameters, like fiber or water…and also an indication that it is complete and balanced for a certain life stage.”
Additionally, the most nutritionally sound and trusted pet foods will be backed by companies that conducted feeding trials, have a board certified veterinary nutritionist on staff, have the ability to conduct contract tracing if a product is recalled, and offer formulas with over 80% digestibility, Dr. Rebecca says.
The Best Dog Food Without Corn
Your dog deserves the highest quality diet you can afford. The good news is that dog food without corn doesn’t have to be expensive. We’ve done our best to assemble a list of recommendations at different price points to help you choose.
Orijen Original Recipe Dry Food
Made with 85% animal ingredients, this dry food formula nourishes your dog with premium-quality nutrition. This recipe features a protein-rich blend of free-run chicken and turkey, wild-caught fish, and cage-free eggs with no corn or other grains.Shop on Chewy.com
American Journey Grain-Free Lamb & Sweet Potato Recipe
Featuring fresh, deboned lamb as the primary ingredient, this grain-free adult dog food formula is rich in protein. Chicken meal, turkey meal, and menhaden fish meal provide supplementary sources of animal protein as well. You’ll also find nutrient-rich fruits and veggies on the list with no fillers or by-products.Shop on Chewy.com
Nulo Grain-Free Adult All-Natural Dry Food
This all-natural dry food formula lamb, turkey meal, and salmon meal as the top three ingredients with lamb meal as a supplemental source of animal protein. It is entirely grain-free in addition to being free from low-quality fillers like corn, wheat, and soy.Shop on Chewy.com
Wellness 95% Chicken Recipe Canned Food
Canned dog food tends to be higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than the average dry food and this Wellness 95% chicken recipe is no exception. In addition to being packed with premium animal protein from real chicken, it is free from corn and other low-quality grains.Shop on Chewy.com
Spot & Tango Beef & Millet Fresh Dog Food
Packed with fresh beef, millet, and nutrient-rich fruits and veggie, this fresh dog food formula is completely free from fillers like corn, wheat, and soy. In fact, it contains absolutely nothing artificial at all – just wholesome, high-quality nutrition for your dog.Shop on Spot and Tango
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Adult Recipe Dry Food
This chicken and brown rice recipe is packed with protein and supplemented with digestible whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal. It also contains Blue Buffalo’s LifeSource Bits which provide a rich blend of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.Shop on Chewy.com
Whole Earth Farms Red Meat Recipe Wet Food
Formulated for affordability and quality, this red neat recipe canned food is packed with protein and free from corn and other fillers. It is complete and balanced for dogs in all life stages from all breeds. It’s a healthy, affordable option in dog food without corn.Shop on Chewy.com
Canidae Pure Real Salmon & Sweet Potato Recipe
If your dog suffers from food allergies, a limited ingredient diet like this Canidae Pure dry food recipe is a great choice. It features just 8 main ingredients including fresh salmon, salmon meal, and menhaden fish meal with absolutely no grains including corn.Shop on Chewy.com
Ollie Chicken Recipe Fresh Dog Food
Gently cooked, flash-frozen, and shipped right to your door, Ollie’s fresh dog food is packed with protein and essential nutrients. This chicken recipe features fresh chicken and chicken liver, supplemented with nutrient-rich fruits and veggies like carrots, peas, and spinach.Shop on Ollie
Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Food
This grain-free dry food is made with an assortment of premium roasted meats for unbeatable flavor. It features real roasted bison and venison with supplemental protein from lamb meal, chicken meal, and beef. It also contains fresh fruits and veggies as natural sources for key nutrients.Shop on Chewy.com
Wag Turkey & Sweet Potato Recipe Canned Food
If you’re looking for an affordable option in dog food without corn, this Wag recipe is perfect. It features real animal protein from turkey with no added corn, wheat, or soy. They make it with real chunks of meat and sweet potato in a flavorful gravy.Shop on Amazon
Purina Beyond Grain-Free Adult Dry Food
Another affordable option in grain-free dog food, this dry food recipe features fresh chicken as the #1 ingredient. This recipe is supplemented with additional protein from chicken meal and egg with added vitamins and minerals to ensure nutritional balance.Shop on Chewy.com
Nom Nom Chicken Cuisine Fresh Dog Food
All of Nom Nom’s fresh dog food recipes are formulated with plenty of high-quality animal protein, gently cooked, and pre-portioned according to your dog’s calorie requirements. This chicken recipe is completely free from corn, wheat, and soy as well as artificial additives and by-products.Shop on Nom Nom
Instinct Raw Boost Chicken Recipe Dry Food
For protein-packed nutrition, this Instinct Raw Boost Recipe is the one to choose. Made with high-protein kibble infused with freeze-dried pieces of raw chicken, this grain-free formula doesn’t contain any corn and it is completely free from by-products and artificial additives.Shop on Chewy.com
Weruva Grain-Free Natural Canned Dog Food
This Weruva chicken recipe dog food is minimally processed and packed with real animal protein. It features cage-free boneless, skinless white breast meat chicken for lean protein and is completely free from corn, wheat, soy and other grains.Shop on Chewy.com
Jinx Chicken, Sweet Potato and Egg Dry Food
This grain-free dry food formula contains organic chicken, dried sweet potatoes, and chicken meal as the top three ingredients. You’ll also find numerous sources of healthy fat and essential nutrients along with plenty of natural chicken flavor.Shop on Jinx
More Tips on Dog Food Without Corn
Shopping for dog food without corn is pretty simple. Many high-quality brands make a point of stating on the label that the product is free from corn, though you can also just take a quick look at the ingredients list on the back of the bag. You’re most likely to see corn products within the first 10 to 12 ingredients since it’s commonly used as a filler by inexpensive pet food brands.
Before switching to a dog food without corn, it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian. When you’re ready to make the switch, make sure you have enough of your dog’s old food on hand to transition him onto the new diet over the course of 5 to 7 days. Changing your dog’s diet too suddenly can cause digestive upset—no one wants that!
If you’re concerned about food allergies, check out our guide to hypoallergenic dog food which explores limited ingredient diets for dogs.