Dogs thrive on high-quality food. According to pet nutrition expert Dr. Gary Richter, DVM, author of the Ultimate Pet Health Guide and member of Rover’s Dog People Panel, “the single biggest thing you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is provide them with optimal nutrition.” For many dogs, that could mean a high-quality grain-free dog food. (Not sure if grain-free is right for your dog? Learn more with our deep dive into whether grain free is right for your dog.)
But sometimes it seems like the best stuff costs way too much. However, it is possible to feed your dog a healthful diet on a budget. You just have to shop smart—and we’re here to help!
Before we get to the list of brands, let’s talk about how to identify a high-quality grain-free dog food. Different dogs may have different sensitivities and preferences, but in general, dogs need an appropriate combination of protein, fat, moisture, fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
Quality dog foods will contain easily-identifiable whole food ingredients and supplements. Ingredients to look for on the label include:
- Whole proteins like chicken, beef, fish, duck, and eggs
- Grain-free, or containing healthy whole grains
- Healthy supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin
- Healthy vegetables like sweet potatoes, peas, and carrots
Avoid ingredients like unspecified “meat,” corn and other unhealthy grains and fillers, and artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives. Quality ingredients sometimes cost more, but feeding a high-quality, low- or no-grain food means you’ll be feeding your dog less overall. Plus, the health benefits of a good diet mean less time (and expense) at the vet. Over time, a quality dog diet adds up to a lot of savings! For more information on specific foods, the Dog Food Advisor is a helpful resource.
Read on to learn about some of the most affordable grain-free dog foods on the market.
Note that prices are subject to change.
1. Nutrish Zero Grain Natural Dry Dog Food / Avg. $1.69 per pound
Celebrity chef Rachael Ray’s Nutrish brand is a high-quality grocery store brand, and the grain-free formulas are especially healthy. This salmon and sweet potato formula is a great choice for dogs with protein and grain allergies.Buy Now on Amazon for $44.93
2. Taste of the Wild / Avg. $1.63 per pound
Taste of the Wild is a well-regarded, more affordable natural food choice, with six different protein sources to choose from. It’s made by Diamond Pet Foods, a family-owned company that also makes Diamond Naturals Grain-Free. Taste of the Wild receives 4.5 stars on Dog Food Advisor, which also highly recommends this kibble.Buy Now on Chewy for $52.49
3. Whole Earth Farms Grain Free Recipe / Avg. $1.59 per pound
Whole Earth promises that all of their foods have no corn, no wheat, no soy, no poultry by-products, no artificial flavors, no artificial colors, and no artificial preservatives. That checks off all the boxes for high-quality dog food, and the price is right, too.Buy Now on Amazon for $42.99
4. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula / Avg. $1.53 per pound
With chicken for protein and brown rice, barley, and oatmeal for easily-digestible carbohydrates, this Blue Buffalo blend offers four-star nutrition at a reasonable price.Buy Now on Amazon for $48.99
5. Diamond Naturals Grain-Free / Avg. $1.49 per pound
This grain-free brand boasts your choice of 3 different whole animal proteins for taste and nutrition and sweet potatoes for carbohydrate energy. Frankly, it sounds delicious!Buy Now on Amazon for $41.99
6. Iams Grain-Free Naturals / Avg. $1.45 per pound
Salmon and red lentils? Gimme some of that!Buy Now on Amazon for $59.99
7. Nutro Max Grain Free / Avg. $1.43 per pound
Three great proteins and two kibble sizes make this a well-priced option.Buy Now on Amazon for $38.99
8. Purina Beneful Grain-Free / Avg. $1.36 per pound
The 24-lb bag is only on average, $17 on Chewy with Auto-Ship, making this the best deal we’ve uncovered for grain-free dog food at the moment. If your dog tolerates chicken for protein, and many dogs do, this food is a great deal.Buy Now on Chewy for $17.99
The Best Options for Grain-Free Puppy Food
With both fresh chicken and chicken meal at the top of the ingredients list, this puppy food is full of lean protein and supplemented with grain-free carbohydrates for fiber and essential nutrients.Buy Now on Chewy for $2.40/lbs
Packed with 46% protein and 24% fat, this formula is a rich source of energy and nutrition formulated for small- and medium-breed puppies.Buy Now on Amazon for $5.39/lbs
Featuring deboned chicken as a lean source of protein, this grain-free recipe is formulated for large-breed puppies to control growth and promote musculoskeletal health.Buy Now on Amazon for $2.71/lbs
More Money-Saving Grain Free Dog Food Tips
Of course, the prices listed above are subject to change. When buying grain free dog food, shop around for the best deal, and keep your eyes peeled for coupons.
If you buy online, you can often get a discount on bulk or subscription purchases. And if you want to get really serious about saving money while feeding your dog the best possible diet, consider making your own homemade dog food with locally-sourced, whole-food ingredients. A little effort up front can mean huge savings in the long run, and more time with your beloved dog.
Before You Switch to a Grain-Free Diet
If you do decide to go grain-free, transition gradually between old food and new food. Start out with 90 percent old food / 10 percent new food and slowly alter the proportions until you’re serving only new food. This will help your dog’s digestive system adjust properly. Keep an eye on your dog’s bathroom excursions during the transition and keep an eye out for diarrhea or constipation.
As always, it’s a good idea to consult your vet before making changes to your dog’s diet, and be sure to check for the AAFCO-verified nutritional value on the label. AAFCO, or the Association of American Feed Control Officials, regulates pet foods in the United States an provides health guidelines for manufacturers and pet owners.
Update: The Latest News on Grain-Free Dog Food?
The FDA is looking into a possible link between DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy) in dogs and the ingredients in certain boutique pet foods. In a recent article of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Lisa Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, explained the issue is not just grain-free diets, but rather, “BEG” diets (boutique companies, exotic ingredients, or grain-free diets).
“The apparent link between BEG diets and DCM may be due to ingredients used to replace grains in grain-free diets, such as lentils or chickpeas, but also may be due to other common ingredients commonly found in BEG diets, such as exotic meats, vegetables, and fruits,” Freeman wrote.
More research needs to be done, and for now, it’s best to check with your vet about any concerns. Purchasing food from companies that employ veterinary nutritionists and other experts is also a good bet, which is what Dr. Freeman recommends.