Grain-free Kibble Research – The Basics

Photo courtesy of Martin Vidner and Flickr Creative Commons

I decided to change Chester and Gretel’s traditional kibble to grain-free because of the many health benefits of this diet. Some of my other friends are feeding raw but grain-free kibble is the best choice for me because it is more convenient and the best choice for those on a tight schedule (like me).

I stopped by Health Mutt for a visit the other day and got talking with the owner about grain-free foods. She agreed that kibble was the best place for me to start. She said there are so many choices out there that it can be overwhelming so she gave me just three to try: Acana Grasslands, Taste of the wild and Great Life. She said I could just go with one of those or use them to get started while I did some more research.

I started mixing this kibble with their normal kibble to start the transition while I am doing my research.

My research focused on the best grain-free kibble for small, active, working dogs. I have said several times that although Chester and Gretel aren’t working dogs in the classic sense, their nutritional needs are very similar to that of agility dogs. I consider all the hiking we do just like agility….just outdoors using natural obstacles.

One of the first things I came across in my research was this great post about choosing and using a grain-free kibble. It uncovers some important myths about grain-free food.

I learned that there are many people concerned about too much protein in their dog’s diet. I know my friends that feed raw primarily feed their dogs meat (and they are very healthy) so I didn’t even consider it could be a problem. I decided to look into the issue further.

What I found was that, although this is a concern heralded by many, recent studies have revealed that the relationship of high protein levels and kidney failure that sparked the concern were not sound.  To learn more you can read the full post titled Protein and Kidney Failure from Your Dog’s Diet.

I also found a post titled High Protein-High Fiber Dog Food-What Does That Mean? very helpful in explaining about protein intake and your dog. It states that “Contrary to what many people think, high protein dog food won’t hurt your dog, whether you have a young, active dog, a brand new puppy, or an aging dog with changing nutritional needs. (Although Dogs with kidney problems should maintain a moderate protein diet, not a very high or low protein one).”

People are also concerned about the higher fat content in grain-free kibble even though it is a great source of energy. The post above also addresses the fat issue stating that “A few high protein dog foods have up to twenty percent of their calories from fat – which is a great choice for active dogs, but a bad one for sedentary pets.”  Since we are so active, a higher fat content is for us. If your dog is sedentary, I would choose a lower fat option for sure.

I have read that more fiber content is better if your dog scoots (from full anal sacs). The fiber content in all dog food varies but the amount is not really a deciding factor for me. I have heard there are ways to boost your dog’s fiber intake to get rid of the scoots. For example, adding one spoonful mashed pumpkin (not the kind for pie) to their dogs food has worked for some. I am willing to supplement if needed.

So after my basic research, this is what I determined:

  • Going grain free is an improvement over traditional kibble even if the percentage of fat, protein and carbohydrates are the same. The carbohydrates listed will come from non-grain sources which is healthier.
  • The best grain-free kibble for active small dogs like us is one with low carbohydrates and higher fat and protein than traditional kibble.
  • High protein content is not a problem if your dog is active, healthy and does not have kidney problems. Even if your dog does, a moderate protein diet is still OK.

I admit I DID start to get overwhelmed while doing my research. I looked at several of the most popular brands out there and I decided to stop there to help prevent confusion by too many choices. I will give you all the details and tell you which one we decided to go with in my next post.


    • AdventureJess says

      They are still eating half regular kibble and half grain-free. I haven’t noticed any changes in their “poopie climate” but what is in the back yard has been rained on by the time I get to it anyway (so it is hard to tell there). Gretel did get sick last night and that is only about the second time in the year we have had her. I can’t say if it is related to the food though because she has been eating this half and half diet for over a week now with no problems. I am going to keep an eye on her.

  1. says

    I was very overwhelmed at first looking for a grain-free diet for Nola too, don’t feel bad! It’s seriously confusing with so many opinions and studies out there. Taste of the Wild is a pretty good food, Nola was on it before I switched to homemade. Now the cat’s on TOTW and she’s doing great.
    Dachshund Nola’s Mommy
    P.S. Out of curiosity, what were you feeding the pups before starting the switch?
    Dachshund Nola recently posted…Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

    • AdventureJess says

      Everyone seems to rave about TOW. Currently I feed them Avoderm. They do great on it but I think they need a little extra help keeping muscle on their active little bodies and Gretel has some minl allergies.

  2. says

    Taste of the wild is my favorite for the dogs. If you look at the different flavors they offer, you will see their is a difference in the fat content. I feed these guys the high prairie one. It has a little less fat. I never noticed a poop problem.

  3. says

    Doing research on dog food is a big task to take on. I felt so overwhelmed when I switched over to raw, and sometimes I still feel like I’m not “doing it right.” But any improvements you make is better than what they were eating before. (Just like walking for even a few minutes is better than sitting on the couch! I learned that from you!)

    • AdventureJess says

      I’m flattered that you actually listened to something I said. Ha, ha. I have to let go of the need to keep researching and just go with “this is better than what I am currently doing”.

  4. says

    We feed Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream. People told us that it would not have enough fat for our working dogs, but it has been OK (although we do have to increase the amount when they are training and for hunting season to keep weight on them). We do supplement with a dollop of plain yogurt.

    Our trainer tried the TOTW High Prairie formula for his dogs and it was not enough fat to keep weight on them. So it does not work out for every active dog.

    You really may have to try all three and even then, you may have to try others. Good luck.
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    • AdventureJess says

      We are going to go with the higher fat right off so I don’t have to increase their food amount (calories) much….if any. I keep hearing rave reviews about TOW. If we need a lower fat option I will likely go with them. Good to know about the different flavors being different fat contents though.

  5. says

    I found switching foods to be completely overwhelming! Trying to compare ingredients from brand to brand and make sure none of the really awful stuff is in there could keep you busy for a week! If you do have questions, I found the customer service folks at to be really great. They research all the pet foods they sell, only sell high-quality foods, and were able to offer great advice about what would work best for Buster and Ty. Good luck!
    Amy recently posted…Pet Travel Tips for SeniorsMy Profile

    • AdventureJess says

      A week? I took a week and stopped there because I could have gone on forever. I am currently working with our local store, Health Mutt, on food info/questions but I will keep K9cuisine in mind.

  6. says

    Researching dog food and doggie nutrition is overwhelming. There is so much information out there and it can be confusing and conflicting. I’ve really enjoyed your posts on the subject as I’m still struggling to get it all straight. BTW, the 4-pack loves raw veggies for treats as well as cheese.
    Beth recently posted…Tree climbing and "treeing"My Profile

  7. says

    I was so overwhelmed when I began researching dog food!! It can get quite confusing and contradicting!
    I finally decided on the Acana Pacifica, the dogs did great on this food but I recently switched to a different protein source and a different brand. I will be going back to the Acana again shortly!

    • AdventureJess says

      What did you switch to and why? To vary the protein source a little? I have heard theories recently that it is better to switch it up once in a while.

  8. Kolchak & Jodi says

    It can be so overwhelming to make the switch. There are so many options and everyone has an opinion on what makes a great food. Kudos for doing your reserch (and GREAT link o the protein!) Kibble consultation is actually the core of my canine nutrition consultations. I never imagined I’d spend this much time talking about kibbles, even after I got my nutrition certification!

    We love the Acana brand and it’s sister-brand Orijen. They are both products we used in our kibble rotation before we switched to raw. I like the TOTW too, but there is only one flavour that we used. (The only one that didn’t have fish meal in it. TOTW uses a fish meal preserved with ethoxyquin, where the Acana is E-free, which I like!)
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    • AdventureJess says

      Thanks so much for the info! I didn’t know that about ethoxyquin (don’t even know what it is but I will look) and fish meal in TOW.

      • Kolchak & Jodi says

        LOL, yu’re nt alone! There’s so much to know! Ethoxyquin is a controversial food preservative (and coincidentally, the active ingredient in the Pesticide Stop-Scald). It’s been linked to a build up of some digestive enzymes in the liver and elevated liver enzymes. While they have not proven it’s toxic to pets (mostly due to a lack of studies. The pet food companies are NOT going to pay for that research!), they have proven that it can be toxic to fish and it is no longer allowed for use in the human food chain, except in very small quantities in some spices. Ethoxyquin is assigned a toxicity rating of 3 or “moderately toxic”, according tot he EPA. While there is no hard and fast PROOF it’s dangerous, there is more than enough circumstantial evidence to make me avoid it.
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    • AdventureJess says

      I mentioned the ethoxyquin to the lady at the pet store that is helping us on this transition. She said that TOW is ethoxyquin-free, as of about two years ago. Do you know anything about that? Is she misinformed at that it is only that one flavor you used that is free of it? Thanks for all the awesome, helpful info on this by the way :)

      • Kolchak & Jodi says

        She could be correct. I just checked the website and they have updated it to say that their products are purchased from an ethoxyquin-free supplier. I’m surprised their Sales Rep didn’t correct me at the Pet Expo here a few months back. I specifically told him that we didn’t feed the formulas with fish meal for that reason and he called my attention to the one flavour without it.

        I was basing the ethoxyquin on an e-mail exchange I had with one of their CSR’s last summer. In her e-mail she said “We do not add any ethoxyquin to our products.” This is a typical “weasel statement” since the ethoxyquin isn’t usually added by the pet food company, but rather by the fish meal supplier, so I replied back and asked her to clarify. The response I got was vague and again did not answer the question.

        Thank you for calling my attention to this! I really appreciate it!
        Kolchak & Jodi recently posted…Be My ValentineMy Profile

        • AdventureJess says

          I am surprised too. Let me know if you find out otherwise but for now I will just go with the fish meal being purchased from a ethoxyquim-free supplier. It’s amazing what ends up in processed foods isn’t it? What were the people who “made up” formulas for processed foods (pet and human) thinking? All the hidden chemicals we eat……

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