The Truth About Grain-Free Diets for Dogs

. 3 min read

Pet nutrition comes with its fair share of buzzwords — all-natural, real meat, and more recently, grain-free. But what do they really mean? With grain-free diets, in particular, being under scrutiny right now, we wanted to share some food facts that any pet owner should consider before deciding whether or not to go against the grain.

Grain 101

A common misconception is that grain allergies and gluten intolerances are one and the same. Grain allergies refer to adverse reactions to the larger food group of grains, including corn, rice, and wheat. Gluten intolerance, on the other hand, is the inability to process gluten, a protein found in specific grains like wheat, barley, and rye. While gluten is only found in grains, not all grains contain gluten.


Cheap fills

So, outside of a diagnosed allergy, why the war on grains? Commercial, shelf-stabilized dog foods are chock-full of grains like rice, barley, and cornmeal because they’re relatively inexpensive compared to meat and still fill pups up. With all these fillers in the mix, kibble offers pups very little in terms of protein, but benefit companies economically.

Subbing with starches

Recently there has been talk about grain-free diets being a potential link to heart disease in pups, which is really scary, but not the whole picture by any means. Many grain-free dog foods are also replacing nutrient-dense meats with plant-based proteins like potatoes, an inadequate substitute for real meat. Ollie only uses fresh, high-quality meats to provide all pups with the right nutrients at the right levels.


The truth about taurine

At the heart of the grain-free controversy is taurine, a unique amino acid found only in animal tissue, that plays a vital role in maintaining cardiac functions in dogs. Since many grain-free dog foods are using these real meat alternatives, dogs aren’t receiving the proper protein to produce the taurine they need. This isn’t the case with fresh diets, where whole, quality meats are a sufficient source of taurine.


Real vs meal

Look at any bag of dried kibble and you’ll likely see various meat meals as first or second ingredients. So what’s the deal with meal? Meal is a blanket industry term for animal tissue that has been dried and ground into a powder concentrate — a hodgepodge of spare parts with varying levels of nutritional value, unlike fresh food diets that use nutrient-rich meat like organ meat for its main protein supply.


Choosing a brand of dog food that uses fresh, quality ingredients is the only way to ensure a consistent and balanced diet for your pup, grains or not. At Ollie, we work hard to source the best food for the best pups and have made it our mission to help all dogs lead healthier, happier lives.

The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out

Danielle Braff

Danielle is a freelance writer who loves taking walks with her 4-year-old cocker spaniel, whom she drags around Chicago multiple times a day. She and her husband also have two cats and two daughters.