Exploring alternate diet options for your dog

Alternate diet options for canines abound! But if you’re planning to switch up your dog’s food, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons to determine the healthiest choice for him.  

Pets are our family members. It’s no wonder owners were horrified when numerous pet foods were recalled as a result of melamine contamination in the late 2000s. This scare prompted families to scramble to ensure their pets’ meals were up to standard — and made many consumers skeptical of pet food companies.

Though distrust is understandable after a scandal, it begets widespread misinformation. On the heels of the melamine scare, dog owners turned to questionable advice about the right diets for their furry companions — even though pet food is highly regulated by the FDA. At the same time, consumers began to question their own food choices.

A decade later, the result is a plethora of alternate diet options for pets. If you’re thinking about one of these diets for your pup, make sure to consider the following:

1. Raw food

Before commercial pet foods were available, most dogs ate raw foods. As more people recognize the value in these biologically appropriate diets, raw food formulated for dogs is popping up in pet stores everywhere. It’s available in numerous different forms, including dehydrated, freeze-dried and frozen. But while these diets are a return to dogs’ wild, hunting origins, feeding raw food safely can be hard for some pet parents, and mishandling might result in bacteria such as salmonella. Check with your veterinarian about safe raw food handling before making the switch.

2. Grain-free

This diet trend got its start during the melamine recall, and the human-based paleo movement helped it spread. Grain-free ingredients have become a cure-all for itchy dog skin and a variety of other ailments. However, there’s no reason to keep Grover off gluten permanently unless he’s actually allergic. In fact, many dogs thrive on grain-based foods! Check with your vet to confirm an allergy.

2. Non-GMO

People tend to feel conflicted about consuming foods grown from genetically engineered seeds. There is no verifiable scientific evidence backing the claim that GMO crops are unhealthy for people or their furry buddies, though. If you’re on the fence, why not focus on finding dog food companies that support ethical and responsible farming practices instead?

4. Plant-based

Owners feed their dogs plant-based diets for numerous reasons, including spiritual beliefs and environmental and health concerns. Nevertheless, vegan diets are not the healthiest option for dogs. Because they’re omnivores, they thrive on a balanced diet of animals and plants. Unless Fluffy has an issue digesting meat or you are unable to serve meat-based food, opt for balance. As always, check with your veterinarian before removing a major food group.

5. Homemade

Making your own dog food can be satisfying, yet it takes extra work to ensure these diets are balanced and complete. Otherwise, pups might become deficient in essential nutrients and more susceptible to illness or other complications. Homemade might be the best method to complete an elimination diet and determine food allergies, and it’s a great way to ensure your dog isn’t consuming any unwanted ingredients found in commercial foods. But if you opt for this dietary choice, you’ll want to consult your vet regularly to make sure Fido is receiving all the nutrients he needs.

Yes, some dogs need specific food to thrive. A chunky canine or allergy-ridden pooch could find relief from a dietary change. But owners should consult with veterinarians to ensure a new diet is helping — not hurting — their furry family members.


Dr. Laura Duclos leads Research and Development at Puppo, a personalized dog food company. Puppo personalizes kibble for each dog based on size, age, activity level, sensitivities, wellness goals, and more. She has more than 16 years of experience in developing nutritional pet food that supports animal health and well-being. Her clinical research has been featured in prominent publications and scientific journals, and she has been an invited speaker at numerous international veterinary conferences on pet nutrition and innovation.