According to research, animal protein products – specifically meat and poultry – are some of the most commonly used ingredients in the pet food industry. They account for roughly 2.1 million tons each year (and an annual value of $3.2 billion pre-inflation in 2020). With poultry usage so common across dog food and treats, pet parents are sure to encounter food products in their daily lives that feature chicken-based ingredients.
While chicken is deemed a good source of animal protein, there are a variety of factors that could cause pet parents to seek out chicken-free dog food.
Here, we look at the use of chicken in dog food, examine some of the reasons pet parents may want to seek chicken-free products, share recommendations for chicken-free dog foods, and provide tips for pet parents shopping for chicken-free alternatives.
Our Top Chicken-Free Dog Foods
All featured products are chosen at the discretion of the author. However, Great Pet Care may make a small affiliate commission if you click through and make a purchase.
- Best Overall Chicken-Free Dog Food: Merrick Backcountry Raw-Infused Pacific Catch Recipe
- Best Dry Chicken-Free Dog Food: Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Salmon Dry Dog Food
- Best Wet Chicken-Free Dog Food: Caru
- Best Fresh Chicken-Free Dog Food: The Farmer’s Dog
- Best Limited-Ingredient Chicken-Free Dog Food: Instinct Limited-Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Lamb Recipe
- Best Vegetarian Chicken-Free Dog Food: Natural Balance Vegetarian Adult Dry Dog Food
- Best Chicken-Free Dog Food Topper: Open Farm
Chicken in Dog Food: A Brief Overview
Chicken is a commonly used ingredient in dog food, and can be found in many different formulas. Its abundance in pet foods is due to its ease and availability.
“There are parts of the chicken that are not used for human food and can be used in pet food, and it is probably a readily available and maybe less expensive animal protein source than beef, pork, or others,” says Dr. Donna Raditic, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
Additionally, chicken is a high-quality source of protein for dogs, which is a necessary part of a balanced diet. “A good source of protein is one that supplies essential amino acids for dogs,” says Dr. Raditic. “Animal protein sources like chicken are an excellent source of these essential amino acids.”
Why You Might Need a Chicken-Free Dog Food
There are several reasons that pet parents may want to seek out chicken-free dog foods.
Your dog might not like chicken. Some dogs may just be picky eaters, who don’t like the actual flavor of chicken itself. If this is the case, more novel proteins like bison, venison, or duck may be more enticing.
Your dog might have food allergies or sensitivities. While rare, some dogs may also have food allergies or sensitivities to chicken – though experts caution jumping to conclusions about food intolerances.
“Contrary to a lot of internet discussion, chicken is not always the culprit with food sensitivities and allergies,” says Dr. Natalie Marks, a veterinarian at VCA Blum Animal Hospital.
You may prefer alternative protein sources. Beyond picky eating and allergies, pet parents themselves may prefer to choose chicken-free dog foods for their pets. Concerns over ethical sourcing practices, environmental sustainability, and preference for plant-based or vegan dog foods can all contribute to a pet parent’s choice to go chicken-free.
7 Best Chicken-Free Dog Foods
If you need or want to find a chicken-free dog food option, there are plenty of potential options to choose from. Here, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites for consideration.
Best Overall Chicken-Free Dog Food
Merrick Backcountry’s Pacific Catch Recipe is a natural grain-free formula that provides the benefits of a raw diet with ease. Kibble is infused with high-quality freeze-dried raw protein alternatives to chicken – specifically fish in the form of salmon, whitefish, and trout. Its dry texture makes storing and serving the product simple.
An added bonus is that the fish-inspired recipe is easy on the stomach, and doubles as a good choice for pet parents seeking foods due to other allergies or sensitivities.
- Raw coating and freeze-dried pieces add to flavor
- Ingredients include different types of fish for balanced nutrition
- Includes glucosamine and chondroitin to support joints and hips
Things to Consider
- Many pet parents says this food has a strong odor due to the fish-based ingredients
- There’s some inconsistency with the amount of freeze-dried pieces in each bag
- It’s on the expensive side for a dry dog food
Best Dry Chicken-Free Dog Food
One of our favorite chicken alternatives in dog food is salmon. It’s lean, healthy, and flavorful. And since dogs who have true allergies to chicken in dog food may also be allergic to other birds like turkey and duck, salmon is a great option. This dry dog food from Taste of the Wild checks a lot of boxes. It’s made with real, smoke-flavored salmon and other healthy ingredients like sweet potatoes, blueberries, and dried chicory root. It’s also formulated with probiotics, which may help dogs with sensitive stomachs. As another added benefit, this is an egg-free formula, meaning it’s a good option for dogs with egg allergies or intolerances, too.
- Ingredients are sustainably sourced. The brand uses both wild-caught and farm-raised salmon
- Formulated with proprietary probiotics
- Egg-free food is good for dogs with egg allergies or sensitivities
- Family-owned brand and products are made in the USA
- Moderately priced
Things to Consider
- It is a grain-free food
- Like other fish-based foods, this one does have a strong odor
Best Wet Chicken-Free Dog Food
Our Pick: Caru Real Beef Stew for Dogs
Caru delivers flavorful wet stew options for dogs, which serve as a complete meal or a meal topper. The brand is family-oriented and prides itself on its homemade recipes with natural ingredients.
Pet parents can find chicken-free alternatives by turning to Caru’s beef and pork-based stews. They are hearty, tasty, and made with limited ingredients, making them a good option for dogs with food intolerances.
- Beef and pork stews are made without poultry ingredients
- Made in small batches in U.S. facilities
- Can be used as complete meals or as meal toppers
- They come in eco-friendly packaging
Things to Consider
- Packaging can be a bit messy
- Opened food must be refrigerated and stored according to package instructions
- Stews are expensive – especially if used as main meals
Best Fresh Chicken-Free Dog Food
Our Pick: The Farmer’s Dog
Fresh dog food is becoming more and more popular, and The Farmer’s dog is a pet parent favorite. While the brand does offer a chicken-based recipe for poultry-loving pups, there are other fresh, chicken-free flavors – such as turkey and pork – available. You can take the brand’s quiz to get food recommendations tailored to your dog’s nutritional needs, making it a highly customized option. These fresh recipes are formulated by veterinarians and stamped with the AAFCO seal of approval showing that they provide complete and balanced nutrition. It’s as close as you can get to homemade food without the hassle!
- Chicken-free fresh alternatives include turkey and pork
- Veterinarian formulated recipes
- Made is USDA kitchens with human-grade ingredients
- Simple ingredients and no preservatives
Things to Consider
- Subscription and delivery service only
- More costly than traditional kibble
- Meals are tailored to your dog, so you can’t preview recipes online without filling out a profile
Best Limited-Ingredient Chicken-Free Dog Food
Instinct’s Limited-Ingredient Diet recipes provide numerous flavors and protein alternatives to chicken, including lamb. Kibble coated in freeze dried raw protein alternatives to chicken provide a flavorful alternative, and can also be a solution for pets with stomach sensitivities.
- Made with one protein source and one vegetable source
- Good for dogs with food sensitivities and intolerances
- Kibble is raw coated for added flavor
- Made in the USA
Things to Consider
- Dog and cat food bags look very similar. Be careful to select the right option when buying online
Best Vegetarian Chicken-Free Dog Food
For pet parents looking to totally eschew meat, Natural Balance has the solution. One of the brand’s several limited-ingredient offerings comes in the form of a plant-based vegetarian and vegan formula. Made with healthy grains including brown rice, oat groats, barley, and peas, this chicken-free dog food option packs a powerful nutritional punch as well as distinct flavor.
- Vegetarian and vegan plant-based formula
- Limited ingredients can help with food sensitivities and intolerances
- All Natural Balance foods undergo 9 safety tests
- No artificial flavors, coloring, or preservatives
Things to Consider
- Kibble size may be a bit big for toy or small breed dogs
- Not the most flavorful chicken-free option. Picky eaters may not enjoy it
Best Chicken-Free Dog Food Topper
Our Pick: Open Farm
Open Farm is committed to providing pet parents ethically sourced food options across a litany of flavors and textures. The brand offers a beef-based bone broth that works great as a chicken-free dog food topper. Additionally, Open Farm’s wet dog food and freeze dried dog food can be mixed into dry kibbles to make them more exciting – and there are plenty of chicken-free choices like venison, lamb, and fish.
- Human-grade ingredients in all recipes
- Bone broth toppers, wet food, and freeze-dried foods can be used to spice up mealtime
- Lots of different protein sources available for meals
Things to Consider
- Price point is on the higher side
- May be more difficult to find in stores
Best Alternative Protein Sources for Dogs
For pet parents who are wary about chicken, they can rest assured that there are plenty of chicken-free alternatives.
“There are a tremendous amount of protein options that are available in dog foods as long as the foods have been balanced appropriately and found to be safe and nutritious,” says Dr. Marks.
She says that the following protein sources can be great alternatives to chicken:
For dogs with a specific diagnosed allergy to chicken, it may be advisable to avoid protein sources such as turkey, duck, or any other birds.
“If your pet is sensitive to chicken, there is some evidence that cross-reactivity to other fowl such as turkey and duck can occur,” says Dr. Jay Stonefield, co-medical director at VCA Flannery Animal Hospital.
Chicken-Free Dog Food Buying Guide
When purchasing any dog food, pet parents should always pay attention to labels and read the ingredients. Looking for a simple label that has a few easy to read and understand ingredients could make things easier, especially given the production process for many foods across the pet industry.
“Even though a pet food label of an over-the-counter pet food does not say chicken, it can still have chicken and other ingredients not listed on the label, and it’s perfectly legal,” says Dr. Raditic, citing the equipment and nature of mass-produced pet foods coming from large plants.
For some pet parents, formulas from brands with simple, streamlined production processes and ethical sourcing practices could be one answer. Looking to food and treat brands known for other protein sources, like plants or fish, could be another.
Regardless of where a pet parent’s buying journey takes them, they can (and should) always consult with their veterinarian.
“Work with your veterinarian to discuss what’s right for your pet,” reminds Dr. Stonefield.
The Conclusion on Chicken-Free Dog Foods
Discovering that your dog has a sensitive stomach or a food allergy that requires them to avoid dog food with chicken may seem daunting at first, especially since poultry is such a commonly used animal protein across the pet industry.
However, there are plenty of healthy, high-quality chicken-free protein alternatives that make for good dog foods and treats. With a little patience, guidance, and consultation with your veterinarian, you’ll be able to determine the best chicken-free dog food or treat for you and your fur family.