Pioneer Naturals Grain Free (Dry)

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Rating: ★★★★★

Pioneer Naturals Grain Free Dog Food receives the Advisor’s top rating of 5 stars.

The Pioneer Naturals Grain Free product line includes four dry dog foods.

However, since we’re unable to locate AAFCO nutritional adequacy statements for these dog foods on the product’s web page, it’s impossible for us to report specific life stage recommendations for these recipes.

The following is a list of recipes available at the time of this review.

  • Pioneer Naturals Grain and Potato Free Pork
  • Pioneer Naturals Grain and Potato Free Chicken
  • Pioneer Naturals Grain and Potato Free Whitefish
  • Pioneer Naturals Grain and Potato Free Venison (4.5 stars)

Pioneer Naturals Grain and Potato Free Chicken was selected to represent the other products in the line for this review.

Pioneer Naturals Grain and Potato Free Chicken

Dry Dog Food

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content

Protein = 33% | Fat = 16% | Carbs = 43%

Ingredients: Chicken meal, yams, freeze dried sweet potato, freeze dried chicken liver, freeze dried pumpkin, freeze dried red clover sprouts, freeze dried blueberries, bok choy, zucchini, squash, kale, freeze dried papaya, inulin, cranberries, parsley, enzymes: (amylase, protease, cellulase, pectinase, lipase, phytase, xylanese, hemicellulase, alpha-galactosidase, invertase), probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product dehydrated, Lactobacillus casei fermentation product dehydrated, Lactobacillus plantarum fermentation product dehydrated, Bifidobacterium thermophilum fermentation product dehydrated, Bifidobacterium longum fermentation product dehydrated, Enterococcus faecium fermentation product dehydrated, Bacillus subtillus fermentation product dehydrated), kelp, parsley, artichoke, salmon/herring oil, vitamins (dl-methione, vitamin A supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, vitamin B12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, niacin supplement, folic acid, biotin), minerals (calcium pantothenate, zinc amino acid chelate, iron amino acids chelate, copper amino acid chelate, manganese amino acids chelate, cobalt amino acids chelate)

Fiber (estimated dry matter content) = 4.4%

Red items when present indicate controversial ingredients

Estimated Nutrient Content
MethodProteinFatCarbs
Guaranteed Analysis30%14%NA
Dry Matter Basis33%16%43%
Calorie Weighted Basis29%33%38%

The first ingredient in this dog food is chicken meal. Chicken meal is considered a meat concentrate and contains nearly 300% more protein than fresh chicken.

The second ingredient is yams. In much of North America, the word yam can be used interchangeably with the term sweet potatoes.

So, assuming this item is indeed sweet potatoes, it can be considered a good source of complex carbohydrates. In addition, yams are naturally rich in fiber, beta carotene and other healthy nutrients.

The third ingredient includes sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are a gluten-free source of complex carbohydrates in a dog food. They are naturally rich in dietary fiber and beta carotene.

The fourth ingredient is chicken liver. This is an organ meat sourced from a named animal and thus considered a beneficial component.

The fifth ingredient is pumpkin. Pumpkin is a nutritious addition high in complex carbohydrates, beta-carotene and dietary fiber.

From here, the list goes on to include a number of other items.

But to be realistic, ingredients located this far down the list (other than nutritional supplements) are not likely to affect the overall rating of this product.

With three notable exceptions

First, we note the inclusion of inulin, a starch-like compound made up of repeating units of carbohydrates and typically sourced from chicory root.

Not only is inulin a natural source of soluble dietary fiber, it’s also a prebiotic used to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in a dog’s digestive tract.

Next, this food contains salmon/herring oil. Salmon and herring oils are naturally rich in the prized EPA and DHA type of omega-3 fatty acids. These two high quality fats boast the highest bio-availability to dogs and humans.

Depending on the level of freshness and purity, salmon/herring oil should be considered a commendable addition.

And lastly, this food also contains chelated minerals, minerals that have been chemically attached to protein. This makes them easier to absorb. Chelated minerals are usually found in better dog foods.

Pioneer Naturals Grain Free Dog Food
The Bottom Line

Judging by its ingredients alone, Pioneer Naturals Grain Free looks like an above average dry dog food.

But ingredient quality by itself cannot tell the whole story. We still need to estimate the product’s meat content before determining a final rating.

The dashboard displays a dry matter protein reading of 33%, a fat level of 16% and estimated carbohydrates of about 43%.

As a group, the brand features an average protein content of 33% and a mean fat level of 15%. Together, these figures suggest a carbohydrate content of 45% for the overall product line.

And a fat-to-protein ratio of about 46%.

Above-average protein. Near-average fat. And below-average carbs when compared to a typical dry dog food.

Free of any plant-based protein boosters, this looks like the profile of a kibble containing a notable amount of meat.

Bottom line?

Pioneer Naturals Grain Free is a plant-based dry dog food using a notable amount of named meat meals as its main sources of animal protein, thus earning the brand 5 stars.

Enthusiastically recommended.

Please note certain recipes are sometimes given a higher or lower rating based upon our estimate of their total meat content.

A Final Word

The descriptions and analyses expressed in this and every article on this website represent the views and opinions of the author.

Although it's our goal to ensure all the information on this website is correct, we cannot guarantee its completeness or its accuracy; nor can we commit to ensuring all the material is kept up-to-date on a daily basis.

Each review is offered in good faith and has been designed to help you make a more informed decision when buying dog food.

However, due to the biological uniqueness of every animal, none of our ratings are intended to suggest feeding a particular product will result in a specific dietary response or health benefit for your pet.

For a better understanding of how we analyze each product, please read our article, "The Problem with Dog Food Reviews".

Remember, no dog food can possibly be appropriate for every life stage, lifestyle or health condition. So, choose wisely. And when in doubt, consult a qualified veterinary professional for help.

In closing, we do not accept money, gifts or samples from pet food companies in exchange for special consideration in the preparation of our reviews or ratings.

To learn how we support the cost of operating this website, please visit our public Disclosure and Disclaimer page.

Have an opinion about this dog food? Or maybe the review itself? Please know we welcome your comments.

Other spellings: Vet Preferred

Notes and Updates

03/17/2012 Original review
05/23/2012 Name change from Vet Preferred
12/06/2013 Review updated
12/06/2013 Last Update

  • Bob K

    Sarah – Make your own food, if you do not trust them, what are you waiting for? Many people make their own dog foods when their loved one has special needs. GMO free and Organic you are joking right? Who would know the answer for your QC concerns better than the company that had biased answers and is profit-driven and produces the sacred kibble. It is a for-profit company not a charity. Don’t forget your vaccines and rabies protocol as required by state law.

  • Sarah Conant

    Find another food? There are very few dog food brands that are organic and gmo-free, why would I NOT consider feeding a food with healthier ingredients from healthier sources compared to even the most reputable brands? For the last time, if you don’t know if the quality control issues have been fixed, which it is clear you don’t, please do NOT comment on my post! I genuinely want to hear from someone that knows the answer, which I CANNOT get from the company because their answers will of course be biased and profit-driven. Try spouting your bologna elsewhere, I don’t want to hear it.

  • Bob K

    Sarah – Have you contacted the company direct? What was their answer? What do you expect them to say? If you are concerned find another food. Pretty simple. Why risk it?

  • Sarah Conant

    Your response was useless. I am wanting to know if this company’s (PIONEER NATURALS) quality control issues have changed, the last post was a year ago, if you don’t know, don’t comment. I also disagree with “slowly transitioning” to another food, what makes you qualified to make that statement? I use the rotational method so my dogs don’t get stomach sensitivity, my dogs have had minimal issues since I started rotating brands and formulas, and it is also supposed to help reduce the chance of them developing food allergies.

  • Bob K

    Sarah – If you are concerned find another 4 or 5 star rated kibble, vote with your wallet and slowly transition to another food.

  • Sarah Conant

    Any update on the quality control issues with this brand?

  • Janice

    She has nothing like that, its from eating poop… Hopefully she will stop while on vacation at my friends, she will be on this in Life changes or something like that.

  • Pattyvaughn

    Adolf’s used to be papain, which is a digestive enzyme. Somewhere along the line, they changed and they are now MSG, which is a flavor enhancer, no wonder your dog likes the poop. Try a digestive enzyme instead and throw the Adolf’s out.

  • Bob K

    Janice – If your dog is a poop eater there is a good chance your dog may have parasites that may also cause loose stools. Please have a comprehensive fecal test done including Coccidia and Giardia.

  • Janice

    OMG if it will help loose stools I am right with it :-) My puppy is a stool eater and I feed Adolf’s meat tenderizer and she still eats it. I am at wits end. I am going to try her on this though the venison I think.

  • Cait

    Yeah, looking back at my original post, I did word it kind of weird – easily mistaken. That’s okay!

    I actually ended up getting a bag of Fromm 4-Star GF from work (I’m lucky enough to work at a high-end pet supply store) and the dogs loved it. Looks like I’m going to switch brands afterall! Thanks for the help though, folks.

  • Storm’s Mom

    Ah, I see where the confusion is.. your post above just says you’ve switched from Diamond Naturals to “the GF Chicken” …since there’s no GF Chicken listed in the review above for Pioneer Naturals GF, Ollie probably thought you meant you switched to Diamond Naturals GF Chicken. In any case, presuming you’ve switched to Pioneer Naturals or some other non-Diamond product, I would say that it doesn’t hurt to try another variety in the same brand but because it’s probably just going to be the protein and maybe 1 carb source that would be different, your dogs still may refuse it because it’s so similar.

    It also doesn’t hurt to try something totally outside of the brand either, it’s really your call.

    Ideally, it would be great to eventually find 4 or 5 different brands that you can rotate among.

  • Cait

    They’re not on Diamond. I switched them off of Diamond to Pioneer.

  • Ollie

    Switch brands. Diamond has had many recalls.

  • Cait

    So should I change brands completely or just the flavor?

  • Betsy Greer

    Hi Cait,

    I would trust your dog’s nose! I’ve been doing some reading about fats and preservatives in dry dog foods recently and would conclude that your dog’s nose is probably even more reliable than your own in determining whether or not a food is fit for consumption. I’d say if he’s not interested, he probably has a good reason not to be.

    Here’s a quote from Steve Brown in the December 2012 issue of The Whole Dog Journal article that I was reading:

    “Trust your nose – and your dog’s nose. The most sensitive tests for rancid fats are trained human and canine noses. If the food doesn’t smell right to either of you, don’t feed it.”

    http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/15_12/features/Fats-Chance_20658-1.html

  • Cait

    I just switched my dogs (an ACD and an ACD mix) to the GF Chicken from Diamond Naturals Chicken and they are refusing to eat it – has anyone else had this problem?

  • Koji

    be careful with this food. My dog got severely constipated. His stool was so hard, it would not pass. We spent $700 at the vet to get the feces out. After my dog was pooping fine again, I tried the food mixed with wet food and had similar (though not as severe) results. He has never had any problem with any other dry food before. No other factors could have caused.this. I’m sure it was the food.

  • DieselDobe

    I purchased this food for my sensitive stomach Doberman, who did VERY well on the Venison grain-free formula. However, upon close inspection one day of his kibble, I noticed an abundance of what looked like short hairs that would have come off of a deer hide! Various colors, but definitely hairs embedded in and sticking out of the kibble. It was even on the inside of the bag as the other commenter found! I wrote to the company, and their Customer Service Manager (Greg) responded, saying it was a screen problem that was since fixed with a smaller screen to filter things out. They sent me a new bag for free via FedEx. I was pleased… until I opened the new bag only to find the problem was WORSE than before! I sent another email to the company and got a response from Tanya stating they knew hair was a problem in their venison and bison formulas and that I should just switch proteins until it is resolved. My response to her was that unfortunately switching proteins wasn’t that easy with my dog, and that perhaps their company should communicate better, as Greg had assured me the issue was resolved. I requested a refund, as I didn’t have the receipt anymore from the store I originally purchased it from. Greg responded again, stating to tell the store to refund me and let him know if there were any issues. Unfortunately my pet store would only issue me a store credit, but I will no longer be purchasing Pioneer Naturals. They clearly have quality control issues in both manufacturing and their customer service!

  • ollie

    what breed do you have and is there a reason your groomer is recommending this dog food? I haven’t used it but I do use Merrick first with classic now on the grain free Merrick and my dogs coats are so much softer now . other people can also give you suggestions what to use depending on the breed. try the off topic discussion to get a quicker response.

  • Sadie

    My groomer is recommending this food. Have you heard back from the company?
    Sadie

  • truestory

    It was so, so gross! I’ve been going to three different stores (bought the Pioneer Naturals at 2 of them) and they’re all now aware of the hair/plastic problem.

    While 2 of the stores are appalled/disgusted and pulled the food immediately, the third store (and the one most dedicated to dog diets) said they were already aware of the food issues; they said they have had other customers report plastic and hair in the kibble, that their vendor is aware, that the company is changing factories, etc. They weren’t going to pull their supply and were hoping the company got their act together soon. I was disappointed with this, given they are knowingly selling a product with hair and plastic baked into the kibble; I just don’t see how they could knowingly continue selling the food with a clear conscience.

    That said, the shop I bought the second bag from gave me a refund, recommended Natural Balance Venison (he seems to do best on a single-source, grain-free food and the venison is far better for him than chicken or fish) — they told me to not give him another bite of that hairy food and switch him immediately. They also gave me a sample of a probiotic (Dr Goodpet Digestive Enzyme) and despite no food transition and a stressful travel weekend for him…he did amazingly well. He put some weight back on over the 5 days, had a great appetite and energy level, had the best stool he’s ever had with me (and he’s had GI issues all his life, according to his former owner). He is like a brand-new dog. I am disgusted by Pioneer Naturals/Great Life and thrilled with the addition of probiotics.

    I’m still in the process of following up with the shop where I bought this first contaminated bag. They did say on the phone that they were going to confirm my report with the other store (where I bought the second gross bag) then pull their supply too. We’ll see.

    I understand that some bags are not contaminated with this hair and plastic, but 2 different lot numbers returned with obviously contaminated bags. Basically, the only 2 bags I’ve bought in the last 2 mos are gross. I suggest anyone with Great Life or Pioneer Naturals food examine the bag and kibble before serving it.

  • SandyandMila

    That’s gross! Was the store able to give you anything else?

  • truestory

    My dog has been on this food for a while (Pioneer Naturals Venison) and while he’s done well on it, I examined his kibble recently and found a green/aqua-colored bit if plastic in a piece. I thought it was a fluke until I found 2 more. Then I noticed little black hairs all over the kibble – the fastest way to see it is to examine the inside of the bag, where the hairs get stuck to the inside. Gross! I took some pieces to the store near me, we checked the lot number and opened a new bag in-store (one with a different lot number) and same thing: tons of small black hairs, some white fuzz, and in just 1 cup of kibble we found white plastic strips (very small, they looked a little translucent like a small piece of finger nail but softer plastic). Horrible! The store had never seen or heard of anything like it, pulled it from the shelves and communicated with another store in town that sells the Pioneer Naturals. They’re contacting the manufacturer and plan to get back to me. Terrible.

  • Phylis Buble

    Guest that posted above comment – I have a pet supply store, and have been thinking about adding Pioneer Naturals – and yours is the first I have heard any of this information. Would you be willing to talk to me about it? I try to bring in only the best foods, and research as much as I can. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

  • Doggoneya007

    My $4000.00- $16,000.00 dogs love this food so much, White Fish Grain Free and they look so awesome and they are so very soft too : )

  • holymosy

    I have found that water from the faucet is the biggest culprit for causing bladder stones. My schnauzer had 2 operations to have stones removed and another one of my dogs also had stones removed. I did alot of research to find out why. I learned that dogs on special diet dog food that was suppose to stop stones did not work. Another article said that giving them distilled water drastically cuts down on stones. I have had all my dogs on distilled water for over 5 yrs now and still feed them whatever I want and none of them have developed any stones thus far. So I have to believe that its mostly faucet water that causes them.

  • Ewfqefa

    none

  • Dgs

    great life gf

  • Bella’s momma

    Thank you for this information.  Something about the Great Life’s site bothered me.  Just a gut feeling.  If I am going through all the trouble of research and ultimately expense, I want to KNOW what I am getting is as it says.

  • Poms

    Please help me to find a dog food for my poodle that had bladder stones removed. After the surgery the vet said i have to change his diet. The prescription food for dog that gets bladder stones are horrible. Made by animal organs and by products. Please tell me what food to give him. Dry or wet and which brand which food? I have searched and searched and I can’t find anything for him. Please help me. Also, I have 5 small older dogs. Have been feeding thrm wellness all their lives and now they won’t eat as much. Please let me know

  • Jessica1456

    @Jan_Mom2Cavs, we also feed Natural Balance Sweet Potato & Venison to our dogs and they not only love it, but haven’t had any problems since switching to this brand.  We had previously been on another natural dog food but they wouldn’t eat always eat it – I guess they didn’t like the taste, but they love the Natural Balance.  Venison is a great protein source and apparently very tasty to the doggie palate.

  • Gail

    Sorry, new to this.  Didn’t know where to ask the question.  Thanks for your response…

  • Jan_Mom2Cavs

    Just curious why this question is on Vet Preferred, but imho Natural Balance is the better choice.  I feed Natural Balance and it’s working very well for my dogs.

  • Gail

    Can you please tell me which dry food is better:
    Natural Balance lamb meal & brown rice
    or:
    Nutro Natural Choice adult lamb and rice

  • Yentl

    Great Life does not follow AAFCO labeling guidelines. There was a long discussion in the Great Life Grain Free (Dry) review about this.

    Great Life has claimed for many years that their dry foods all contained whole meats as their number one ingredient. Then someone named Jack Jones did some research and discovered that the company that makes Great Life dry foods (Pied Piper Pet) is unable to use whole meats in any of their products.

    Pied Piper has no refrigeration at their plant and that is one of the reasons they are unable to produce a kibble using whole meats. I wonder if the lack of refrigeration negatively affects all the kibbles they make? Is refrigeration not needed for any of the ingredients in a kibble?

    When I first read that Great Life might be mislabeling their dry foods I called them and spoke to Elliott Harvey the owner of Great Life. He assured me that their dry foods contained whole meats and not dried meats.

    Jack Jones then posted all the contact information for both Great Life and Pied Piper and Mike Sagman the creator of DFA contacted Great Life and asked about the meats used in their dry foods.

    Great Life then responded by email saying their dry foods contained air dried meats.

    Air dried is another way of saying dehydrated and by AAFCO definitions this cannot be called “Chicken” it must be called “Dehydrated Chicken”.

    Great Life continues to ignore AAFCO definitions which are not the law but which are usually followed in the dog food industry.

    The above reviewed Vet Preferred Grain Free (Dry) contains meat meals. Yet when it first came out both the Great Life website and the labels on the bags of foodl isted “Venison” and “Pork” as the first ingredients in of “Venison meal” and “Pork meal”.

    The website now lists the first ingredient as a meal and not a whole meat. I don’t know if the have corrected the labels on the bags yet.

    With all the choices out there for dog food I would steer clear of a company that chooses not to follow AAFCO’s ingredient definitions.

    I think everyone should ask themselves why does Great Life choose to ignore AAFO definitions?

    Yentl