What You Should Know About a Grain-Free Diet For Dogs

We all like to be considerate about what we eat and how it affects our health. Many pet owners want to do the same for their pets. With so many diet options and surrounding controversies, it can be hard to narrow down what’s best for your furry friend.

One diet with increasing popularity is the grain-free diet for dogs. One reason for this trend is that we often make the same food choices for our pets as we do for ourselves. People are trending towards grain-free diets for various reasons, some have concerns about mild allergies or intolerances to grains. Others go gluten free for weight loss, to increase energy, or because it’s what’s popular right now.

Food manufacturers have also caught on and are cashing in on the trend. A Nielson report found that product sales go up if the product is labeled grain-free.

It is no surprise that pet food manufacturers would attend to the trend and extend that option to pet food diets. But is a grain-free diet really good for your pet?

Health Effects of a Grain-Free Diet for Dogs

The FDA asked the same question and has initiated studies to evaluate the link between Dilated Cardiomypathy (DCM), a heart disease, and grain-free foods, particularly those that contain peas, lentils, legumes or potatoes as their main ingredients.

They are performing these studies because of an increase in the incidence of heart disease in breeds that aren’t normally predisposed to heart problems but who have been on grain-free diets, suggesting a link. Veterinary cardiologists report seeing more and more patients with DCM that they wouldn’t expect based on breed. These patients are often on grain-free diets.

They often present with a taurine deficiency, which is associated with heart disease in cats, although not in dogs. On a normal diet, dogs make this amino acid from methionine and cysteine but there may be some interaction between grain-free diets and these amino acids that scientists are still working to understand.

Why Do People Choose Grain-Free Diets for Dogs?

One argument for a grain-free diet is that dog’s ancestors didn’t eat grains. The error in this argument is that dogs have evolved along with humans. Even ancestral purebred lines are nothing like the dogs we see today. The pups we care for today can actually easily digest grains. There are many nutrients in grains that are crucial to your pet’s health including vitamin E and linoleic acid.

In terms of gluten insensitivity in dogs: generally, dog’s food intolerances are protein-based, with beef being the most common allergen in dogs and corn being the least common. That isn’t to say that it is impossible for your dog to have a grain allergy, but that should be decided based on clinical signs and diagnostics performed by your veterinarian.

If your dog is showing signs of an allergy like itching, hair loss, bald patches, hot spots, inflamed skin, then work with your veterinarian to find the source of the allergy. Part of this diagnosis often includes a food trial. But putting your dog on grain or gluten-free diet when there are no clinical signs poses an unnecessary risk.

We also recommend avoiding specialty diets that have a slurry of exotic ingredients like bison, rabbit, lamb, etc. This recommendation is because one of the most common skin disorders in dogs is allergies. Like we said before, dogs tend to be allergic to proteins rather than grains so we often treat allergies by changing the diet to a new protein source. If your dog has been exposed to many different proteins and gets an allergy diagnosis, we become limited in our options and have to resort to very expensive prescription diets sooner than we would like to.

How Grain-Free Could Harm Your Dog

Besides the potential increased risk for heart disease, there are other reasons to avoid a grain-free diet for dogs. Grain-free diets are often higher in fat and calories than other diets. If you are like many owners, you have had a weight-loss conversation with your vet, grain-free makes that goal so much more difficult with no evidence of providing any medical benefit.

So What’s the Verdict?

At Vet’s Here, we believe in providing the best medical and at-home care for your pets. Diet is a major component of your pet’s health and happiness.

Overall, we recommend avoiding a grain-free diet for dogs because of the added potential health risk and lack of evidence-based benefits.

If your dog is happy and healthy, any well-balanced dog food is fine– we hear the chicken flavor one is great! But leave the grains in there and you can feel proud for playing an active role in your pet’s health every day!

If you have questions or concerns about your dog’s diet, you can give us a call at 1-888-838-2738 or contact us online. Our mobile vets would love to help you make the best choices for your furry friend.

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