We all want the best food for our pets, but what does that mean? With the recent push for celiac disease acceptance bringing more foods without gluten, dog food providers have also been jumping on the grain-free wagon. As it turns out, research does not support many of the common ideas around grain- and gluten-free dog food. Here are the top five myths surrounding grain-free dog food, and the truth behind them:
Myth: Dogs cannot digest grains because wolfs can’t.
A lot of people look back on the ancestors of their dog and ask, “How did wolves farm wheat?” It’s true; wolves did not originally consider plants a good source of nutrition and would normally not seek out vegetables in the wild. They would, however, still eat some plant matter when dining on animals like deer and rabbits (who normally eat plants). If you offered a wolf a nice salad, he would probably use it as bait.
The domesticated versions of these pets have evolved to be able to digest grains and other vegetal matter very well. Dogs are estimated to be able to digest over 95% of grains and plant material in their food4. Dogs benefit from vegetables in their food since it is an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals not normally found in meat alone. Without the addition of vegetables, dogs would suffer from nutritional deficiencies.
Myth: Grain-free diets are healthier.
With the recent trend in pets having grain-free food, many brands have started to market their version as healthier than food with grains. They market their grain-free food as being better for pet’s health, weight, and energy level.
Unfortunately, many brands make their food grain-free by swapping out complex carbohydrates, which are denser in nutrients and have more fiber with their simpler alternatives4. Where dog food used to have corn as a good source of fiber, and nutrients, brands are now using potatoes. Ingredients like potatoes are simple carbohydrates without significant traces of nutrients and little fiber4.
Myth: Grains are causing my pets’ allergies.
The number one suggestion by veterinarians when dogs present with an allergy is to change their food. Wheat products, once considered the major cause of allergic reactions, were yanked off the shelves and replaced with alternatives like sweet potatoes or tapioca.
Grains are actually one of the last ingredients proven to cause allergies. The primary food allergies dogs are likely to have is to beef or dairy1. In addition to grain not being the primary cause of allergies, skin irritation is more likely to be caused by environmental allergies like pollen or grass. Unfortunately, grains have gotten a bad reputation as the cause of health problems they have nothing to do with.
Myth: If I am eating gluten-free, so should my pet.
The gluten-free diet trend has been a blessing for many people who suffer from celiac disease, making a wider variety of foods available that previously had gluten in them. Many pet owners love to have their dogs eat the same food they are, which has helped fuel the grain-free trend in pet food. While this surge in dietary alternatives is a good thing, dogs have not shown to be able to have celiac disease. This makes gluten-free diets essentially useless.
While dog foods may be sold that are gluten-free, this does not make them anymore or less healthy. What makes a healthy diet for your pet is if they receive the correct nutrients for them, every day, and they do not have a bad reaction to any of the ingredients. Switching to a special diet, such as a gluten-free diet, does not guarantee your pet is any healthier2.
Myth: Pets don’t need carbohydrates in their diet.
Recently, some dog food brands have begun to advertise low-carb, high-protein foods. Carbohydrates have been painted as an unnecessary evil which does not need to be included in the kibble bowl. While excessive carbs can lead to being overweight, they are still a valuable addition to your dog’s diet.
Your dog gains energy from carbohydrates, the same as proteins and fats. While dog foods can contain anywhere from 30-70% carbohydrates based on their recipe, all offer a well-balanced diet with the addition of carbohydrates3. A large portion of these ingredients are grains, which offer vitamins, trace minerals, and fiber.
While we should always be concerned about the food we are giving our pets, it is not always a good idea to jump at any new fad in the food bowl. It turns out there is very little benefit to be had by cutting out grains. In fact, you might be doing your pet harm by cutting out the grains, which includes important dietary nutrients they need. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian whether they recommend a certain brand or type of dog food to suit your pets’ unique needs.
What are some pet food fads you have followed? Whether gluten-free pet food or an all meat diet, please let us know what’s in your food bowl in the comments.
4 Freeman, L. M., & Heinze, C. R. (n.d.). Grain-free diets: An alternative option, but don’t dismiss the grains. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from http://www.marionanimalhospital.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Grain-free.pdf
1 Huston, L. (n.d.). PetMD. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from https://www.petmd.com/dog/centers/nutrition/evr_dg_why-grain-free-dog-food-may-not-be-the-best-choice
2 Huston, L. (n.d.). What Is Grain Free Pet Food, Really? Retrieved April 12, 2018, from https://www.petmd.com/dog/centers/nutrition/evr_multi_what_is_grain_free_pet_food_really
3 What’s in a Balanced Dog Food? (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2018, from https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_dg_whats_in_a_balanced_dog_food