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Deciding what to feed our pets can be a bit of a minefield. Whereas before it was just the choice between a few different brands of dry kibble and the scraps left on our dinner plates, there are now thousands of different choices when it comes to what goes in your dog’s dinner bowl each morning and night. This article answers the question, is grain-free pet food good for your pet?
Whether it’s navigating the aisles of wet food, exploring food and treats, or choosing a specific way of serving your dog, you want to make the best decision for them to ensure they get to live long, healthy, happy lives.
Is Grain-Free Pet Food Good For Your Pet?
Grain-free is one kind of ‘dog diet’ that has become incredibly popular in recent years, with many people choosing to buy grain-free packaged foods for their dog or even cooking and preparing dog food themselves.
What is grain-free?
Grains that are commonly used in conventional dog food include:
However, it’s important not to confuse a grain-free dog diet with a diet that is low in carbohydrates, these are not the same. While grain-free dog foods do not have grains, they do substitute other carbohydrate sources, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, peas, or quinoa. Therefore, grain-free foods are not necessarily carb-free. In some cases, grain-free food may actually be equal to or higher in carbs than dog foods with grains.
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It’s commonly assumed that grain-free dog foods are higher in meat content than dog foods with the grain. However, as mentioned above, grain-free dog foods may contain the same amount of meat as dog foods with grain – the ‘grain’ will instead just be replaced with another form of carbohydrate.
Common meat sources in both grain-free dog food and dog food with grains include beef, chicken, lamb, and fish.
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How did grain-free become popular?
When a food product is advertised as being ‘free’ of an ingredient (‘sugar-free chocolate’, for example), it’s generally because the ingredient in question has been proven to be harmful to health in some way. However, the marketing of ‘grain-free’ dog foods does not appear to have started in response to grains being bad for dogs.
In 2018, the New York Times reported that grain-free diets started to become popular in 2007 following Chinese pet food recalls due to contamination of melamine. According to the Federal Drug Administration, Melamine is an industrial chemical that isn’t approved for use in human or animal food production in the US. It’s actually used as a flame retardant, industrial binding agent, and in the manufacture of plates and cooking utensils. Authorities still don’t know how the melamine contamination occurred.
The connection between the melamine contamination and grain-free foods for dogs was based on the fact that the FDA traced the melamine during their investigation to products with ingredients like rice protein and wheat gluten (e.g. grains). This started a kind of panic amongst pet food manufacturers, who decided to use the uproar to their advantage when creating new marketing campaigns.
What’s the problem?
Veterinary cardiologists have noticed an increase in the number of dogs they saw who had dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which is a heart condition that decreases the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body. The FDA in America began an investigation and discovered some interesting results.
Of the 515 reports the FDA received of dogs suffering from DCM between 2014 and 2019, 90% were on a grain-free diet, and 93% were on diets that contained peas and/or lentils. The foods were tested for minerals, metals, and amino acids, and no significant abnormalities were found.
Although this doesn’t fully prove a link between a grain-free diet and the development of DCM, there are numerous reports of dogs whose DCM condition has improved or completely resolved after they were taken off a grain-free diet.
How should I choose?
In certain situations, your veterinarian or veterinary assistant may recommend a grain-free diet instead of grain dog food. For example, in dogs suspected of having food allergies (also known as an adverse food reaction), a grain-free diet might be recommended on a trial basis to see if symptoms improve.
It is important to recognize, however, that according to Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS who is on the advisory board for Pet Food Sherpa, very few dogs have allergies to the grains in dog foods. “About 9 out of 10 allergies are environmental, and of the remaining dogs that are allergic to their food, it’s usually to the protein source (meat) in the food. So, even in this instance if your dog has allergies, it’s unlikely that they’ll be medically allergic to grain.”
Taking care of pets
If you’re confused, have a chat with your veterinarian about the best dietary choices for your dog. Let them know during your next visit that your dog is already on a grain-free diet or that you’re considering switching them to a grain-free diet. They’ll discuss the risks and benefits with you.
In the end, the most important thing when choosing a dog food is making sure that it provides your pooch with complete and balanced nutrition, keeping them strong and healthy.
Kritter Kommunity Contributor