Is grain free food all it's cracked up to be?
A grain free diet does not contain cereals which are an energy source of complex carbohydrates. Often these energy sources are replaced by potatoes, lentils and peas. Dogs are omnivores so that means like humans they can eat food from both plant and animal origin. Cats are carnivores.
Wholegrains can play an important part in your dogs diet. They are rich in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, selenium and carbohydrates. Historically they made up a portion of wolves diets when consuming partly digested grain their pray had fed on. Wholegrains can help aid weight loss, stabilising bloods sugars and promoting good heart health.
Wholegrains are nutritious and healthy and should be consumed in moderation as nature intended.
Many owners put their pet on a grain free diet thinking it has more meat in it- this is not the case as grain is replaced with vegetables and owners incorrectly assume the diets are higher in quality but this isn't necessarily true any more so than with grain containing dog foods.
Many dogs suffer from allergies and this can lead to digestive and skin problems. These allergies can be related to diet. It is important to recognise that the vast majority of food allergies are to the protein source (meat) in the food, commonly chicken and beef. It is incredibly rare for a dog to have a grain allergy, in my 15 years as a vet I have never diagnosed a dog with a true grain allergy.
Owners care deeply for their pets and want to give them the best. There are so many foods out there with 'Grain free' plastered all over them...the latest fad diet! Some sources also falsely claim that grain free diets are healthier.
If a dog food is labeled grain free but the grains are replaced with other similar ingredients or even unhealthier ingredients, then its not a healthier option for your dog.
This makes owners think that there is a problem with grain and that these foods must be better. Unfortunately this is not the case. Yes in very rare occasions a dog may have a grain allergy and this food may help, but this is incredibly unlikely.
As a vet my main concern with 'Grain free diets' is the connection between grain free and development of Dilated Cardiomyopathy.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart condition causing the heart to become enlarged and the heart muscle stretched and thinned. This causes the heart wall to become weaker and leads to heart failure and can cause death.
These concerns have become so great that there have been investigations by the FDA into the safety of grain free foods in dogs. So far they have found that over 90% of dogs reported with DCM have been fed on a grain free diet. It is thought the absence of grains affects the bioavailability of key nutrients like taurine which is important in heart muscle health. Research found that when the grain free diet was stopped and grains reintroduced the DCM was reversed.. the investigation continues.
When cutting grains from the diet other problems can occur and the dog can miss out on protein, essential amino acids, fatty acids and fibre. There are very few dogs that genuinely need to avoid grain for medical reasons.
You should always speak to your vet about diet changes and choices if you are not sure. If your vet recommends a grain free diet for medical reasons then go with their guidance as like I said above grain allergy can occasionally occur.
In my opinion a grain free diet has little to do with pet health and well being, its a opportunity for pet food manufacturers to market trendy, human like products, potentially at the expense of the pets health.
Academics at The North American Veterinary Conference said that 'grain free pet food was the greatest hoax played on the American pet owning public'
The most important thing an owner can do is provide their pet with a complete, nutritionally balanced food and avoid choosing their pets diet based on human food fads and clever marketing.