Most of us love a good health trend. Charcoal face masks? Yes, please. A tea that'll turn you into a supermodel? Done. Coconut oil for... literally everything? Buying it in bulk.
However, many of the trends that the internet and social media try to sell us are not rooted in facts but rather a business model. They want us to buy into their trend and therefore, buy their product. Unfortunately, the same goes for health trends for our four-legged friend.
You want Fido to live as long as possible and have the very best life. Companies know this and act on it. With certain trends, pet parents must ask themselves whether or not it's actually beneficial for their beloved furry companion. One of these trends is going grain-free.
In this article, we aim to shed light on the pros and cons of a grain-free diet as well as provide information as to why it may or may not be a good idea for your dog. The more you know, the better equipped you'll be to make an educated decision on the "latest and greatest" health trends. Let's get to it!
The History of Dog Food
Dog food has made quite the drastic change from our dog's ancestors food source. Long before Fido had personalized commercially produced food, dogs hunted raw, protein-rich meals. These meals lacked one of the most prominent ingredients in today's dog food: grains. Today, grains such as wheat and corn are found in both wet and dry food and thus began the conversation as to why.
Before WWII you were much less likely to find corn and grains in dog food. However, during and after the war these starches were added as a form of filler in order to keep costs low and allow for pet owners to be able to afford to feed their pets. The starchy fillers are now a staple in dog food. In fact, many commercial dog foods list either corn or wheat as one of the first ingredients on the packaging.
While our furry companions have significantly evolved in certain ways, many experts state that their digestive systems haven't evolved enough to support such a large amount of grains in their diet. In fact, studies suggest that the dog's natural digestive support for breaking down and metabolizing grains is so weak that the constant consumption of complex carbohydrates and cereal grains can lead to a slew of issues over time.
Therefore, pet parents began considering the benefits of a grain-free diet. Could something as simple as switching food sources ultimately prevent conditions like allergies, bowel disorders, leaky gut, and obesity? Some dog owners believe the answer is yes, and many studies are agreeing with this thought process.
What is Grain Free Dog Food
Grain free dog food is exactly what it sounds like: dog food that does not contain grains. Grain products are any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain.
Grain-Free Vs. Gluten Free
While sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably, grain-free and gluten-free are not one in the same. Grain-free means free of all grain products. Gluten-free diets may or may not contain grain because of the fact that not all grains contain gluten. Therefore, grain free dog food will always be gluten-free, but gluten-free diets may contain grain as an ingredient.
Benefits of Grain Free Dog Food
Pet owners who have made the switch to grain-free dog food have reported a number of benefits. Even in dogs that didn't have preexisting health concerns, grain-free still had its advantages.
First, with an overall focus on protein instead of starchy grains, many companies that are producing grain-free dog food also have higher quality meat sources. Instead of by-products such as chicken meal, the companies are sourcing proteins that can significantly benefit your dog. Quality meat such as beef, chicken fat, and eggs provide quality, whole proteins. These proteins contain high levels of vitamins and minerals that boost the dog's immune system and overall health.
Additionally, the starches in grain-free diets also greatly differ. Instead of corn or wheat to bind the food, grain-free dry and wet recipes use ingredients such as beans, sweet potatoes, and other plant-based proteins.
Furthermore, grain-free diets lack complex carbohydrates. This change can make a world of difference on your dog's digestive tract and stomach. Therefore, grain-free dog foods ultimately lead to the following additional benefits:
- Higher energy levels
- Healthier skin and coat
- Fewer issues with stool size and flatulence
- Staying full and nourished for longer periods of time
Many brands that produce grain-free dog food are known to have substantially higher nutritional levels. The brands offer natural supplements of thiamine, copper, zinc, folic acid, manganese, iron, and calcium, supplements you won't find in most commercially manufactured grain based dog food.
Additionally, many grain-free dog foods contain a supplement called riboflavin, more commonly referred to as vitamin B and produced by fatty acids. Riboflavin aids in the production of red blood cells which provide essential disease-fighting antibodies that help keep the body functioning at an optimal level.
Also, many grain-free dog foods contain yucca schidigera. The supplement acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. If you track the vast majority of diseases and ailments back to their source, you'll likely find that inflammation is at the root of the problem. Regardless of whether you choose to go grain-free, we recommend looking into adding a natural anti-inflammatory supplement to your dog's food source. It can truly make a significant difference and prevent a slew of conditions from developing and/or worsening.
As we previously mentioned, grain-free dog foods can help your dog stay full and nourished for longer periods of time. Therefore, grain-free options can, in fact, prevent overeating and obesity.
In terms of dogs that are currently struggling with maintaining a healthy weight, grain-free options can be an effective way to help them get back on track and not feel hungry or lethargic in the process. As with everything, we recommend consulting your veterinarian regarding whether switching to a grain-free diet is an appropriate way to help your dog lose their excess weight.
Dog Allergies? Grain Free May Help!
Just like their owners, dogs can suffer from allergies. Be it environmental allergies or food allergies, the constant itching and digestive issues are not something you'll want to ignore and hope pass on their own. It is incredibly important to get to the bottom of what exactly your dog is allergic to in order to remove the allergen from their day-to-day life or diet.
One way that pet parents help relieve their dog's food allergies is by switching to a grain free diet. If Fido has been exhibiting signs of allergies such as itching, vomiting, loose stools, or persistent ear infections, you may want to consider switching to a grain-free diet.
Breeds at a Higher Risk for Food Allergies
Additionally, studies have found that certain breeds are at an increased risk of developing food allergies. These dog breeds include:
- Chinese Shar-Pei
- Cocker Spaniel
- Lhasa Apso
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier
- Springer Spaniel
- West Highland White Terrier
Furthermore, certain breeds, such as Irish Setters, are more likely to experience gluten allergies and intolerances and may want to consider switching to gluten-free dog food.
Misconceptions About Food Allergies
Don't get us wrong, food allergies do occur in pets. However, grains are typically not at the forefront of what exactly is causing the allergic reaction. In fact, a recent study, 278 dogs with food allergies were assessed and the problem ingredient was identified for each dog. The results surprised pet parents and experts alike. Beef was the number one allergen and was responsible for 95 of the cases reported. The second most prevalent allergen was dairy. Corn, once thought of as a forefront culprit, was actually one of the least likely sources of food allergy in the dogs examined.
This information encourages us to try not to make assumptions when it comes to food allergies. While grain-free may be just what your dog needs, if they are actually allergic to beef, grain-free won't help with the problem. In fact, it could make it worse if you opt for beef as your main source of protein.
Grain-Free = Yeast Infections? How?
With the correlation between harmful grains and yeast infections, many pet parents are opting for grain-free diets as a preventative measure. However, what many people don't realize is that yeast infections are still entirely possible with grain-free diets. How is that possible?
Yeast is a fungus that naturally exists both internally and externally as part of the normal flora of the body. When the body metabolizes starches and complex carbohydrates, they turn into sugars. Here's where the trouble happens... yeast eats sugar. Therefore, the starch content is what causes yeast infections to develop and thrive and while starch is found in grain-based diets it is also found in potatoes, peas, sweet potatoes, major ingredients in a grain-free diet.
The problem with all of this is that grain-free kibble can't be made without starches. It’s necessary to hold the kibble together. If your dog is chronically itching, check the starch levels in their current food source. You may very well uncover the culprit of the irritation. Instead of grain-free dry dog food, look into providing Fido with a protein-rich grain-free source such as a species appropriate raw food diet.
Is Grain-Free Right For You? Ask a Vet!
If your dog is healthy and happy without any current or preexisting health issues, chances are you don't "need" to go grain-free. We always recommend consulting with your veterinarian before making any lifestyle choices.
Some dogs, such as dogs with diabetes, need a complex carbohydrate in their food source. For other dogs, a protein-dense diet may not be the healthiest option. Each stage of Fido's life dictates different levels of protein, fiber, and supportive nutrients needed.
The last thing you want to do is accidentally cause Fido any harm while trying to make a positive change in their life. Talking to your vet is a great way to make sure that you're doing all you can to keep your dog healthy.
Tips for Going Grain-Free
Once you get approval from your vet, if you decide to go grain-free there are a few things to keep in mind. When switching to grain-free pet food, go slowly. Gradually introduce the grain-free food by slowly swapping out portions of their current grain-based food with the new grain-free food. This process should take a few weeks before their food transitions into being completely grain-free. Pet parents should be sure to keep an eye on their dog's stool to ensure they aren't suffering from diarrhea or constipation. If gastrointestinal upset occurs, you can try adding some pumpkin for dogs to their diet.
Read the Label!
Another thing to be aware of when switching to a grain-free diet is the carbohydrate levels. A huge misconception of grain-free diets is that they are low-carb. This isn't the case. The grains in grain-free pet food is often replaced with vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, green peas and, tapioca. These ingredients, particularly in dry dog food, make the meal higher or higher in carbohydrates than grain-based foods.
Again, as we previously mentioned, these ingredients are also starches that when metabolized, turn into sugars. Because of the fact that yeast thrives off of sugar, if your dog suffers from chronic yeast infections you may want to steer clear of grain-free kibble.
Stay in the Know!
Additionally, we firmly believe that when you know better, you do better. Check out the label on your dog's current food source. What are the top two ingredients? If one of them is corn or grain, you may want to consider switching things up, even if you don't go entirely grain free. Diet is such a massive part of your dog's overall health. Ensuring that you are feeding them a nutritionally balanced diet is an easy way to promote overall wellness on a daily basis.
Dangers of Grain-Free for Puppies
As we previously mentioned, every stage of your dog's life requires different levels of nutrients in order to ensure proper growth and optimal wellness. In terms of puppies, diets that have high levels of protein can damage the kidneys. For this reason, many brands of grain-free dog food are only recommended for adult dogs. Ask your vet for their recommendations as to a grain-free diet for your puppy that is safe and won't cause any problems to arise down the line.
Alternatives to Grain Diets
If you choose not to go completely grain-free, you may still want to consider switching to a diet that isn't as grain dense as your dog's current food source. “Single whole grain” formulas make for a beneficial substitute without going entirely grain free. Single whole grain formulas have also proven to be an effective way to reduce food allergies and sensitivities since they are easier for the dog to digest.
Grain Free Dog Food: A Final Thought
At the end of the day, you want what's best for your dog. More times than not, optimal health begins with high-quality dog food. Think about it. In large part, your dog's health is a product of their nutrient intake and environmental surroundings. If you are feeding your dog a diet that mostly entails an ingredient like corn, where are all of the essential vitamins and minerals coming from?
Circling back to our opening concern, not all trends are worth exploring. It is clear that grain-free and gluten-free dog food options ultimately resulting from new trends in human dietary thinking. However, this is not to say that grain-free dog food has nothing to offer for Fido. Many pet parents have seen positive results when switching to a grain-free diet and agree that the benefits are something to consider.
Whether or not grain-free is the way to go will ultimately depend on your dog's individual needs. Talk to your veterinarian about whether switching to a grain-free diet may be a good idea for your beloved furbaby.