The food aisles of your local pet store can be pretty daunting. Wet, dry, organic, raw, holistic, gluten free…
…and now grain-free is everywhere, too. Google ‘grain free’ and you’ll discover it’s a controversial topic among pet owners, with advocates and sceptics battling it out on blog comments.
We dug around to decide whether a grain-free diet is the right choice for dogs.
So dogs are basically wolves, yeah?!
Many grain-free advocates argue that wolf ancestors didn’t eat grains, so dogs don’t have the right digestive systems to eat wheat. But your one-foot tall, wheezy and round-headed Staffordshire Bull Terrier probably doesn’t look much like a wolf. And it seems all dogs have evolved. Scientists have identified new genes which show dogs have adapted to digest the starch and fats found in grains.
Can dogs be allergic to grain?
One of the big beefs against grain-free is that people impose their own diets onto their dogs. Like those with celiac disease who can’t eat foods made from wheat, rye, rice, corn, oats or barley. So, can a dog even be allergic to these?
Well, yes. Dogs can be allergic – or intolerant – to specific grains. In fact, 10% of pets suffer from food intolerance, but grain allergies are pretty rare in dogs. Your dog is more likely to be allergic to beef or dairy. And it almost certainly won’t be allergic to ALL grains.
What to watch out for
If your dog suffers from itchy skin, weight loss or an upset tummy, it might be a sign of an allergy. The trouble is, symptoms can send mixed messages. Some blogs say grain allergies can make your dog lethargic AND hyperactive. Also, it could be something else causing your dog’s itch – from flea bites to poor hygiene. If in doubt, best go to your vet. If needed, they’ll put your dog on a food trial to identify what (if anything) it’s allergic to.
Going against the grain
Many people switch to grain-free diets because they believe it makes them feel healthier, regardless of any allergies. So, can dogs benefit from grain-free food even if they’re not allergic?
Grain-free pet foods use carbohydrate equivalents such as vegetables, potatoes and herbs to give energy. These can be more nutritious than the ‘refined’ grain which pet food companies bulk up their kibble with – a process which can squeeze out minerals and vitamins. Lots of grain-free foods also have higher meat content; which means more protein and extra energy.
Like all foods though, you get good and bad grain or grain-free diets. The trick is to look for certifications such as a Grade A BRC Global Food standard certification which show that food is nutritionally complete and balanced.
So, should you go grain-free?
If it’s not broke; don’t fix it. If your pooch has a healthy skin and coat, good digestion, and plenty of energy, they’re probably on to a good thing.
If not, a grain-free diet can offer safety for dogs allergic to any grain, firmer and fewer stools, and vitamins and minerals found in grain substitutes.
Every dog is different though. Some pooches will benefit from carb-rich grain diets. And you’ll find that some pet food companies offer better food for german shepherds than others. Just make sure grain (corn, wheat, soy etc.) isn’t listed first on the pack as that’ll be the main ingredient.
And remember, dogs’ tummies like consistency. So if you do switch to grain-free, do it gradually.