Grain Free Dog Food

Commercial dog food, especially dry kibble, has tended to traditionally contain grains of some kind, particularly wheat and corn. In recent times, some dogs appear to show signs of allergies or intolerances to certain grain ingredients found in kibbles and by switching to a grain free diet their symptoms reportedly disappear. Today, grain free dog food, both wet and dry varieties, is widely available and feeding dogs a grain free diet is a popular trend. But are grain free foods really any better for dogs then others?

Read the label

There are lots of different types of grain and if dog owners suspect a food allergy or intolerance they should try to find out exactly which ingredient their pet reacts to so that they know what they need to exclude from their diet. The best known grains are wheat and corn, and it is becoming increasingly common, particularly among premium brands, to exclude these from regular dog food recipes. So dogs that are allergic or sensitive to wheat or corn might not necessarily need to exclude all grains from their diet or eat an entirely grain free food.

Grains include cereals such as oats, barley and rice, so a specifically labelled grain free dog food shouldn’t contain any form of these ingredients. It pays for owners to carefully read the ingredients list. It is also worth bearing in mind that a dog’s skin allergy or sensitive stomach may be linked to a non-grain ingredient such as dairy or beef, in which case a limited ingredient food rather than a grain free one might be more suitable.

Are grain free dog foods healthier?

It is easy for pet owners to become confused by marketing messages and high prices, so it is not surprising that many people perceive grain free foods as being superior and healthier than other types. As ever, owners need to check the ingredients list and nutritional content of any dog food to make sure it meets their dog’s dietary needs.

There are a lot of grain free dog foods that are made from high quality, natural ingredients and are considered healthy, including the Orijen, Merrick, Wellness, Fromm and Canidae brands. However, there are also a number of healthy, top quality dog foods that do contain grains.

Some people believe that dogs are unable to properly digest the starches in grains, as grains are not a food their wild ancestors would have eaten. Others argue that domesticated dogs, after living with humans for thousands of years, have evolved to eat a diet similar to humans and as a result they do have the digestive enzymes to digest grains, so there is no reason that a grain free diet is necessarily the healthiest.

How common is a grain allergy in dogs?

Although a small percentage of dogs are allergic to grains such as wheat or corn, it is actually more common for dogs to be allergic to other widely used dog food ingredients such as beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb or fish. It is worth remembering that only a very small number of dogs actually have any food allergies or intolerances at all. However, if a dog regularly experiences issues related to a sensitive stomach, such as loose stools, diarrhea or gas, changing to a different food, not necessarily a grain free one, may help resolve the problems.

Are grain free dog foods best for a low carb, high protein diet?

A common misconception is that all grain free dog foods must be low in carbohydrates and high in meat protein. This is true in some cases, particularly whole prey or ancestral diet based recipes, where the main ingredients are animal protein, with some vegetables and fruits. However, in many grain free recipes the starchy grains are replaced by other high carb ingredients such as potatoes or sweet potatoes.

Owners wanting their dog to follow a low carb or high protein diet should always check the nutritional content on the label. As ever, the nutritional benefits of any dog food come down to the choice and quality of the ingredients.

Are grain free foods worth buying?

There are some top quality grain free dog foods that are made from fresh, natural ingredients and many owners report seeing an improvement in their dog’s health after changing to a grain free diet. However, unless those dogs have an identified allergy or intolerance to a certain type of grain, these improvements may just be due to a healthier recipe overall rather than to the exclusion of grains.

Owners who have a good reason for their dog to avoid grains can choose from several good grain free foods, but there are also some great brands making nutritious, healthy dog food that does contain grains and does provide a good balance of nutrients to maintain peak health.

Grain free kibble and canned food is often more expensive than conventional recipes and it is ultimately up to the owner to decide if the extra cost really does lead to an improvement in their dog’s health.