As a dog owner, keeping your pooch happy and healthy is a top priority. Ensuring your dog has a nutritionally balanced diet is one of the first steps to achieving that. However, choosing the right type of dog food can be tricky. With so many variations, it’s easy to find yourself torn between wet and dry dog food, gluten-free dog food and grain-free dog food, maybe even home-made food. Today, we’ll take a look at grain-free dog food - what it is and what benefits it can bring to your dog.
What is grain-free dog food?
Grain-free dog food has been a household item in stores across the UK for years. It’s an alternative to regular dog food designed for dogs who suffer from food allergies and especially those that have a cereal allergy. Yet, the real popularity of grain-free dog food can probably be traced back to the rise in popularity of grain-free human food over the last decade.
In essence, grain-free dog food does not contain wheat, rye, oats, barley, rice, corn, soy or any other type of grains that could cause an allergic reaction. Instead, these are replaced with other nutritional sources, mostly veggies, such as potatoes and peas.
Contrary to popular belief, grain-free dog food is not low-carb or carbohydrate-free, as carbs are an important part of your four-legged friend’s diet. So, good-quality grain-free dog food can be just as nutritional as your favourite regular dog food.
Is grain-free dog food the same thing as gluten-free dog food?
As many of the common cereal varieties, such as wheat, barley and rye include gluten, it’s often assumed that gluten-free and grain-free dog food are one and the same. However, this is not true. Some grains, such as rice and corn, do not contain gluten so they could be used in gluten-free dog food recipes. This means that if your dog is allergic to cereal, some gluten-free foods could also trigger an allergic reaction. To avoid this, don’t substitute grain-free for gluten-free or if you do, always double-check the list of ingredients to make sure there are no grains that could harm your dog.
Can dogs eat grains?
In theory, whether dogs should eat grains or not is a question that goes back to the debate whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores. Those who believe dogs are carnivores think dogs should eat a plant-free, meat-based diet in line with their history of hunting and their ancestral connection to wolves.
Those who find themselves on the omnivore side of the debate, point out that dogs have longer intestines than carnivores and produce digestive enzymes that allow them to process plant-based food. Also, we’ve all seen dogs eat grass voluntarily.
In addition to that, it can be argued even wolves would consume some grains through their prey which consists of animals on a plant-based diet and there is plenty of evidence that dogs can process food that contains grains. So, even though the omnivore vs carnivore debate is nowhere near being resolved with firm believers on both sides, we can safely say that most dogs can eat grains.
Whether they should or they shouldn’t is probably something you should discuss with your vet, based on your dog’s medical history.
What are the benefits of grain-free dog food?
The most obvious benefit of grain-free dog food is that it can reduce the possibility of your dog having an allergic reaction to their food. It is true that cereal allergy in dogs is rare, with less than 1% of dogs showing symptoms, yet if you suspect your dog may suffer from food intolerance or allergy to their normal food, then you should speak to your veterinarian to see if grain-free dog food could be a better solution to your dog’s dietary needs.
Grain-free dog food is packed with nutrients and fibre, so it can be beneficial for your dog’s teeth and skin too. Shinier coat, less issues with itchy skin, plus healthy teeth and a fresh-smelling breath - what’s not to like?
Also, grain-free dog food can be a good alternative to some of the cheaper brands of regular dog food, as highly processed grains are sometimes used in large quantities to reduce the price of the food. However, this comes at the cost of reduced nutritional value and lower-quality energy sources.
Are there any cons to using grain-free dog food?
Remember how we mentioned that grain-free dog food is made using carbs from potatoes, peas and other vegetables? In some cases, grain-free food could contain even more carbs than your regular dog food, so it’s important to check the label carefully before deciding on what the healthier option is. For some food-loving pooches, consuming too much carbohydrates (including grain-free sources) can lead to unwanted weight gain.
That being said, it can be argued that since grain-free dog food is considered a ’good’ source of energy, your pooch might feel more inclined to go outside, do exercises or play because they have refuelled with grain-free dog food. So in a way, eating grain-free can lead to increased energy, which could in turn counter the weight gain problem.
Of course, this will depend heavily on your dog’s individual personality and metabolism, which is why it’s always important to discuss changes to your dog’s diet with your vet first. Your doctor knows your pet’s health best and they should be able to flag any problems that could arise.
Thinking your furry buddy may have put on a few too many extra pounds? Check out our tips on healthy weight loss in dogs.
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