Author: Margot Perrot
You may have noticed that grain-free dog food has become increasingly popular in recent years. Dog owners have become much more aware of how low-quality some brands of off-the-shelf dog food are and have begun seeking out alternatives to the most popular mainstream dog food. Grain-free, raw and fresh homecooked dog food is on the rise, but is this grain-free food really making a difference to the health and wellbeing of our four-legged friends?
Are grains really that bad for my dog?
The grain-free dog food craze began soon after people jumped into the world of gluten-free diets, so it comes as little surprise that dog food companies got in on the action and started developing grain-free food. Many owners have convinced themselves that grains are one of the worst things you can find in your dog’s food, but that isn’t the case.
While it’s true that the wolven ancestors of our house-tamed dogs wouldn’t exactly start salivating if they came across a field of wheat, most dogs have developed the ability to digest grains after centuries of domestication. Over thousands of years, dogs have evolved alongside us lucky humans.
The latest research has shown that most dog breeds carry the enzyme amylase that is needed to digest starch, meaning they are absolutely able to process grain. However, this research has shown that there are regional breed differences. Many dogs from Arctic and Japanese origins carry as few of these grain-enzyme genes as their wolf, coyote, jackal and dingo cousins. These breeds include the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed, Japanese Akita and the Japanese Shiba-Inu.
Dogs do not suffer from coeliac disease like humans. However, we know some dogs have dietary intolerances or allergies to grain and others have true disorders. Some families of Irish Red Setters suffer from a condition known as gluten-induced enteropathy. This causes severe diarrhoea, weight loss and weakness. Wheat gluten sensitivity is also likely to play a factor in a protein-losing intestinal disorder in Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers. A recent study has also shown that a gluten-free diet has been hugely beneficial in alleviating signs of cramping syndrome, also known as Spikes Disease in Border Terriers.
For most pet parents, however, simply seeking out grain-free food isn’t going to give your dog a brand new, ultra-healthy lease on life. That said, carefully selected fresh ingredients absolutely could.
So why go for grain-free food?
The popularity of grain-free dog food is part of a wider movement among dog food brands all looking to provide owners with a better way to feed their dogs. While the grains in popular off-the-shelf dog food brands shouldn’t be the main cause of concern for most dog owners, the lack of natural nutrients and real meat should be.
For a dog food to be labelled ‘with chicken’, it only needs to contain 4% chicken! the other 96% can be a combination of any kinds of meats. Fortunately, there are plenty of up-and-coming dog food brands all offering meals with real meat, real vegetables and beneficial fats and oils from natural sources. Feeding your dogs fresh food with all of the required nutrients is a great way to ensure that your dog lives a happy and healthy life.
It’s important to remember that grain-free does not mean carbohydrate-free. Carbohydrates are also naturally found in fresh vegetables, seeds and botanicals and can be a fantastic source of energy and digestible fibre, ensuring gut mobility, balanced good bacteria and regular stools.
One thing that is very important to remember is that not all grain-free food has all of those necessary nutrients. It’s important that your dog’s food has been formulated by experts in nutrition to ensure it is complete and balanced. While foods that are grain-free are often healthier than other foods and are a good indicator of which food is best for your dog, you should still read the label, just to be sure.