Does your pet need a grain-free diet?

Happy Tails from Husse is a pet health blog. So logically, diet and nutrition is an important part of that. Because I’m feeling like the grain-free diet fad is becoming the elephant in the room, I thought it would be a good time for me to write about it.

Tell me you haven’t been wondering if you should switch your pet to a grain-free diet because some of your friends have. You’ve been seeing all the grain-free food on the shelves at the pet store and feeling a little guilty that you haven’t jumped on the grain-free bandwagon.

If you’re a Husse customer, maybe you’ve been wondering why they don’t offer a grain-free food and if they ever will.

Well, wonder no more. Husse’s grain-free food is on the way. And whether it’s right for your pet is what we’re talking about this week.

And to allay your concerns that you’re not a good pet parent if your pet eats grains, here’s what you should know.

What is grain-free and what isn’t it?

A grain-free diet is not a low-carbohydrate diet. The most common grains found in pet foods are wheat, barley, rye, rice and corn. Any pet food claiming it’s grain-free will not have one of these grains in its recipe. But it will have other carbs like potatoes or yams.

Sometimes grain-free foods are actually higher in carbohydrates than pet foods that include grains. So if your vet has suggested a low-carb diet because of diabetes or another health condition, a grain-free diet may be a bad idea.

Grain-free diets were developed in response to consumers wanting to feed their pets a diet that mimics their own. Since many people are going gluten-free, they think their pets should too.

But here’s the thing… gluten-free and grain free are not the same.

Does grain-free mean gluten-free?

Gluten is the protein found in certain grains, like wheat, barley and rye. But some grains, like rice and corn, are gluten-free.

So gluten-free pet food may or may not be grain free, if it has rice or corn in it. But grain-free will always be gluten-free because it will have no grains… either with or without gluten.

Some people have legitimate gluten intolerances. Some even suffer from celiac disease, which makes eating gluten very painful.

But dogs don’t get celiac disease, except for one genetic line of Irish Setters in the United Kingdom.

Cats can get a celiac-like disease. If your vet suspects your cat is gluten intolerant, they will likely recommend a gluten-free diet.

To find out if your pet is gluten intolerant, veterinarian, Ken Tudor, suggests trying a grain free diet for a while and then introducing a small amount of pasta to their food. If they’re okay with the pasta, they aren’t allergic to gluten.

What’s the argument for a grain-free diet?

Proponents of grain-free diets argue that grains are not a natural part of the canine diet. Their wolf ancestors never ate grains so domestic dogs shouldn’t either.

It could be argued that, the potatoes that replace the grains in many of these grain-free foods weren’t a natural part of the wolf diet either.

In earlier posts, I’ve talked about how dogs have evolved over thousands of years of domestication. And it’s not a realistic comparison. Domestic dogs—their behavior and their biology—don’t look like their wolf ancestors.

In fact, over the course of their evolution dogs’ genes changed, allowing them to easily digest carbs, including grains.

There’s also a misconception that grain free is better for pets with allergies. That is true if you’re certain your pet is allergic to the grain in its food. You can read my post to learn the 5 signs your dog has a food allergy.

Grains are not the most likely culprits of food allergies. Beef and dairy are the most common food allergens. And believe it or not, the grain that most often takes the rap—corn— is the least likely to cause allergies.

But when someone switches their dog to a grain-free food, they often see an improvement in symptoms and assume the grains in the old food caused the problem.

What’s really happening is the dog is now eating a better quality and more expensive food (eliminating the grains is expensive for the manufacturer), and the dog is responding to the overall improvement in the ingredients, not necessarily the lack of grains.

You’d be surprised how many offending ingredients are in a low quality food.

All premium dog foods, with or without grains, will include a protein source, usually chicken, as one of its main ingredients. That’s always preferable to a food with corn, wheat, or soy as one of the first ingredients listed on the label.

If you’re uncertain what the best protein source is for your dog, read my post.

Is there a potential downside to a grain-free diet?

There can be. First and foremost your pet’s diet should be nutritionally balanced and complete. Excesses or deficiencies of any nutrient can cause problems. And that’s true of grain-free diets too.

The nutrients derived from the grains need to be replaced if the grains are removed. Fiber and the energy from carbs are critical components that must come from a different ingredient if the grains are gone.

And a lack of fiber can have an effect on your dog’s poop—making the stool loose or causing constipation.

If you own a puppy, a diet high in protein is not good. In fact, many grain-free diets are recommended for adult dogs only. Be sure to talk to your vet about your puppy’s diet before switching to a food that’s grain-free.

Always remember there’s no such thing as a one-size fits all diet. You just won’t find a diet that’s right for all dogs. It’s important to know what YOUR dog needs. And give them a food that meets those needs.

Could GMOs (genetically modified organisms) cause grain allergies/intolerances?

I talked about genetically engineered food and our pets in my post a few months back. And there’s still no definitive answer to this question.

But it seems that there may be some link. In the U.S., many dogs suffer from food intolerances that might be because of the GMOs in our food supply.

In Europe, dog food does not contain GMOs and many fewer dogs are on grain free diets.

Corn and soy are almost always genetically modified in the U.S. (unless the crops are organic). This might lead some to conclude that if dogs in the U.S. show a greater intolerance to these ingredients—an intolerance uncommon in Europe— GMOs could be to blame.

Husse’s new grain-free food

Husse, a Swedish company, has never had a grain-free food because there just isn’t a demand for it in Europe. And because all of Husse’s foods are GMO free, pets that eat it are rarely intolerant or allergic to it.

But undeniably there are dogs with a true allergy or intolerance to certain grains. Husse can now meet the needs of those dogs that need a grain-free food with Opus, its line of super premium grain-free food for dogs. Grain-free cat food is coming soon.

Does your pet eat a grain-free diet? Tell us why you made the switch at the top of this post.

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