Many people are following a Paleo style diet these days, believing that they are healthier if they follow a meat-based, grain-free and unprocessed diet, similar to that eaten by early humans. There are also an increasing number of dog food manufacturers that are adding a “grain-free” variety to their product range. Their feeling is that historically wolves and wild dogs ate meat and some vegetation with very few grains. This is causing confusion amongst pet parents, and they are wondering if they should switch their dog’s diet to a grain-free kibble.
There are a few things that need to be cleared up about dogs and dietary grain, to help you make an informed decision. First, grains do have nutritional value to dogs, as they contain proteins, vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are not just fillers and are not necessarily responsible for skin irritations as believed.
The genome of domestic dogs has been studied and compared to that of wolves. It found that our canine’s genetic code contains many more genes involved in the digestion of starches than wolves do. This suggests that as dogs were domesticated, they adapted to a diet higher in starches. The carbohydrates from grains in many diets have been replaced by non-grain starches such as potato and tapioca, and these may not have as much nutritional benefit to a pooch as a grain.
Second, grains do not in general cause food allergies. Pups become sensitive to an ingredient in their diet, usually a protein, and it can indeed be a protein from grain. However, most food allergies are due to an animal protein such as chicken or beef. Gluten sensitivity is rare in canines; it is thought to have only occurred in one specific family of Irish Setters. When scientists worked out how the gene for this sensitivity was passed on, steps were taken to eliminate it from the breed. It is now believed that there are no more affected dogs.
Third, diets with no grain are not necessarily better for diabetic dogs than any other kibble. This is because these diets are not low carbohydrate; they just contain other sources of the nutrient. When it comes to managing diabetes, consistency is what’s important – feed the same amount of food at the same time of the day and give your pooch the same dose of insulin.
While there are many anecdotal stories about individual dogs benefitting from grain-free foods, there are at this stage no scientifically proven benefits to a grain-free diet. However, they won’t do your pooch any harm.When it comes to choosing food for your pet, the best nutrients for them is the one on which they do best. Look for food that is nutritionally balanced and that they enjoy. If they are bright and active with a shiny coat and their stools are firm, then there is no indication that you need to change their food. If you do want to try a grain-free diet to see if it improves your pup’s condition, do it slowly over the course of a week to avoid gastrointestinal upset and see if your dog thrives on it.