Grain-free dog food is by far one of the most popular puppy foods on the market. These days it’s becoming unusual to find any dog food which doesn’t advertise itself as grain-free.
A food that is free from grains (and indeed which advertises itself as free from anything) admittedly sounds like it might be a more nourishing, less irritating option for your canine, especially if you suspect they have allergies or a sensitive stomach.
But just how much more beneficial is it to actually make the switch to a grain-free dog diet?
What is grain-free dog food?
Grain-free dog food is food without any form of grain, such as rice, wheat, rye, oats, or corn. These are often used as ‘filler’ ingredients in commercial dog food, as they’re cheap but still offer nutrition.
Grain-free dog food often uses other forms of carbohydrates to replace the carbs found in the grain. Dogs need carbohydrates for energy, so it is an essential nutrient. Alternative carbohydrates include foods like sweet potato, carrots and some fruits. So, grain-free dog food isn’t necessarily lower in carbs for weight loss, as some may believe.
Gluten-free dog food excludes gluten-containing grains like wheat but it may include other grains like corn and rice. If you’re just searching for your first ever dog food option, this can be confusing.
What are the benefits of grain-free dog food?
Unfortunately, there’s nothing to suggest that grain-free diets are overall better or healthier for your mutt than any other type of dog grub.
The theory behind a grain-free dog food diet is that the ancestors of our four-legged friends were purely carnivores. So they would never have normally eaten foodstuffs such as wheat and rice, which are often prevalent ingredients in dog food today.
Therefore, grain-free options which are still high in carbs, protein and fats are thought to be much more in keeping with a dog’s natural nutritional needs.
Some owners often believe that their dogs have a sensitivity to grains or even have an allergic response to them based on bad reactions their pup has had to ‘normal’ dog food brands in the past. However, there is no veterinary proof of this. True allergies are uncommon in cats and dogs, and it is thought to be ingredients other than grains causing them. It is thought that less than 1% of dogs have an allergy to grains.
While the ancestors of dogs may well have been unable or unwilling to digest carbohydrates as part of their daily hunt, evidence suggests that the domestic dogs of today are more than capable of handling a starch-rich diet.
A rice-filled dinner would be perfectly suited to even sensitive stomached pups and could even help aid digestion rather than obstruct it thanks to rice’s heavy fibre content.
Whole grains especially can even be a great source of amino acids, which are a natural, easily digested protein, and the perfect nutrient for a progressing puppy.
With this information in mind, it’s hard to understand why grain-free food is so popular. Especially given there’s no real evidence to support its supposed benefits.
However, despite not being a crucial switch you have to make, choosing a grain-free diet can still be a perfectly healthy choice for your canine…
Why choose grain-free dog food?
Despite the misconception that grain-free food is a more sensitive or more natural diet for dogs, their recipes are still packed full of nourishing nutrients for hungry hounds.
By being grain-free, such dog foods are often focused on being free from as many irritating ingredients as possible. This means there are usually no artificial additives or other allergy-inducing products involved.
This is a fantastic feature of most grain-free foods. You can be confident you are feeding your pup no nasty junk or fillers come mealtime.
And although they don’t solve a dog’s digestion problems the way we’d assume, they are still often packed with a bounty of other digestive aiding ingredients and healthy gut boosters.
Its added ingredients can also support joint health or coat repair. Although not technically better, they can be just as healthy as a standard vitality dog food brand.
However not all grain-free food is created equal. You still have to be careful when selecting the right meal for your mutt.
What to be wary of when choosing grain-free dog food
Just because grains are removed from a recipe, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are serving up your pup a low carb treat. This relates especially if the meal is filled with grain substitutes such as peas and potatoes.
These sorts of vegetables actually contain far more carbohydrates than the average grain. So naturally, they are going to be a more calorific recipe when combined with commonly used dog food ingredients.
High-calorie recipes are the easiest way for you to lose control over a dog’s weight gain. So, like with any dog food, this is the main sense in which certain grain-free options can be unhealthy.
Is grain-free dog food safe?
Some scientists are beginning to claim grain-free dog food may not be so healthy. However, it’s still currently unclear whether they’re doing more harm than good to our dogs.
In the UK, all dog commercial dog food still passes stringent tests for quality and safety. So, grain-free dog food is certainly safe to eat. It is just that we are unsure of the benefits (or risks) of leaving grain out of a dog’s diet.
They remain one of the most loved types of dog food, and millions of dogs eat grain-free diets without any problems. However, recent links have begun to worry dog owners – but there is actually nothing to panic about.
In 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began investigating a possible link between some grain-free dog food brands and cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Between 2014 and 2019, the FDA received 560 reports of heart disease. Of these, 91% of the dogs were on a grain-free diet.
However, this is an early and preliminary link from a very small pool. It is thought it was more to do with the brands than the fact that the food was grain-free. In the UK, we don’t need to worry.
In the meantime, if you’re worried, it’s best to talk to your vet about the best diet options for your pup.