In 2016 Americans spent almost $63 billion on pet food alone. The competition between different brands is huge. It is not easy to stand out. Therefore companies come up with many creative ways to advertise. Gluten-free, organic, bio, grainless, vegan… In this article, we will review grainless and gluten-free pet food and its necessity to a healthy dog. We take into consideration dogs that have no food allergies, bowel disorders or other health problems.

Grainless and gluten-free dog food

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Grainless and gluten-free pet diets became more ubiquitous in the stores as the research in human health provided more information on the inherited gluten intolerance among humans – the celiac disease. It is estimated that in the United States alone, 1 per cent of the population is affected that is around 3 million people. Pet owners want their fluffy friends to live longer and healthier and that is welcoming. But we tend to humanize dogs and draw parallels between their and our physiological needs, thinking what is good for us must be good for our dogs. This is not necessarily always true.

The inherited pattern of celiac disease is until now only recognised among Irish Setters and in the UK only. Other dogs may also be gluten intolerant, but if your dog shows no signs of digestive disorders, weight loss, it is unlikely that they suffer from the disease. The gluten intolerance is not that common amongst pets.

Food ingredients

There is no doubt that one of the reasons why grains are added to the food is economics. Grains compared to good quality meat are a cheaper source of protein. However, grains are also valuable in their fibre content. Fibre maintains a balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract, acts as a prevention against colon cancer and improves stool formation.

When comparing protein quality in foods gained from animal and vegetable sources, dogs digest and reabsorb the animal source better. However, if you read pet food labels, you will often see “meat products” or “meat flower” which often happens to be not only internal organs but also grained bones mixed in the kibble. Collagen gained from bones is counted as a protein source in the nutritional table. However, cat and dogs can hardly digest it. So this kind of protein actually is hardly valuable in your pet’s diet. If among ingredients specific organs and body parts are not listed, we would doubt the quality of the protein source. Therefore sometimes a good source of grain is a better choice than a poor source of meat products. Grain does not automatically mean evil.

Many people tend to choose grainless food believing, that their dog will be less likely to develop food allergies or intolerance. However, the most common food allergens amongst dogs are beef, dairy products, then wheat, chicken and eggs. So this does not really justify the choice.

Dogs are wolves

‘My dog is a domesticated wolf, so cereal is not for him…’ A big study was conducted in 2012 that researched the dog domestication and it showed that more than 10 genes differ from the wild species of wolf. These 10 genes are responsible for starch digestion. “We identify candidate mutations in key genes and provide functional support for increased starch digestion in dogs relative to wolves. Our results indicate that novel adaptations allowing the early ancestors of modern dogs to thrive on a diet rich in starch, relative to the carnivorous diet of wolves, constituted a crucial step in the early domestication of dogs.”

Therefore if your dog has no health complaints, grains are fine and should not be taken away from the diet.