It’s not known when exactly the grain-free pet food craze began, but like many pet trends that mimic human health food trends, the rise of grain-free kibble seems to be mirroring the spike in grain- and gluten-free products for people. In humans, going grain-free is certainly warranted since an increasing number of people suffer from celiac disease—a painful, debilitating autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. However, there is currently no scientific proof that this condition exists in any dog or cat breed, other than one genetic line of Irish Setters.When a furkid has soft stools, flatulence, foul poop or itchy skin, most paw-rents immediately assume that the food is the culprit. More specifically, grains get blamed for any signs of indigestion, such as vomiting and diarrhoea. Although it’s a possibility that a pet’s diet is responsible, it’s also just as likely that Fido may have ingested something foreign from his forages in the backyard. It’s more important to look at your pet’s diet holistically instead of pointing the finger at grains.
THE TRUE CULPRITS
Studies show that there’s nothing wrong with including a small amount of complex carbohydrates in your dog’s diet. In fact, all grains are primarily composed of
complex carbohydrates, and starch is simply a less complex carbohydrate found in grains. Problems arise when poor quality, processed wheat flour is added to pet foods at levels exceeding 50 percent of the diet. Such high carbohydrate levels put a strain on digestion and absorption, affect insulin metabolism, and trigger inflammatory pathways. Gluten—a mixture of proteins found in wheat, barley and rye—is not present in all grains and gluten levels vary from one grain to the next. “Wheat is particularly allergenic, and has much higher levels of gluten than do oats. Meanwhile, rice and sorghum have no gluten,” shares Dr Syme. “True gluten intolerance is a definite cause of illnesses like inflammatory bowel disease or skin allergies in pets. It’s the gluten, not the grain, that causes these issues.” While it’s true that grain-free dog food will always be gluten-free, grain bashers should know that in many storebought grain-free pet foods, grains have been substituted with other sources of carbohydrate like potato, sweet potato and yam that may or may not be at levels beneficial to your furkid. “Some grainfree alternatives may lead to a higher fat and calorie content, as they may contain starch-based ingredients like potatoes,” says Dr Brian Loon from Amber
Veterinary Practice. In fact, it’s been found that some grain-free pet foods contain carbohydrate levels similar to or even higher than diets with grains.
Those who often make grain the scapegoat for their pet’s skin allergies will be surprised to learn that most grains aren’t even among the most common
allergens found in pet foods. According to research, the top five allergy-provoking ingredients in dogs are beef, dairy, wheat, chicken and egg. In cats, beef, dairy and fish are the top three allergens.
To read more about grains and how to work it into your furkids' diet, flip to Pet Bowl (pg 76) of our Apr-May 2016 issue!