Many dog foods are labelled ‘grain free’ but do grains and gluten commonly cause a problem for our pups and is a gluten free diet a healthier option?
Foods labelled ‘gluten or grain free’ are often marketed as a healthier choice for our pups. This trend in grain free pet foods has been largely driven by consumer demand following an increase in popularity of gluten free diets for humans.
Coeliac disease has only been found in one line of the Irish setter dog and it has since been bred out.
Dogs can be allergic to gluten but it is uncommon. The majority of food allergies in dogs are caused by meat based proteins.
Cooked grains can be digested by dogs and can be a good source of nutrition.
There are ongoing investigations into a potential link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy and grain- free diets in a small number of dogs.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a storage protein found in a number of grains; wheat, barley and some types of oats, bran, spelt and rye.
Do dogs get coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself in the presence of gluten. In this case the attack is on the lining of the small intestine. This damage means that the guts cannot absorb nutrients from the food properly.
Dogs do not always share the same diseases or disease processes that we do and coeliac disease has only been discovered in one breeding line of Irish Setters. These dogs were no longer bred from and the condition has been ‘bred out’.
What about grain and gluten allergies?
Food allergies in dogs account for around 10% of skin allergies and are usually caused by meat proteins (such as beef, chicken or lamb). Gluten allergies do occur, but they are less common.
There is some evidence that gluten contributes to Border Terrier Paroxysmal Gluten-Sensitive Dyskinesia, a condition which causes abnormal movement, and is often associated with upset tummies. Whilst this condition is not life-threatening, an elimination diet may be advised once the condition has been discussed with a veterinary neurologist.
If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, please seek the assistance of your vet before changing diets. Diagnosing a food allergy needs to be done by following a strict elimination diet. (see our article on food allergies for more information)
Aren’t grains just put in as ‘fillers’ in dog foods?
There has been a concept that grains in dog foods are ‘fillers’ and that grain-free diets are healthier or more natural. Grains are sources of carbohydrates which can also provide other nutrients including fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. Dogs have evolved to be able to digest carbohydrates including cooked grains. A carb-free diet is not usually a good idea or possible to achieve.
It is also important to remember that grain-free diets are not necessarily low carbohydrate diets as legumes, pulses or potatoes are often used as alternative ingredients.
Recently there have been investigations into reports of a heart condition – canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) - in dogs eating certain pet food labelled as ‘grain-free’. These diets contained high proportions of peas, lentils, other legumes or potatoes as main ingredients. The link between these high levels of legumes or potatoes and DCM is not yet known, but research is underway.
We hope this article reassures you that grains aren’t “evil” and in fact form an important part of a balanced diet for dogs. Why not book an appointment with one of the MyDogDoc vets today to discuss your dog’s diet?