Entire aisles at the grocery store are dedicated to foods that are "something-free" think sugar-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free. Consumers are gobbling up these specialty foods in an effort to uphold a perceived "more natural and healthy" nutrition, but not just for themselves.
Interest in a more healthful nutrition has rolled right into the pet aisle. It's understandable; after all, your dog is a member of your family who deserves to be as healthy as you want to be. One of the recent trends in pet food is grain-free dog food. Should dogs eat grains? Many dog parents who opt for grain-free foods believe grains are simply fillers in dog food to keep prices low with little to no nutritional value. Dog parents have even associated grains to food allergies that affected their pet in some upsetting ways.
But grain-free dog food isn't necessarily better for your pup. Here are some common grains used in dog food and why you should consider keeping them in his dish.
Common Grains Used in Dog Foods
When looking at the list of ingredients in your dog's food, you might see grains such as:
You may be familiar with most of these grains; each of them are just as popular for your own consumption. Some, like quinoa and barley, are even described as a "super foods." The New York Times suggests quinoa is considered a super food because of the high amounts of protein, iron, and fiber that come in each serving. Barley is high in fiber, both the soluble and insoluble kind.
Do these ingredients have the same benefits for dogs? Should dogs eat grains?
Whole grains such as corn provide dogs with important and perfectly digestible nutrients including protein, vitamin E, and linoleic acid. It is those nutrients that are crucial to a dog's overall health. The most important thing to remember is that the food you choose provides your dog with complete and balanced nutrition. This is true whether or not the food contains these grains.
Grain-Free Isn't Carb-Free
Veterinarians also frequently hear from pet parents that they chose to go grain-free because they wanted to put their pet on low-carb meals. But grain-free and low-carb do not go hand-in-hand. To replace grains, grain-free food often uses ingredients such as potatoes, apples, and peas. In fact, some grain-free pet foods contain carbohydrate levels similar to or even higher than dog food containing grains.
Allergies and Grains
Another frequent reason vets hear dog parents say they chose to buy grain-free foods is because their dogs suffer from allergies. Veterinary Practice News interviewed four board-certified vet nutritionists about allergies and the role grains play in them. The nutritionists told the magazine corn, wheat, and soy are rarely the cause of food allergies.
"I honestly don't know where that got started. It's not based on any data, and there are excellent foods that contain one or more of those items," said Cailin Heinze, MS, VMD, and a diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Veterinary Dermatology also recently evaluated 278 dogs with food allergies and looked into the problem ingredient for each dog surveyed. Beef was the most common allergen, responsible for 95 of the cases reported. Dairy was responsible for 55 cases, making it the second-most frequent cause. Corn was identified as the offender in only seven of the dogs in the study.
If you suspect your dog suffers from a food allergy (common food allergy symptoms include itchiness, hair loss, inflamed skin, sores, and scabs) you should first talk with your vet about the issues your poor guy is experiencing. Then, under consistent professional treatment, you can determine to which ingredient your pup is reacting adversely through some careful food trials.
The Right Grain-Free Food for Your Dog
For certain dogs that are sensitive to grain, though, in which case you should look for a high-quality grain-free dog food that still provides balanced nutritional content. Hill's® Science Diet® Adult Grain Free dog food, for instance, is formulated with prebiotics to promote nutrient absorption and digestive health, nourish a radiant and lustrous skin and coat, and offer a host of clinically proven antioxidants with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
How do you know if what you're feeding your dog is high in quality? One way to determine if the manufacturer is meeting high nutrition standards is by looking to see whether its food meets guidelines established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which sets standards for pet foods in the United States. In order for a dog food to be marketed as "complete and balanced," it must meet these nutritional standards established by AAFCO (luckily all Hill's brands meet or exceed them).
The important thing to keep in mind when choosing a food for your dog is that just like with humans different dogs can have different nutritional needs. There is no one kind of food that is perfect for all dogs. But by doing your research on nutrition, you can find the right balance to meet your deserving pup's needs.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle puppy named Maddie.