Understanding Grain Free Dog Food

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / January 31, 2017

Diet trends come and go, but some stick around for the right reasons. In the age of the gluten-free and grain-free diets, new literature is emerging each year about the pros and cons of making the switch. Now, pet owners are wondering if grain free dog food is best for their favorite four-legged friends. Can dogs receive the same benefits from a grain-free diet as some humans?

grain free dog food

The answer comes down to your unique pup and their specific nutritional needs. For many dogs, the re-emergence of grain free dog food has helped their digestive system, joint health, and overall immune system strength. Many grain free dog food options offer meals with a rich protein and vitamin content often with less fillers and animal byproducts. With all diet changes, however, the key is finding the correct nutritional balance for your particular animal at this point in their lives. No breed or digestive system is exactly the same. Have a conversation with your vet about the best step forward for your pup.

How Dog’s Diets Have Changed

Grains such as corn and wheat play a prominent role in both wet and dry food nowadays, but this hasn’t always been the case. Before World War II, you were less likely to spot grains and starches in commonly sold pet food products. To keep costs low and to bulk up production during and after wartime, these starchy fillers provided affordable ways to meet pet food supply. Afterwards, these combinations simply became commonplace, allowing brands to offer cheaper food selections to pet owners.

So you may be wondering–how did this change affect dogs’ health? Did the cost-effective switch sacrifice the food’s nutritional value? In reality, a dog’s digestive system had the ability to process grains and starches long before mass-produced pet food existed. Geneticist, Erik Axelsson, found that digestive changes date back to human farming and early domestication of dogs and some wolves. Dogs ate local scraps and learned to adapt to the suddenly grain-filled human meal. So as long as humans have been throwing away starches and grains, dogs have been adapting to digest them properly.

Around the same time that paleo, gluten free, and grain-free diets took off in the US, the pet diet followed suit. Grain-free diets have a range of digestive and anti-inflammatory benefits for humans, especially those with gluten-specific allergies. As pet owners and their vets found more grain-related allergies and sensitivities in their dogs, pet food producers moved to meet this demand. Traditional pet food is still available; however, the new options simply supply variety for those with a protein-heavy, grain-free need. Real chicken, beef, and other meats started to play a more prominent role in the recipe.

Grain free dog food is a win-win when it comes to your dog’s tummy and your wallet (if you find the right discounts)! Affordable, quality food is what we all want for our little furry friends to keep them happy and healthy especially when you have more than one pet.

Benefits of Grain Free Dog Food

best minerals and vitamins for grain free dog food

Even if you get your vet’s permission, why should you make the switch to a grain-free diet? Before diving into grain-free advantages, it’s important to look at which ingredients we can use to replace the removed grains in traditional recipes.

High Quality Protein

With more of a focus on quality, protein-focused ingredients and less on mass production, these grain free dog food options often included higher quality meats and starches, opposed to by-products like chicken meal. Real meats like beef, chicken fat, and eggs supply whole proteins, and thus a greater source of vitamins and minerals. Starches used for binding differ as well. Grain-free dry and wet recipes tend to use beans, sweet potato or other plant-based proteins as a binding agent, opposed to corn or wheat.

With fewer processed carbohydrates, grain-free options are also easier on your pet’s stomach and digestive tract. This leads to higher energy levels, healthier skin and coat, fewer issues with stool size and flatulence, and even in staying full and nourished longer.

Helps Allergies

grain free dog food helps prevents allergies

Potential allergies are another reason to make the switch. If your pup has been exhibiting signs of a food allergy, such as itching, vomiting, loose stools, or persistent ear infections, it may be time to get them tested. Common allergies in dogs include chicken, beef, dairy, or a variety of grains. Certain breeds, such as Irish Setters, often experience gluten allergies, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Though these allergies are rare, a grain-free meal can be very helpful in these situations.

Nutrient Dense

Many brands of grain-free dog food offer natural supplements of thiamine, copper, zinc, folic acid, manganese, iron and calcium. Riboflavin—commonly known as vitamin B and provided by fatty acids—aids in the production of red blood cells and other essential disease-fighting antibodies. More specifically, these specialized pet meals also often include yucca schidigera, which acts as a natural anti-inflammatory and a means for easing stool odor. Chicory root is another interesting ingredient in high-quality wet and dry dog foods. A prebiotic fiber, chicory root aids in the production of good bacteria in the intestine.

Is a Grain-Free Diet Right for Your Dog?

Even after considering all the possible benefits, it’s always best to consult your vet before changing anything major in your pet’s diet. A protein-heavy meal is not best for all dogs as dietary needs change with age. Check the labels of your food to see if their recipe is recommended specifically for adult dogs only, as puppies and older dogs often have different requirements.

Most importantly, transition your dog slowly to the new dry or wet food. A too-sudden shift could cause greater digestive issues. Incorporate the new food with your dog’s existing food over time, and keep an eye on their digestive health during this time. Discuss signs of constipation or loose stools with your vet.

It’s important to note that fewer grains do not mean fewer carbohydrates. Corn and wheat are replaced with beans, sweet potatoes or other starchy plants, often upping carbohydrate intake. Complex carbohydrates are essential for energy production, as well as a great source of fiber and minerals. These plant-based filler replacements contain the proper supplements of folic acid, manganese, and other essential nutrients.

Is a Grain-Free Diet Necessary for All Dogs?

grain free dog food

Though many dogs benefit from the proteins and supplements naturally provided by grain-free dog food, it is not necessary for our pups to avoid all grains. Many grains, such as quinoa, include important minerals and vitamins like potassium and iron. Without a particular allergy to corn, wheat, or gluten, many dogs will absorb all their nutrients without a problem. The quality of the grains also depends on their level of processing. Dog food varieties that include whole grains are more likely to maintain their original nutritional value.

Allergy or not, many do find that grain-free varieties put emphasis on higher-quality meats and binding ingredients. Dog food marked as grain-free may naturally steer away from fillers or GMO products that could lead to a variety of issues down the line. It’s all about finding the highest quality ingredients to supplement a proper balance of nutrition.

Each stage of your dog’s life requires different levels of protein, fiber, and supportive nutrients for growth and aging. So be sure to chat with your doctor before jumping on board with the grain-free movement.

The emergence of grain-free dog food offers pet owners a useful, high-quality food option. Many brands change out fillers and meat byproducts with real chicken, beef and fish, providing a “cleaner” solution to everyday dog food. Avoiding grains is not right for every pup, especially for those getting on in years or young puppies, but it’s worth chatting with your vet about the possible benefits of avoiding grains.

Undiagnosed issues such as digestive complications or unexplained itching could stem from a food allergy, making this grain solution an excellent opportunity for your pet. Above all, it all comes down to what’s best for your furry friend. Find the best food that keeps them happy, healthy and energized for years to come.

About The Author:

Ginny Bartolone is a lifestyle writer, professional actress, and animal lover based in the NYC area. Both marketing and creative nonfiction pieces have been published on sites such as Offbeat Bride and Home, The Financial Diet, and The Matador Network. More of her writing can be found on her blog, MaybeThereWillBeCupcakes.com

Did you know: grains can come with major health risks? In fact, it made our list of 7 Potentially Deadly Ingredients Legally Allowed in Pet Food! Click here to find out why grains can be so dangerous…







About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for Honestpaws.com.

  • Gina nichols says:

    What are the best brand of dog food should I buy for my dog

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