Should Your Pet Be on a Grain Free Diet?

By Ashley Watson

Woman-shopping-for-pet-foodYesterday, I was at the pet store purchasing some grain free wet food for my cat, and I overheard a customer speaking to a sales associate. “I am looking for a grain free dog food that won’t break the bank,” she said. Then they continued the conversation while walking toward the dog food aisle. It was clear that this was her first time purchasing grain free pet food, and I wondered what prompted the switch. Was it something she read on the Internet or an article in a pet health magazine? Did her vet recommend a grain free diet for her dog? Many veterinarians recommend that cats eat strictly wet food, which is typically grain free, but what about dogs? This week’s blog post examines grain free diets for both cats and dogs.

Why Do Vets Recommend a Grain Free Diet for Cats?

My veterinarian (featured in last month’s Clinic of the Month post) urged me to switch my cat to a wet food diet during our very first visit with her. She advises all cat owners to put their cats on a strict wet food diet, even if they have to wean the cat off of dry food. We have covered this topic in many of our interviews with local vets. But this discussion was mainly restricted to cats because they cannot digest grains as well as dogs, as Dr. Kessler explained during our visit at Affectionately Cats. “Cats are carnivores. We’ve fed them like they are omnivores,” Dr. Kessler told us, “In the wild, they eat animals, and ninety to ninety-five percent of an animal’s body is made of water.”

Cat-eating-wet-foodNot only does wet food provide more moisture to help prevent dehydration; it also helps prevent obesity and obesity-related health concerns, such as diabetes. Carbs turn to fat eventually, and a dry food diet for a cat can cause a myriad of problems, including urinary tract infections and blocked cats. This all makes perfect sense, and while not all wet foods are 100% grain free, you can easily find grain free wet food for cats (though it’s not always guaranteed that grain free wet food won’t “break the bank”). However, one caveat to keep in mind is that grain free doesn’t mean carbohydrate free. Some companies will replace grains with potatoes or peas, which can actually increase the amount of sugar and carbohydrates per serving.

Should You Put Your Dog On a Grain Free Diet?

After my visit to the pet store yesterday, I found an online Veterinary News article in which Certified Veterinary Journalist, Dr. Jim Humphries explores the grain free debate, specifically as it pertains to dogs. Dr. Humphries first explains how the gluten free fad has expanded to the pet food industry. “Many believe that the gluten sensitivities common in people are also a widespread problem in pets and chose a diet based on a lack of specific ingredients, such as wheat,” he writes, adding, “Unfortunately, there is no evidence that these particular problems occur regularly in dogs or cats.”

Dog-eating-dry-foodDr. Humphries points out that Irish Setters have been known to have a gluten sensitivity, but there’s no evidence that other breeds have an issue with gluten. Aside from the “marketing hype” and “sales pitches,” about gluten, the question remains: Are dogs better off on a grain free diet? Most articles and blog posts on this topic conclude that it ultimately depends on the individual dog, and that, of course, you should speak with your vet about the best diet for your dog.

In fact, many dogs need a balance of carbohydrates and protein to gain the most nutrition from the food. Unlike cats, dogs are omnivores, and as Dr. Susan Wynn is quoted in Humphries’ article, “high protein diets are often simply good for producing expensive urine.” In other words, you might actually break the bank for a dog food that shows no hard evidence of benefiting your dog. However, at VetriScience®, we always recommend that you speak to your veterinarian about any health concerns or diet choices for your pet.

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