Grain free diets are a common choice for pet owners that want the best for their pet, but are grain free diets really the best choice for every pet?
There are many claims about the benefits of grain free food for dogs and cat, especially that they will help pets with allergies. In truth, most allergies in dogs are related to meat protein and are not related to grain. Only a true diet trial will help determine if your pet has food allergies. A diet trial involves introducing your pet to a completely new protein and carbohydrate source, and ONLY letting them eat that while the diet trial is ongoing. For example, one type of dog food with a novel protein and carbohydrate is kangaroo and oat. The pet should not have any other sources of food while they are on a diet trial – including table scraps, treats, bones, rawhides, etc. Most over the counter (i.e. available for purchase without a prescription) ‘grain free’ diets are not truly grain free, as there is contamination from the processing lines used to make the food. Only prescription diets are truly grain free and would give the best results for a diet trial.
Other, more common, reasons for allergies are environmental sources, such as pollen, dust mites, etc. If you are concerned that your pet may have allergies, it would be best to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian so your pet can be evaluated and a more in depth conversation can take place.
So even if the over the counter grain free diets are unlikely to help with an allergy, is it a problem to feed them? The answer is – maybe. There are several new studies out showing an increased risk of a type of heart disease – Dilated Cardiomyopathy, or DCM for short – in dogs that are being fed a grain free diet. A firm link has not been established yet, and more research is ongoing, but there is concern that grain free diets may be contributing to the heart disease in these pets. The grain free diets also tend to have higher protein and fat contents, which can predispose a pet to obesity – another serious health concern.
What about raw food diets? Raw food diets are supposed to confer many similar benefits as the grain free diets – better coats, smaller stool, etc. Many of these benefits are related to the higher fat content in the food, which could be achieved with fatty acid/omega 3 supplementation, as well.
Are there any risks with raw food diets? Yes. Most raw food diets are contaminated with bacteria, such as e. coli and salmonella, which can be dangerous to your pet. Even if your pet is not harmed by these bacteria, they produce the bacteria in their feces, which can put your family at risk. These are the bacteria that cause food poisoning and they can be dangerous to your family, especially if there are young children in the household or if your pet licks your family’s hands and faces.
What diet to feed your pet is an individual choice that each family must make. This information and these sources can help you make an educated decision about what is the best fit for your family. Please also visit these websites for more information: