When touring pet food aisles at the pet store or the supermarket, pet owners may become overwhelmed by the options at their disposal. Many pet owners choose to replicate their own diets when choosing foods for their pets, and a popular trend is to avoid grain when selecting pet foods. However, selecting the best diet for pets means weighing all the benefits against the possible negatives. Much of the time it comes down to pet owner preference.
Proponents of feeding dogs and cats grain-free diets involves the support of the natural diet of these animals, or what their wild counterparts would be eating before dogs were domesticated. According to Dr. Karen Becker, a holistic veterinarian and contributor to Healthy Pets by Mercola, the natural diets of canines contain almost no carbohydrates or grains. The primary sources of carbs would be the grasses, fruits and vegetables found in the stomachs of prey animals.
Other proponents of grainfree diets say that, while dogs and cats may have evolved from wild animals to domesticated pets, their digestive systems have remained relatively unchanged. Dogs in particular have little natural digestive support to metabolize complex carbohydrates and grains. Grains and other carbohydrate sources may lead to excessive gas, loose stools, skin irritations, blood sugar fluctuations, insulin resistance, and other health problems.
Are grains okay?
The other side of the argument is equally compelling. Vet-supported resource PetMD says that most pets do not need grain-free diets. Dogs possess several genes that have been modified through evolution to allow them to easily digest carbohydrates, according to the research “The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet,” by Erik Axelsson.
Another reason to avoid grain–food allergies–may not be so simple, either. When dogs and foods were assessed for allergic reactions in a review of 278 cases, beef and dairy were the most common allergens found as culprits, and not the grains. Corn, which is one of the most common carbs found in dog food, was rarely the allergen offender, only showing up in seven cases.
Kibble that contains grains can be less expensive than other types of pet food, making it a more affordable option for pet owners.
Feeding pets grains or choosing a grain-free diet is largely up to the pet owner as long as the dog or cat does not have a specific allergy to grain or gluten. Pet owners can work closely with their veterinarians to select diets that are the best fit for their pets.