Is a grain-free diet healthier for my dogs and cats?

April 11, 2017, Tufts University

Grain-free diets are one of the largest growing segments of the pet food market. More and more pet owners are choosing these diets, which are billed as more natural and less likely to cause health problems and allergies. It all sounds great—except that those claims are not true.

There is no reliable evidence that suggests that it's harmful to feed to dogs or cats. Whole grains contain valuable dietary nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and fiber. Some grain products have protein that is easier for your pet to digest than some protein from meat. Even such as white rice can be beneficial for your pet's health, depending on the type of diet and the pet.

The vast majority of dogs and cats are very efficient at digesting and using more than 90 percent of the nutrients from grains in the amounts typically found in pet foods. While food allergies in pets are uncommon, allergies to grains are even rarer. The small number of pets that have allergies are most often allergic to animal proteins, such as chicken, beef and dairy. Gluten intolerance is also exceedingly rare in pets. Gastrointestinal symptoms caused by consuming gluten have been confirmed in just one inbred family of Irish setters.

Grain-free diets can vary widely in terms of their nutritional profiles. Some are lower in carbohydrates, which means that they can be quite high in both fat and calories. Other grain-free diets merely substitute similar amounts of highly refined starches, such as those from potatoes or tapioca (also called cassava), in place of grains. These ingredients may provide fewer nutrients and less fiber than whole grains, and foods containing them can cost more.

Other pet food companies use ingredients such as peas, beans or lentils instead of grains to provide carbohydrates, but these ingredients are not necessarily any better for your pet than grains and may cause digestive upset in some animals.

The bottom line is that "grain-free" is a marketing concept designed to sell , not an evidenced-based solution for helping your pet live a long, healthy life.

Explore further: New study finds that eating whole grains increases metabolism and calorie loss

Related Stories

Offer kids whole grains; they'll eat them, study shows

June 24, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Many parents presume their children will shun whole grains because they think they don't like them, a University of Florida researcher says, but a new UF study may start to debunk that idea.

Top 5 myths about gluten

June 6, 2014

In the past few years there has been a surge in gluten-free diets and products that claim giving up the protein can lead to healthier lifestyles. A New York Times article recently cited Mintel, a market research company, ...

Recommended for you

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rderkis
not rated yet Apr 11, 2017
I have read that studies showed that domesticated dog's stomachs, thru several thousand years of adaption can handle grains much better that wolf's stomachs.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.