Grain Free Pet Food Diets! Are they good?
In veterinary medicine, nutrition can play a key role in a pet’s overall health. We use a number of diet types to help us achieve good health depending on what the pet’s underlying problem is. Two common ailments that we address with diet are: Food Allergy Dermatitis and Digestive Upset. In this article I hope to touch on the strategies for treating these two conditions through nutrition, and tie in what role grain free diets play. Grain Free Diets are marketed aggressively, but their value is ambiguous. There may truly be value in them, but some skepticism is warranted.
For Food Allergy Dermatitis the strategy is first to diagnose if the pet truly has a Food Allergy. How we do this is by putting them on a very specific/ hypoallergenic diet for 6 plus weeks, with no treats, no anything – just the specific hypoallergenic diet. If their skin condition improves then we have evidence that there is an underlying Food Allergy Dermatitis.
The diet itself is a single novel protein source and a single novel carbohydrate source. By ‘novel‘ we mean using sources that are uncommon which the pet is unlikely to have ever been exposed to. Since the body has never been exposed to these sources, it is unlikely to have developed an allergy to it. We have a number of commercial hypoallergenic diets that we sell, the most common is Duck and Potato. The Duck is a protein source that most dogs have never been exposed to and Potato is a carbohydrate source that most dogs have never been exposed to. Some pet stores carry similar products and in some cases they are reasonably good, however the diets we carry have very specific ingredients that are never substituted and the machines that they are processed on are committed to only that line of food so that there can be no cross contamination.
For Digestive Upset we use a couple of different strategies : hypoallergenic, bland, high fiber, and (possibly) grain free. The hypoallergenic diet is just like above, a single novel protein source and a single novel carbohydrate source. We have the pet fed this as an exclusive dietary trial hoping to see improvement in the digestive problem.
Bland food is another strategy we use for digestive upset. With this diet we are not trying to provide a hypoallergenic food – we are merely feeding food that is very easy for the gastrointestinal system to digest. We are not worried about the protein and carbohydrate sources, just whether the ingredients are easy to digest. Chicken and rice are commonly used, but diets commonly have corn, beef, etc in them too.
Hi Fiber food can be beneficial for certain digestive diseases. Again, in this circumstance, we are less concerned about the protein and carbohydrate sources and more concerned about the fiber level and how digestible the fiber is.
Now then, where do Grain Free Diets fit into all of this?
Gluten free diets have become a very useful tool for treating human problems. Some people have trueÂ Celiac Disease and their gastrointestinal system reacts badly to gluten, so they cannot have it. Some people have sensitivities to gluten and their gastrointestinal system simply functions better without it. In our little group here at Q Street Animal Hospital we have 4 out of 11 that are on gluten free diets. It is a genuine dietary issue for humans, so it is reasonable to think that it is a dietary issue for our pets. Do petâ€™s benefit from gluten free diets??? = The ‘verdict is still out’. There is not widely accepted information to support this. I believe many pet foods are loosely associating ‘grain free’ with ‘gluten free’, and they genuinely are similar in many respects. SO, there may truly be benefits from using a grain free diet in pets. Some pet’s may digest it easier and have improved overall conditions. BUT, it’s a bit vague.
- CLEARLY, ‘grain free’ diets are not hypoallergenic diets (because they do not use single novel carbohydrate and protein sources)
- NOT so clearly, are they bland and easy to digest? Â They vary, and that is not their focus.
- NOT so clearly, are they high in digestible fiber?Â They vary, and that is not their focus.
- Vaguely – some individual patients may genuinely benefit from a grain free diet, especially when we consider how much (somewhat similar) gluten free diets help people.
There can genuinely be some value in Grain Free Diets, but it is a little vague. The value in it is more borrowed from the value that gluten free diets provide for people. More than anything it is a marketing tool. Many people have embraced the idea of Grain Free Diets and I donâ€™t want to discourage them, but I do want them to seek solid information and to be skeptical!
PS – I have not specifically addressed cats! In general terms all the same things apply, but their diets are much more hotly debated and rightfully so = they are true carnivores (eat meat) whereas dogs are omnivores (eat lots of stuff). Maybe we can do a whole article on that some time in the future.