Hungry dog

Grain Free Food: Is it Really Necessary For Your Dog?

Americans have steadily been shifting to “specialty” diets for the past decade. Whether they’ve suddenly found themselves to be gluten-free, unable to eat meat or prefer a meal free from grains, the trend has also started to extend from owners to their dogs. Just because you have special dietary needs, or simply prefer an alternative diet, doesn’t mean it’s good for your dog.

What is grain-free food?
Grain-free foods are simply, as the name implies, foods free of grain. That means diets that include foods like corn, wheat and barley are generally off limits. You’ll find that foods that are grain-free are often free of gluten too.

Proponents of grain-free diets claim that dogs’ ancestors dined primarily on high protein, meat-based meals and didn’t eat grains. How often do you see wolves snacking on a cob of corn, for instance? The idea is to get your pup back to what is thought to be their ideal diet, which is rich in meat and free from corn and other grains.

With many types of dog food on the market, you’ll often find that corn, or corn meal, is the main ingredient. It acts as a filler to help stuff your pup without having to include an abundance of expensive meat and other ingredients. Proponents of grain-free foods often argue that dog food manufacturers fill their food with corn in order to save money at the expense of the dog’s dietary needs.

Is it healthy for dogs?
The short answer is yes, and no. Many veterinarians argue that while their ancestors might’ve feasted on meals that were entirely grain-free, modern domesticated dogs have adapted to be capable of digesting grains without problems.

There are instances where going grain-free is a good idea and possibly a necessity, as in the case of allergies. However, it should be noted that most dog breeds have never exhibited consistent allergy issues when it comes to grains like corn. More often than not, dogs are seen to have specific allergies toward beef, of all foods. Irish Setters are the only exception, with a consistent allergen to gluten popping up regularly among the breed. That often means grain-free diets can help them tremendously when it comes to digesting food.

Is it harmful?
While going grain free might not be a necessity for most dogs, proponents argue that doing so is still a great idea. Since grains are thought to provide little nutritional benefits in dogs, they say that going grain free eliminates unnecessary ingredients and allows your dog to enjoy a more natural diet.

One danger in switching to a grain-free diet is that these foods often include higher amounts of protein, which can damage a dog’s digestive system if not monitored. Without grains like corn in the food, higher amounts of meats, potatoes, green peas and tapioca are often used in place to “bulk up” the meal. Too much of these can often be just as—if not more—detrimental to your dog’s health as an abundance of grain like corn.

Should you switch?
The truth is, no one can really answer this question aside from your veterinarian. If you’re thinking about switching to a grain-free diet for your dog, it’s essential to speak about your plan with a trusted vet who can examine your pup to see if it’s necessary. If your dog’s coat is shiny and his stool is healthy, then there’s likely little need to eliminate grain entirely.

If going grain free is something you’re seriously considering, your veterinarian is your best resource for making sure it’s the right move for your dog. They’ll test for allergies and monitor your pup’s protein intake to make sure she’s receiving a healthy balance of nutrients. Don’t ever attempt to switch up your dog’s diet cold turkey. When going grain-free, it’s important to make it a gradual process by slowly eliminating grains over the course of a few weeks, with your vet’s guidance.