Caitlin UltimoNutrition / Pet Diet Tips

Should I Switch My Pet to Grain-Free Food?

With the wealth of pet foods on the market, choosing a diet for your dog or cat isn’t always an easy task. In the past few years, grain-free pet foods have become more prominent, coinciding with people’s increased awareness of and interest in grain-free diets for themselves. For those with intolerances to wheat or for those who feel like they have more energy by cutting out grains, switching their pet to a similar diet makes sense.

Proponents of grain-free diets believe grains are an unnatural addition to animals’ diets. Canine and feline ancestors did not eat grain and instead focused on fresh, diverse meat sources. However, domestic animals have evolved a great deal, and their digestive systems have progressed as well. Most cats and dogs can digest grains without any problems. And while some pets do have allergies, grain is just one possible allergen among many. Many pets are allergic to grains and other ingredients too, including beef, dairy or lentils.

While many pets may benefit from a grain-free diet, it’s not always the best choice for every dog. Some breeds, like Beagles, need the carbohydrates from grain to keep on weight. There are also breeds of cats and dogs that are more susceptible to grain allergies than others, including Retrievers, Shar-peis, Boxers, Dachshunds, Persian cats and exotic cat breeds, such as an Ocicat or Sokoke. These breeds will usually benefit from a low-carbohydrate, protein-rich and grain-free diet.

Your pet may be a good candidate for a grain-free diet if you’ve noticed that he scratches and sheds all of the time. Pets that are prone to hot spots, experience ear infections regularly or who are simply generally sensitive to their environments could also benefit. If your pet shows signs of allergies and discomfort like these, transitioning to grain-free dog food or cat food may help. Some pets will improve within a few weeks of changing foods. If they are handling the diet well, you should see an increase in energy and coat health and fewer indications of infections or other issues.

Not all pets with allergies react to grains, so you may have to try different foods with different ingredients to identify the problem. Some people find success from switching to a different meat-based diet, such as transitioning from a beef-based food to one with duck. Abrupt changes in diet may cause your pet gastrointestinal distress, so consult your vet and read up on how to successfully transition your pet to a new diet.

Choosing the Right Grain-Free Food

Depending on your pet’s unique needs, a diet rich in grains may be healthy and beneficial. Many pet foods include wholesome grains that are full of nutritional benefits for dogs and cats. Merrick’s Classic Real Chicken and Green Peas Recipe boasts 20% whole grains, including brown rice, oatmeal and ancient grains like quinoa. Brown rice is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and provides a healthy source of carbs for breeds that need extra energy. Your pup can get both soluble and insoluble fiber from oatmeal, which helps support digestion. And quinoa is a true powerhouse that’s naturally gluten-free, rich in protein and packed with iron, B vitamins, calcium, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium. Not to mention that it has nine essential amino acids.

If, however, your pet has shown signs of a possible food allergy or intolerance, a grain-free limited ingredient diet like Natural Balance’s Green Pea and Venison Formula might help you cut out the specific allergen. This recipe uses a unique, single source of protein that pets are not commonly allergic to, fewer ingredients and limited carb sources.

Choose your pet’s food carefully based on their symptoms, energy level and weight to keep them healthy and active. If you are not sure about your pet’s dietary requirements or allergies, talk to your veterinarian about what is best for your companion.