Is Grain-free Dog Food Good for Your Pet?

Is Grain-free Dog Food Good for Your Pet?

By Dr. Tracy Dewhirst for Exceptional Canine

Is Grain-free Dog Food Good for Your Pet?

I am going to do something that, in some circles, is more dangerous than discussing politics: comment on the grain-free diet craze. Fad diets appeal to the human desire to do the right thing -- and that desire is as strong in caring for our pets as it is in minding our own health.

Grain-free dog food diets hit the market several years ago as an alternative to other commercial pet foods. The grain-free movement states that dogs are not eating as they would in nature and that grain is causing health problems. The makers of these foods claim to have a sincere concern for dogs and say their foods make for a healthier canine diet. The reality is that the grain-free dog food companies are looking for a niche that will give them an advantage over established food companies.

The Value of Grain in Your Dogís Diet
Grains contain essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Substitutes, such as potato and tapioca used in grain-free foods, are not always as nutritious as grain and can be lower in fiber. Grain-free diets should be prescribed for dogs with allergies to grains. However, for the average, healthy dog, grain-free is an expensive and less nutritious alternative.

The low-carbohydrate, high-protein formulation of some grain-free dog foods can be problematic for certain canines, especially if the calcium content is too high or if the animal has health problems. Protein is an important building block for the body, but carbohydrates and fat are the fuel. Higher protein is only beneficial to a growing animal; protein not immediately utilized is wasted. To put it politely, excessive protein makes expensive excrement.

Nutritionists Recommend Balanced Food
For full disclosure, I do not endorse any particular brand. I rely on the advice of veterinary nutritionists, who recommend feeding a balanced and nutritious food with the proper percent of protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber for a specific dogís needs.

Be a Smart Consumer
As a consumer, do your research and talk to your veterinarian. Anecdotal stories of canines on grain-free dog food diets going from fat to trim, sickly to healthy, are far more fascinating and memorable than scientific studies and food trials, but they do not represent a lifetime of feeding an animal. Here are some guidelines:

  • Buy from a reputable company that spends the money to do AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) food trials and to monitor the production of their product carefully. While AAFCO trials are not perfect, they are a better standard than no feeding trial. Reputable food companies donít make absurd claims, and veterinary nutritionists formulate the food. The company supplies contact information on the bags and continues to conduct nutritional research to better the health of animals.
  • Feed your dog the best food you can afford. Ingredients are listed from the greatest percentage to the least.

And remember, keeping your dog healthy and lean is about lifestyle and calories consumed -- not being on a grain-free dog food or any other fad diet. Feed the appropriate number of calories, stop fatty treats, and exercise your dog regularly.

Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a graduate from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, practices small-animal and equine medicine in Knoxville, Tenn. She is a long-time columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Dewhirst also sits on the East Tennessee Peer Review Board. Dr. Dewhirst blogs frequently for Exceptional Canine.

Note: This section of the Canada's Guide to Dogs website is intended as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters.