Feeding your dog grain-free – yes or no?

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Feeding your dog grain-free – yes or no?

Opinions on whether you should feed your dog grain-free or not vary widely. The dog is a carnivore, so feeding grain and other plants is not appropriate to the species and is even harmful. In addition, more and more dogs suffer from food intolerance and allergies. Grains and the gluten they contain are among other things the trigger, according to the advocates of a grain-free diet. These are strong arguments for concerned dog owners who want to feed their four-legged friend in a species-appropriate and healthy manner. You therefore resort to grain-free dog food.

There is also a trend towards grain-free dog nutrition in the USA. More and more brands are offering grain-free dog food. Sixteen types of dog food are now suspected of promoting heart disease in dogs.

Does Grain-Free Dog Food Promote Heart Disease?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has linked some grain-free dog foods to severe heart disease in dogs: the majority of the dogs examined that suffer from dilated cardiomyopathy were fed these dog foods.

Info: Dilated cardiomyopathy (DKM or DCM for short) is damage to the heart muscle in which its wall thickness and contraction force decrease while the heart increases in size at the same time. The efficiency of the heart decreases. If the disease progresses, this can lead to the death of the dog.

Specifically, the authority identified 16 known types of dog food that are said to be associated with an increase in heart disease. 500 cases of DCM were examined. The authority calls this development “puzzling”. Some veterinarians therefore warn against feeding dogs with these types of food.

The brands named are Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature’s Variety, NutriSource, Nutro and Rachael Ray Nutrish.

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In most cases, it is grain-free dry food that contains peas and lentils. Half of the products contain potatoes and / or sweet potatoes.

It has also been found that golden retrievers are most commonly affected by the apparently grain-free diet caused DCM. The agency points out, however, that this result could be influenced by the fact that breed-specific social media communities called for such cases to be reported to the FDA.

According to the FDA, golden retrievers appear to be particularly affected by grain-free food-induced heart disease. © shutterstock.com / Augustin Vai

Some of the dog food manufacturers affected have already spoken out and made it clear that the authorities’ investigations have not yet been completed. “The FDA has still not found any scientifically substantiated cases that establish a connection between a grain-free diet and DCM,” explains the affected brand Taste of The Wild on Facebook.

There is currently no official FDA warning to avoid the identified foods. Still, veterinarians point out that grain-free diets are unnecessary and should be reconsidered by dog ​​owners.

What is Grain Free Diet?

Conventional dog food contains different types of grain. The most common types include: wheat, spelled, rye, oats, millet, corn and rice.

Grain supplies, among other things, vegetable protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins and trace elements. Some grains also contain gluten, for example wheat, spelled and rye. Other grains such as corn, rice and millet are gluten-free.

Vegetable protein and gluten can cause food allergies and intolerances in dogs. There are also voices who argue that the carbohydrates contained in cereals are difficult to digest for dogs and therefore harmful to their health.

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Therefore, some dog owners avoid dog foods with grains and use grain-free varieties. Alternative raw materials are used in grain-free dog food to provide the dog with plant-based nutrients and easily digestible carbohydrates. These include sources of carbohydrates such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and peas and so-called pseudograins such as quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat.

Is Grain Dog Food Really Harmful?

Opinions differ widely as to whether grain really harms dogs:

  • Vegetable components in dog nutrition are not appropriate to the species: Dogs are descended from wolves and are therefore carnivores, also known as carnivores. A diet with plant components and grain is therefore disreputed as not appropriate to the species. On the other hand, it can be argued that dogs became omnivores in the course of domestication. They have adapted to the human diet and developed the ability to digest larger amounts of starch, as found in cereals, and to use them as a source of energy. And even the wolf is dependent on soluble carbohydrates (starch) and insoluble carbohydrates (cellulose from plant fibers), which the intestinal contents of its prey provide to supply energy and maintain intestinal health.
  • Dogs cannot digest carbohydrates: the starch carbohydrate is the main component of grain. The amylase enzyme breaks up the starch into sugar molecules and absorbs it into the bloodstream as a source of energy. If dogs are fed starch-rich food, they are able to boost the production of the enzyme amylase, break down the starch and use it for energy supply. Up to two thirds of the energy in the food can come from starch without harming the dog. However, if the dog food contains more than sixty percent starch, the dog can no longer digest it. Diarrhea would be the result. In conventional dog food, carbohydrates are present in sufficient quantities and, when heated, are split in such a way that the dog can usually digest it well.
  • Grain triggers allergies and intolerances: More and more dogs are developing food allergies and intolerances. Hair loss, itching and diarrhea are the consequences. Grains and gluten are suspected to be triggers. In fact, it is possible that some dogs are allergic to certain vegetable proteins. In principle, however, such proteins are not more allergenic than other proteins. According to the current state of research, gluten intolerance is rare in dogs.
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When should the dog be fed grain-free?

It makes sense to feed the dog grain-free if it is known that the dog reacts to a grain allergen and which allergen it is. Then you should avoid food that contains the relevant allergen. Even if the dog has been shown to be intolerant to gluten (which is rare), a grain-free diet can make sense. In this case, however, it is also sufficient to switch to gluten-free grains such as corn and rice. For dogs with diabetes, starch-rich foods such as grains should be avoided as they cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly. However, a completely carbohydrate-free diet can also lead to the metabolic disease ketosis and insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes.