You may have heard of “low-carb” diets that are low in grain-heavy foods that are designed to help people shed unwanted weight. You may have also heard of people avoiding grains altogether in an effort to avoid negative side effects that tend to accompany food sensitivities and allergies.
But what about for dogs? Is there any benefit from feeding your dog a grain-free diet?
You’ve probably seen a number of different bags and boxes of dog food and treats that highlight “grain-free” on their labels and branding. But is there such a benefit to dogs skipping grains? Are they better off sticking solely to meat, fish, and veggies?
Should you give your dog food and treats that are strictly grain-free? That will depend on your personal choice and whether or not your dog has shown a sensitivity or allergy to grains, such as corn or wheat.
The Importance of a Healthy Diet For Your Dog
As a responsible dog owner, you obviously want the best for your dog. In addition to providing her with shelter, comfort, access to medical care, and plenty of love and affection, you also want to make sure that she’s well fed. Much like you should take care in what you feed yourself and your family, you should also care about what your dog puts in her mouth.
In fact, feeding your dog higher quality foods can promote better health and a longer lifespan. Not only will you be able to avoid having to take your pooch to the vet as often, you’ll also be able to spend many more years with her.
Sure, the cost of higher-quality food might be higher than lower-quality products, but many times you can save money by taking fewer trips to the vet if your dog is healthy.
Better nutrition can mean the following:
- Fewer skin conditions
- Fewer stomach issues
- Shiner coat
- Fewer ear infections
- Better gums and teeth
- Better muscle tone
- More energy
- Stronger bones
- Stronger immune system
- Overall feeling of wellness
- Better organ health
The last point is worth mentioning again. In particular, liver health is very important for your dog. The liver serves an important function by breaking down toxins in the body. And the more toxins are in your dog’s system, the more overloaded the organ – and her body – will be.
If your dog’s liver needs to work overtime, it can eventually lead to liver damage. Your dog’s body needs to work hard to remove toxins, but if she is not properly nourished as a result of poor quality food that’s loaded with fillers or by-products, your beloved pet won’t feel as good as she should and her liver will have to work harder than it should have to in order to eliminate toxins from her body.
It’s important to understand what your particular dog needs in terms of balanced nutrition in order to ensure you feed her a diet that’s complete and filled with all the nutrients she needs to live a healthy life.
What Does Your Dog Need to Stay Healthy?
Before we get into whether or not grains should or shouldn’t be a part of your dog’s diet, let’s go over some of the important nutrients that she needs for optimal health. If you’re feeding your pet store-bought dog food (as opposed to making your own meals homemade), here are some things you should look for:
High-quality animal protein – This ingredient should be at the top of the list. Since ingredients are listed on dog food labels – and human food as well – by weight, animal protein should be the first item listed. Further, the actual protein should be named accordingly, such as chicken, lamb, or beef.
Don’t feed your dog anything that doesn’t specify the type of protein in the food, such as “meat meal.” Instead, it should state the exact type of animal in the food product.
Whole vegetables, fruits, and grains – We’ll discuss grains further into the article. But if your pet does well with grains, be sure that they are whole grains. The same thing goes for fruits and vegetables, which should be unprocessed.
While you should always make sure that certain ingredients are included in your dog’s food, there are also a few items that you should also be wary of and avoid. These include:
Animal protein by-products – What you want is the protein itself, not the by-products of proteins like meat and fish.
Unspecified fat source – Like the animal protein, you want to make sure that the fat source is also specified and not named generically. For instance, you want to see something like ” chicken fat” as opposed to “animal fat” in the list of ingredients.
Artificial colors, preservatives, and flavors – Items such as BHA and BHT should not be included in your pet’s food. While they’re meant to help the food last longer, they’re not good for your dog.
Instead, look for more natural preservatives, such as Vitamin C or rosemary extract. Just make sure you understand that the food won’t have as long of a shelf life with natural preservatives over artificial ones.
Added sweeteners – There’s no reason to add any artificial sweeteners to a food product if it contains naturally sweet foods like sweet potatoes and the like. Avoid products with these ingredients.
Pay attention to your dog’s behavior to identify any potential side effects she may be having to the food she eats. If you spot any, it may be time to have her tested for sensitivities or allergies to different food ingredients.
Best Grain Free Dog Food
Here are some grain-free products we recommend:
Weruva Grain-Free Natural Dry Dog Food
Weruva provides high-quality food for all stages of a dog’s life. The product also includes added taurine to support a healthy heart and linoleic acid fopr a shinier coat.
Natural Ultramix Grain Free Red Meat
This is a natural formula that’s got added vitamins and minerals necessary to ensure your dog’s optimal health. It features plenty of fiber for healthy digestion and antioxidants and fatty acids to help ward off illness.
Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain Free Dog Food
This contains real salmon and no animal by-roducts or preservatives. It’s also packed with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to support healthy skin and coat, as well as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to support a strong immune system.
WholeHearted Grain Free Salmon Recipe Dry Dog Food
This is perfect for all phases of a dog’s life and is made with only a few select ingredients and no artificial ingredients. It also features probiotics to support healthy digestion.
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AvoDerm Natural Dry & Wet Dog Food
This is grain-free and features real chicken protein as its number one ingredient. It’s also got all the essential vitamins and minerals that your dog needs for a strong immune system.
What’s the Deal With Grain-Free Foods? Are They Right For Your Dog?
Many dog foods advertise grain-free on their labels. But is there any health benefits to leaving grains aside?
The truth is, the majority of dogs don’t really need to avoid grains for optimal health. That said, grain- and gluten-free diets have become pretty popular among pet owners these days.
Keeping your dog off grains is more beneficial if she has displayed a sensitivity to grains and gluten. In this case, feeding her grain-free food would obviously make more sense.
But despite the fact that dogs can suffer from food allergies and sensitivities, they’re not usually related to grains. Instead, dogs are actually more susceptible to having an allergy to chicken and other animal proteins rather than grains. Things such as wheat and corn are not typically the most common types of food allergens for dogs.
In fact, grains may actually be among the least likely sources of food sensitivities and allergies. One study found that the majority of dogs assessed suffered an allergy to beef, while the fewest suffered an allergy to grains.
That said, dogs who have shown a sensitivity or allergy to grains should follow a grain-free diet to help minimize any negative side effects that occur from consuming grains like wheat and corn. If your dog experiences any one of the following symptoms, she may have an allergy and requires a trip to the vet to get properly diagnosed:
- Hair loss
- Inflammation of the skin
- Hot patches
Feed Your Dog a Diet Appropriate For Her Breed, Age, and Health
While there are plenty of dog food products available out there, it’s important to feed her the exact type necessary for her particular breed, age, and size.
You may have noticed when you hit the dog food aisle at the pet store that there are dog food products for large breeds, small breeds, senior dogs, puppies, and so forth. The reason why these foods are slightly different is to ensure that each dog’s particular health needs are met based on what stage of life they’re in and what their breed is.
For instance, the type of food you would purchase for a healthy Golden Retriever puppy may differ from what you would feed an overweight senior Maltese. Their needs are different.
Look For Dog Foods That Are “Complete”
In order to ensure that your dog is receiving a balanced diet, look for a statement on the packaging that stipulates “complete” or balanced” somewhere on it. This will tell you that the product has the minimum amount of nutrients required for dogs. You may also find this information on the “guaranteed analysis,” which provides the minimum amount of protein and fat, as well as the maximum amounts of fiber.
Dog foods that specify that the product meets the nutritional levels set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) will tell you that the product is complete and balanced for your dog.
What you feed your dog will determine her quality of life and overall level of health and wellness. It will influence any medical issues she may suffer from today and in the future and will impact how long she lives. As such, it’s always wise to feed your dog a healthy, balanced diet.
Unless your dog has been shown to have a sensitivity to grains, it may not be necessary to feed her a grain-free diet. It’s typically a personal choice that owners make. That being said, if you feel that keeping your pooch off grains is the way to go, then so be it. Just make sure that what she is eating contributes to a healthy, complete diet.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.