Vet Watch, Oct 17

So What’s The Deal With Grain-Free Pet Diets?

More and more vets are seeing owners feeding their pets various permutations of diets that are advertised as ‘grain free’. The implication made by the manufacturers and a myriad of gurus on the interwebs is that these diets are better for our pets. But are they? Well, no.

The idea of grain-free diets being more nutritionally sound, or possessing some particular health benefits such as allergy reduction is not backed up by any actual science. It’s a marketing tool, and it has been a very successful one at that! People often think that if there are a lot of exclusions on the bag of food that it is somehow automatically better. unfortunately they’re buying an idea, not a better product.

There are several misperceptions about grains in pet foods that are often cited as a reason to use grain-free diets.

1.Grains cause food allergies. Food allergies are less than 10% of all allergies, and less than 1% of skin disease. Grain allergies are even more uncommon. Chicken, beef, eggs, and dairy proteins are the most common cause of food allergies by a country mile. It’s not that there’s anything particularly allergenic about these foods, it’s just that they’re the most common ingredients. If Aardvark meat was commonly used in pet foods there would be an equal number of Aardvark allergies. Grains are a good source of cheap protein, which occasionally contribute to allergic reactions in pets, but at a vanishingly small rate.

2.Grains cause gluten intolerance; No. Nope. This autoimmune disease seen in humans occasionally is extremely rare in dogs and non-existent in cats. Only one inbred family of Irish Setters is known have a gluten intolerance. So, forget about it.

3.Grains are used as fillers in pet foods. This implies that the grains have no nutritional value, which is false. The average dog can easily handle 50% of its diet as carbs. Cats are obligate carnivores (meaning they die without meat), but even cats can handle a significant percentage of their diet as carbohydrates. Grains also supply many essential amino acids, fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals. They are a useful and economic food source, not “filler”.

4.It’s also worthwhile noting that in the USA, pets consume as much as 25% of the volume of meat as consumed by humans. That’s an awful lot of meat. So if pet foods can use grains and other plants as a significant percentage of their protein source then that’s a considerable help to the environmental cost of heavy meat production on a global scale.

5.Grain-free equals carbohydrate-free. Not so. Grain-free foods typically contain carbs from other sources such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, beans, peas, lentils and such. These sources often have less fibre, more sugars, less nutrient density, fewer vitamins and are more refined than grains, and higher fat content to improve palatability.

So, when anyone is trying to tell you grain-free diets are the way to go, or will be a cure for your pet’s skin or dietary ills, cast a critical eye over the actual data and evidence. Mostly it doesn’t stack up.

That’s it for me this month!

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