With the constant hype surrounding our own diets, it’s little wonder that so many of us are taking a hard look at what our pets are eating, as well.  Grain-free diets – a long-time niche in human diets – have become a niche diet for pets as well.  The good thing?  Owners are focusing on their pets’ diets now more than ever.  The downside?  Owners are offering their pets grain-free diets without understanding the science behind such a diet.  They assume that they are healthier and far less likely to result in an allergic response which is simply not the case.

Food allergies are, simply put, an abnormal response to a normal food or ingredient.  They are also quite uncommon (i.e., less than 1% of skin issues and less than 10% of all allergies); grain allergies are even more uncommon than that.  Those pets who are diagnosed with food allergies are actually allergic to animal protein (chicken rather than grains and so eliminating whole grains has no effect on the animal suffering with food allergies except to deprive them of necessary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.  Additionally, various grain products do provide protein, which may be easier for the pet to digest than some proteins from meat.

It only gets more confusing from there, unfortunately.  Grain-free diets do not necessarily mean that the diet is low carb.  In fact, by removing the grains, carbs have to come from other sources, such as sweet potatoes, which have a higher carb level than corn.  Grains are carbohydrates, which are an important energy source and one of six basic nutrients:  water, protein, fat, carbs, vitamins & minerals. With the removal of grains, other highly refined starches are typically substituted or they may be replaced with beans, peas or lentils, which can lead to GI upset.

If you or someone you know suffers with a gluten intolerance, you may begin to worry about your dog’s diet, as well.  The good news is that Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disease that is extremely rare in dogs and non-existent in cats.  In fact, the only documented gluten-sensitivity currently known in dogs is within one inbred family of Irish Setters. No other cases have currently been documented.

It’s difficult enough to decide what might be best to feed your pets without the constantly expanding market helping to further diet misconceptions.  If you believe that your pet has a food allergy, speak to your veterinarian.  There are a few things that you can do to determine whether or not a food allergy is actually present, but your first step is to talk to your veterinarian who can help you to provide a true, hypo-allergenic diet for your pet.

For additional information about your pet’s nutrition, visit the American College of Veterinary Nutrition or Veterinary Partner.