What's the difference between grain-free and food containing grains?
There are 3 types of grains most commonly found in foods;
- Grains containing gluten such as wheat, barley etc
- Grains without gluten such as oats, rice etc
- Pseudograins (in a simple way, these are seeds with grain-like qualities) such as amaranth, millet etc
Pet food could contain any variety of these grains and usually, the food package label would provide some information on this.
However, some food labels may mention ‘‘contains cereals’’ as a generic term. In this case it is difficult to identify the type of grain used and if your pet has any allergies, it is recommended to contact the company or do some more in-depth research to determine the ingredients.
Do grains serve some purpose in pet food?
As a general statement, grains are not bad for pets. In fact, there are certain benefits of dog food with grains
- Grains provide fibre in your dog’s meal
- Provide energy for dogs with specific diets such dogs on renal diets (A diet that is low in sodium, phosphorous, and protein) who can't get their energy from proteins have to rely on carbohydrates to get energy.
However, grains are not necessary for a dog/cat’s growth and development. Unlike humans, dogs and cats, grains are not actually required for nutrition.
If grains are not necessary for my pet, should I avoid them?
Given that grains are not necessary from a nutritional standpoint, you can avoid providing it to your pet.
However, if you are providing food which contains grains, then you need to be mindful of the amount of grains in your pet’s diet.
As a general rule grains should only makeup:
- Dogs: 5% of the ingredients on a wet matter basis
- Cats: 2% of the ingredients on a wet matter basis
The real issue with grains arises when it is fed in larger quantities consistently over a period of time.
What is gluten and should food for dogs be gluten-free?
Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains, including wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. Of the gluten-containing grains, wheat is by far the most common.
- Whilst gluten is a protein source, unlike humans, dogs are not meant to derive their protein sources from grains.
- Their digestive tracts length and size are not suited for digesting excess grains.
- Instead, like their ancestors, dogs are meant to be deriving protein from vegetables and meat.
- However, a small amount is not harmful. The key is to consume it in moderation.
- While dogs can survive on a vegetarian diet, cats cannot.
- Cats are carnivores and require taurine which is an essential amino acid in the cat to maintain a healthy immune system.
- Most dog breeds are capable of synthesizing their own taurine, but for cats, their source of taurine comes from the animal meat they consume.
- Therefore, given that the consumption of grains is not species-appropriate for cats, the content of grains should be kept at an absolute minimum.
Does grain-free food mean it is automatically carb-free?
People often mistake grain-free for being carb-free. This is a very important aspect to consider.
Dog food without grain doesn't mean it is necessarily optimal because the carb content may be very high. Ingredients like potatoes and peas could be bumping up the carb value of food. The 'grain-free' tag is no longer beneficial if this is the case.
How do I calculate the carb content of pet food?
Carb content = 100 - (protein % + fat % + moisture % + ash%)
The carb content should ideally be lower than 30%. Any higher than this is questionable.
Is a fresh, home-cooked meal the best option for your dog?
It's a good option if you are mindful of:
- Restricting the ingredients to animal-based proteins and avoiding proteins such as soy, lentils etc which are good for humans only.
- Not providing food which has more carbs and fewer proteins.
- Keeping your pet’s diet and health in check.
- Consulting a vet
In addition, Petsy says that it's best to consult your pet's veterinarian before incorporating any changes into their diet and also conduct regular health check-ups to ensure a healthy lifestyle for your pet.