A bowl of dry dog food.

Grain-Free Dog Food Vs. Regular Dog Food

Good nutrition is critical to good health in pets. There are many types of dog foods on the market, ranging from foods formulated to meet various life stages, prescription foods, grain-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, organic, preservative-free, dairy-free, limited ingredient, and even foods for different breeds and sizes of dog. On top of that, you have several formulations to choose from, including dry kibble, canned, semi-moist, raw, and home cooked.

Why are there so many options? Basically, the pet food business is big business, and pet food sales are estimated at over $40 billion dollars yearly worldwide and more than $30 billion dollars in the United States. Everyday, there seem to be new diets and companies popping up. It is important to investigate each diet and determine which is best for your pet.

Categories of Dog Foods

As you compare diets, it is important to understand specific categories. For example, foods can be classified by:

All of these attributes and brands make it complicated when choosing a dog food. In addition to these categories, companies may add marketing terms such as “preservative free,” “organic,” “natural,” “containing essential prebiotics or probiotics,” and “no artificial colors or flavors.”

Grain-Free Dog Food vs. Regular Dog Food

Should you feed regular or grain-free dog food? The answer is complicated, but most veterinarians would recommend being cautious about feeding a grain-free diet. Recent literature from the FDA has shown a trend towards cardiac disease in dogs being fed primarily grain-free diets. The exact link is still under evaluation and the veterinary community suspects that more concrete data will be available in the next 12-16 months. Further information on the FDA report can be found here.

If you’re concerned about grain allergies, be aware that these types of conditions are very rare in dogs and celiac disease has not yet been recognized in dogs and cats. If you suspect that your dog has an allergy to grains, then having a discussion with your veterinarian about the pros and cons of a particular diet would be recommended. Most common food allergies in dogs are associated with the protein in the diet and not the grains. Signs of food allergies in dogs include skin infections, ear infections, itching, dry skin, and/or digestive issues, such as diarrhea. Learn more about the diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment of Food Allergy in Dogs.

Try this Tip for Changing Your Dog’s Food

Your dog is used to the taste of their food. So, if you change your dog’s food, do it slowly and gradually over the course of about a week. Also, any abrupt food change (even a change to the best possible diet) can cause gastrointestinal upset in some dogs. Start by mixing in a small amount of the new food to your dog’s regular food for a day or two, then work up to a 50/50 mix over the following few days, until you are gradually feeding all new food by the end of the week.

What are BEG Diets?

The term “BEG” is used to describe pet foods that feature boutique, exotic ingredients (similar to grain-free diets). These diets have been gaining popularity over the past 5-10 years, and have gained notoriety due to a link with dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. Per Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN, “The apparent link between BEG diets and DCM may be due to ingredients used to replace grains in grain-free diets, such as lentils or chickpeas, or more exotic ingredients commonly found in BEG diets, like unusual meats, vegetables, and fruits.” Due to these concerns, veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists have asked pet owners to be leery about feeding these diets until further research has been done to isolate the exact link to development of heart disease.

What Are Consequences of Feeding an Unbalanced Diet?

All commercial diets have a label that states they are “complete and balanced” for a particular life stage. Feeding diets that haven’t been balanced for your pet can lead to unfortunate health issues.

The most common nutrition-related health problems include:

Many of these deficiencies are caused by unbalanced diets. These diets can be meat-only diets, vegan/vegetarian diets, homemade diets, or diets consisting of exotic ingredients. Recently, some of these deficiencies have been observed with grain-free diets that use legumes or pulses as their top ingredients. Homemade diets that are not formulated diets can also lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Resources for Choosing the Best Diet: