Various types of dog foods have developed over the years in parallel with human food trends. In our supermarket, there are aisles of foods that are “sugar-free”, “gluten-free”, “dairy-free”, “organic”, and/or “low carb” to meet the perceived needs of human consumers. The goal is to eat a “healthier” food.
As people have looked for these various food features for themselves, many express interests in providing the same attributes they use for their own nutrition to their dogs’ foods. Dog food companies have created many types of dog foods with one of the most popular being grain free foods. Pet owners commonly want to know about the benefits of grain free dog food.
What is Grain Free Dog Food?
A grain is defined by Wikipedia as “a small, hard, dry seed, with or without an attached hull or fruit layer, harvested for human or animal consumption.” Most grains are grown in crops.
A grain free dog food is defined as a food with fewer grains or ideally with absolutely no grains. Learn about Do Dogs Need Grains in Their Diet?
Some pet owners confuse grain with gluten or low carbohydrate dog foods. A grain free food is not a low-carbohydrate food. Many “grain-free” foods contain other carbohydrates such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, apples, or green peas.
A gluten free diet is not grain free. Glutens are contained in many grains.
There have been grain free dog food recalls – learn more Grain Free Dog Food Warning: What You Should Know.
Food Allergies in Dogs
Allergies in dogs are very common and they make dogs miserable. Food allergies are thought to be a fairly uncommon cause for canine allergies but when present are easier to treat than other types of allergies. Dogs that are allergic to weeds, tree pollens, molds, and dust mites (just to name a few) are very difficult to treat because you can’t eliminate them from your dog’s environment. However you can change what you feed.
When a food allergy is suspected, many veterinarians recommend a “food trial” which consists of feeding a very specific food or ingredients for a period of time which may be a couple of months. There are to be no other treats, table foods or anything else fed during this time other than the grain free food or treats approved by your veterinarian. This is the best way to diagnose a food allergy. Eliminate the food and see how your dog responds.
Some dogs need more than one food trial as you figure out what works for your dog. Your vet may recommend a fish based grain free food trial and if that doesn’t work change to a different protein such as a lamb based grain free food. Some veterinarians may recommend food with categorized as “limited ingredient” foods. These diets include uncommon protein sources that are unlikely to cause reactions in a dog. For example, Zignature® makes a Kangaroo Limited Ingredient Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food. Other proteins that may be recommended include Bison, Trout, Venison, and many more.
Symptoms of Grain and Food Allergies in Dogs
Signs of allergies in dogs may include any or all of the following:
- Itchy skin, especially around the face, paws and feet, and ears
- Foul skin odor
- Flaky dry skin or scaling skin
- Hair loss, hot spots
- Red bumps, rashes, or papules
- Ear infections
- Self-inflicted skin trauma resulting from severe itching
- Vomiting, diarrhea, and/or flatulence (although most dogs with food allergy only develop skin problems
- Some dogs will create wounds from severe itching such as lick lesions or scratches.
How to Tell if Your Dog is Sensitive to Grains or Glutens
It can be very difficult to determine if a dog has a grain allergy or “sensitivity”. Blood tests are available but are considered unreliable and inaccurate. An allergen saliva test is available but not commonly used nor considered reliable.
A very common way for pet parents and veterinarians to determine if a dog has a food allergy such as one to grain is to feed an “elimination diet”. For a dog suspected of having an allergy to grains, a grain free food is recommended. It is important to work with your vet to select a pet food company that produces a consistent high quality product. It is essential to ensure that no other foods with possible grains are fed to your dog during a food elimination trial. This means no table food, no treats, and no snacks unless expressly approved by your veterinarian.
By eliminating the grains from the diet, you can evaluate your dog to determine if the symptoms resolve. Itchy skin, skin infections, ear problems may gradually resolve.