Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in Dogs and Cats

Gluten-sensitive enteropathy, also known as celiac disease in humans, GSE, gluten allergy, and wheat-sensitive enteropathy, is a disease caused by an allergy or sensitivity to gluten that causes small intestinal disease that can occur in dogs and cats. Glutens are proteins found in grains such as wheat but also related to proteins in barley and rye.

In normal dogs and cats, ingested food is chewed, swallowed and broken down by digestive enzymes in the stomach. This ingesta then moves to the intestine where microscopic hair-like villa in the intestinal lining function to absorb nutrients. Thousands of hairline villa increase the absorptive surface allowing for a large surface area for absorption.

In dogs and cats with gluten-sensitive enteropathy, ingestion of gluten triggers an immune response that assaults the intestinal villa and causes them to atrophy (erode and flatten). This results in lack of absorption of vitamins and minerals leading to signs of failure to thrive, and weight loss or failure to gain weight. Lack of absorption also causes diarrhea.

The cause of gluten-sensitive enteropathy is due to a genetic defect. Gluten-sensitive enteropathy is an uncommon disorder in dogs and is believed to occur in cats but is not well documented. When it occurs, it can affect any sex, age, or breed of dogs however the Irish setter, soft-coated wheaten terrier, and the Samoyed are more commonly affected. By far the most common breed affected is the Irish setter and most commonly diagnosed when puppies or young to middle-aged.

What to Watch For

Dogs and cats with gluten sensitivity or intolerance may have the following clinical signs:

  • Failure to thrive
  • Poor weight gain or weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea which can be intermittent or persistent
  • Underweight thin body condition
  • Dull haircoat

Diagnosis of Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in Dogs and Cats

The diagnosis of gluten-sensitive enteropathy is based on the following:

  • A physical examination generally reveals an underweight patient with a dull hair coat, history of diarrhea, and general failure to thrive.
  • Blood work and urinalysis is recommended to rule out other possible diagnoses and concurrent disease. A complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis are generally unremarkable.
  • Fecal examination is recommended to rule out concurrent parasitic infections.
  • Trypsin-like immunoreactivity (TLI) testing is recommended to determine if exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a cause for the gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Abdominal radiographs are recommended to evaluate for evidence for other causes of the clinical signs. Results are generally unremarkable.
  • Abdominal ultrasound is recommended to evaluate for evidence for other causes of the clinical signs. Results are generally unremarkable.
  • Serum folate and cobalamin levels may be normal or decreased. This can reflect malabsorption of nutrients.
  • The most accurate diagnostic test is a biopsy of the intestine that reveals abnormalities in the intestinal villi.
  • The final diagnosis of gluten-sensitive enteropathy is based on a dietary trial of a gluten free diet that leads to resolution of clinical signs.

Treatment of Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in Dogs and Cats

Treatment options focus on dietary modification and elimination of all glutens from the diet. All grains that contain gluten are eliminated from the diet that includes wheat, barley, rye, oats and buckwheat.

Folate may be supplemented depending on blood values.

Prognosis for Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in Dogs and Cats

The prognosis for dogs and cats with GSE is good with proper dietary modifications. Most symptomatic patients will respond medical therapy within one to two months.

It is important that pets with GSE not be given any grains in their core diets as well as treats or table scraps.

Additional Articles Related to Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in Dogs and Cats

Grain Free Dog Food Warning: What You Should Know

There are commonly dog food safety warnings and recalls for all dog foods including grain free dog food warnings. Recalls may be as a result of bacterial contaminations, abnormal concentrations of vitamins or nutrients making the formulation either deficient or toxic, or due to abnormal or toxic chemicals.

Overview Of The FDA’s Grain Free Dog Food Warning

There are several common causes for FDA recalls and warnings. Some of the common ones are due to various contaminations. For example, Salmonella and Listeria are bacterial contaminants that lead to dog food recalls.

In 2019, Hills Science Diet issued a Vitamin D toxicity warning for several formulations of canned dog foods. In 2018, a recall for grain free food was suggested based on potential taurine deficiency causing heart disease in dogs (more below). In 2007, a toxic contaminant with melamine caused kidney failure in dogs and cats. There are multiple recalls every year. Some of the foods recalled were grain free and some are not.

Below is an overview of 2019 and 2018 FDA warnings and recalls:

  • 01/31/2019 – Recall of Hill’s Science Diet Canned Dog Food due to Elevated Vitamin D levels. Hill’s Pet Nutrition.
  • 12/21/2018 – Recall of Columbia River Natural Pet Foods Dog and Cat fresh frozen meats due to potential to be contaminated with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Columbia River Natural Pet Foods.
  • 12/07/2018 – Recall for 9Lives Cat food due to low levels of Thiamine. J.M Smuckers Company.
  • 12/05/2018- Recall for Abound Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe dog food due to Elevated level of Vitamin D. The Kroger Company.
  • 12/05/2018- Recall for Columbia River Natural Pet Foods Frozen meat product for dogs and cats due to contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. Columbia River Natural Pet Foods.
  • 11/29/2018 – Recall for Elm Pet Foods Pet Food due to Elevated levels of Vitamin D. ELM Pet Foods.
  • 11/28/2018 Recall for ANF Lamb and Rice Dry Dog Food due to Elevated Levels of Vitamin D. ANF, Inc.
  • 11/27/2018 – Recall for Evolve, Sportsman’s Pride, and Triumph Dry Dog Food due to potentially elevated levels of Vitamin D. Sunshine Mills Inc.

Check out the full list of pet food recalls here.

The 2018 Grain Free Dog Food Warning and Recall

In 2018, an article was published about the risk of grain free foods as a possible cause of heart disease in dogs. The article “A Broken Heart: Risk of Heart Disease in Boutique or Grain-free Diets and Exotic Ingredients” was published June 4th 2018, by Dr. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist at Tufts University, suggested that some grain free dog foods might cause Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).

This article inflamed readers and dog owners. Since that time, it appeared that more research is needed and nothing was conclusive. This possible heart issue was due to a possible deficiency in the nutrient “taurine” and not caused by a lack of grains in the food. Based on updates, there are still more questions than answers.

Marketing has a big influence on people and the media has promoted this article to great extremes. In my experience as a practicing veterinarian in a community that is very sensitive to good canine nutrition and where grain free foods are commonly fed, there has not been any increased incidence of heart disease diagnoses in dogs. In fact, we recognize the positive results and benefits of good quality and grain free foods every day.

What It Could Mean for Your Dog

It is important to monitor the media and websites for dog food recalls. Purchasing your food from a local pet food store or online stores that track your purchases will often provide you with immediate information about pet food recalls based on your purchases. These notifications can come by text, mail, or email.

Check this link to look for recalls.

If you read about or receive notification of a dog food recall for a food or treat that you are feeding your dog, immediately stop feeding the product. Contact your veterinarian to help you determine the impact of the warning. Some recalls are very minor and others pose significant health risks.

What Questions You Should Ask Your Vet

Questions to ask your vet about feeding grain free foods, dog food safety, and your dog’s food individual needs may include:

  • Which company do they believe produces the best quality food?
  • Which companies have had little or no recalls?
  • Which food do they recommend for your dog?
  • What is your dog’s body condition? Is your dog overweight, underweight, or just right?
  • How much should you feed your dog based on your dogs body condition and the food being fed?

What Are Health Risks or Benefits of Grain Free Dog Food

There are essentially no health risks associated with feeding a high quality grain free high quality dog food balanced to meet the needs of your dog.

What Are the Benefits of Grain Free Dog Food?

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.

Do Dogs Need Grains in Their Diet?

Pet owners commonly question, “do dogs need grains” in their diet. In this article we will review what is a grain, types of grains, if dogs need grain, and what food is best if you are feeding your dog a grain free food.

First, just exactly what is a grain? Per the dictionary, “a grain is defined as a hard dry seed that is small and attached to a fruit layer.” Many grains grow in crops and are harvested from producing plants. Two common categories of grains are cereals and legumes.

Depending on your location in the country and world, you may be more familiar with some grains than others. The most common grain as it pertains to dog food are the cereal grains. Types of cereal grains include maize (corn), various types of millet, sorghum, fonio, barley, oats, rice, rye, spelt, wheat, wild rice, triticale, and teff.

Other kinds of grains include buckwheat, chia, quinoa, kiwicha, lentils, chickpeas, common beans, lentils, lima beans, fava beans, soybeans, runner beans, pigeon beans, peanuts, mustards, sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, flax seed, hemp, poppy seed, and lupins.

The most common grains used in dog foods are barely, buckwheat, corn, rice, oats, and quinoa.
Grains in the diets of humans are considered healthy and full of protein, vitamin E, iron, and linoleic acid. Some grains are promoted in people as being very healthy. For example, quinoa is commonly referred to as a “super food” due to its high quantities of iron, protein and fiber. However, this is not necessarily true for dogs.

Do Dogs Need Grain Free Dog Food?

There are several opinions and theories from experts as they relate to different aspects of feeding grains to dogs. They include:

  • Filler Theory – Some believe that grains are dog food fillers and are not optimal to feed for good canine health. Grains are less expensive than proteins such as beef or chicken and therefore pet food companies will manufacture dog food with large amounts of grains to keep the prices down.
  • Natural Theory – In nature, dogs do eat some grains. Access to grains stems back to when dogs hunted and killed prey to survive. Dogs would eat the meat, bones, organs, and contents of organs such as the stomach and intestine. The prey that dogs kill was commonly herbivores whose intestines and stomachs contained grains. Grains are not a majority component of a dogs diet but it was a natural part of their diet in small amounts.
  • Good Grain Theory – There are some grains that are better than others. Some grains such as quinoa are even considered a “super food” due to the high nutrient properties of protein, iron and fiber. Some grains can be good for dogs in small quantities.
  • Allergies Theory – Some experts believe that grains create allergies in dogs. On the other hand, some disagree with this theory. The reality is that grains can cause allergies but grains are not the most common cause of canine allergies. The most common food that causes allergies in dogs is beef. Other common food allergens include dairy, chicken, fish, eggs, and milk.

Do Dogs Need Grains?

Pet owners commonly ask if dogs need grains in their diet. The answer is no. Dogs do not need grains in their diet. Dogs are carnivores. Dogs require a balanced diet formulated to meet the needs of your dog’s life stage and condition. Dietary requirements for dogs can vary according to age, activity levels and medical history. Although dogs don’t need grains, whole grains can provide protein, amino acids, and vitamin E.

Many dry dog foods based on grain as the primarily ingredients including soybean, corn, or rice. Many dog foods list these grains as the first ingredient. Some better brands of dog food list meat or fish as the first listed ingredient. Higher quality dog foods generally cost more but dogs eat less of them that helps to balance out cost.

What Dog Food Should I Feed My Dog?

The most important factor when choosing dog food is to choose a food that is AAFCO approved and formulated to meet the needs of your dog. AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). It is a voluntary membership program that indicates that the dog food manufacturer has confirmed to AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles. Check the dog food label to ensure the food conforms to these standards.

When choosing a food for your dog, consider nutritional needs, life stage, activity level, body condition, and underlying medical conditions. A puppy has different needs and requirements as compared to a senior dog. A working dog has different needs than a nonworking lap dog.

Grain Free Dog Food: Should Your Dog Eat it?

There are so many dog foods on the market that pet owners commonly question, “What is the best food to feed my dog?” A quick walk down the pet food aisle provides a glimpse of adult, puppy, senior foods, prescription foods created to treat various medical conditions of dogs, foods for specific breeds or sizes of dog, gluten free, grain free, limited ingredient, organic, preservative free, vegan, and vegetarian…just to name a few. On top of that, the dog owner needs to consider various formulations such as dry kibble, canned, semi-moist, raw, frozen, and freeze-dried. So many choices can be overwhelming.

One of the recent trends in dog foods has been grain free foods and gluten free foods. As this category of foods has grown in popularity for people, pet owners apply their own food choices to their dogs making it also a popular craze in dog foods. Pet food manufacturers have identified these desired qualities and now produce hundreds of grain free dog foods.

This brings up a few points about grain free foods. Such as…do dogs need grains in their diet? Which dogs may benefit from eating a grain free food? And…how do you pick the best grain free dog food. We will cover these topics below.

What is Grain Free Dog Food?

A grain free dog food is a dog food made free of all grains. The most common grains in dog food are rice, barley, buckwheat, corn, oats, and quinoa. Many pet food manufacturers list grain as the first and thus most common ingredient in their foods that may not be ideal for many dogs.

Do Dogs Need Grains?

A question pet owners commonly ask veterinarians is “do dogs need to eat grains?”

To answer this question, let us consider how a dog has been programmed to eat in nature. In the wild, dogs would run in packs, and scavenge or hunt for a meal. Dogs are carnivores. A wild dog thrives with meat as the main food but also may ingest some berries and wild grasses. There is very little grain in their natural diets.

Some dogs can enjoy and even benefit from eating some grains in their diet. Every dog is a little different. Even dogs within different breeds and or within the same litter may have slightly different dietary needs, allergies, or intolerances.

To answer the question do dogs NEED grain… the answer is no. Their bodies don’t require grains but grains don’t cause a problem in most dogs.

Why Would A Dog Need a Grain Free Dog Food?

Some experts believe that dogs do well and can benefit from eating grains and others do not. Learn more about Do Dogs Need Grain Free Dog Food?

One reason a dog would benefit from a grain free food is because he is allergic to grains. Allergies are very common in dogs. Allergies can develop from various foods as well as to environmental things including dust mites, tree and plant pollens, insects such as fleas, and even other animals such as cats. Experts believe that only a small percentage of allergies in dogs are caused by food. The most common food allergens in dogs are beef, chicken, and dairy. Grains are not high on the list but can cause allergies in some dogs. It is also possible for dogs to have allergies to more than one food.

Symptoms of allergies in dogs can include skin infections, ear infections, scaly dry skin, and persistent itching.

Veterinarians may recommend grain free foods for dogs with signs of allergies. There are additional benefits to feeding a grain free food. For example, you generally can feed less food and dogs on grain free foods produce fewer and smaller bowel movements. Learn more about What Are the Benefits of Grain Free Dog Food?

What Is the Difference Between Gluten Free and Grain Free?

Dog owners have questions about gluten free diets due to the substantial press coverage for humans about the issues about glutens and gluten free foods.

First, let’s look at what is a gluten? Gluten is a protein that functions as glue that holds food particles together. It is common in cereal grains but also present in many other foods. It is estimated that approximately 1% of people have allergies, sensitivities or intolerance to glutens.

Gluten allergies in people is called Celiac Disease. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance or allergies in people include abdominal cramping, bloating, intestinal gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation. The three grains that cause the most gluten problems in people are wheat, barley, and rye. Learn more about Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in Dogs and Cats.