Grain Free Dog Food - The Inside Story
Updated: Jul 20
Smart Bark is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
Grain free dog foods have become extremely popular in recent years with all the main dog food brands offering grain free options in both wet and dry foods. A huge number of smaller dog food companies also offer ranges of grain free raw, dry and fresh dog foods.
This popularity within the dog food market has undeniably echoed the growth of similar products for us humans.
Chances are you know at least one person who has gone gluten or grain free. Supermarkets have made significant shelf space for 'Free From' products to cater for this ever-growing market.
With the increase in the number of people choosing a grain free or gluten free diet, dog food manufacturers have recognised that similar diets are attractive to dog owners for their pooches.
Many dog lovers choose to transfer their own eating philosophies on to their dogs, believing that grain is bad for their four-legged friends. But are these diets actually the best choice for your dog? How do you know if your dog would benefit from a grain free or gluten free dog food?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Benefits of a Grain Free Dog Food
Most dogs do not actually need a grain free diet. Here are some of the common reasons dog lovers choose to feed their dog a grain free diet :-
Advocates of grain free dog foods claim that grains are an unnatural source of nutrition for our dogs.
They argue that ancestors of our current day dogs did not eat grains. This is probably true but whilst their ancestors may not have consumed grains, dogs have evolved to be able to digest grains and glutens pretty easily.
Dogs have several genes that have been modified through the course of their evolution to allow them to digest carbohydrates easily which includes grains. So, while most dogs do very well eating a grain free or gluten free diet, their metabolism doesn’t actually require it.
Another reason that many dog owners choose to feed grain free dog foods is a belief that these diets are the best choice for dogs that have food allergies.
Except in a very few cases where an allergy is diagnosed by a vet, adverse reactions to grains are actually very rare.While food allergies do occur in dogs, corn and other grains are not among the most common allergens found in foods.
In fact research has identified that beef and dairy are far more common allergens for dogs.
Low in Carbs
One misconception is that grain free dog food is also low-carb and free from 'fillers'. Many dog owners opt for grain free dog food because they’re looking for a quality dog food, seeking better palatability or looking to limit carbohydrates.
Grain free doesn’t necessarily mean carb-free. Vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, green peas and tapioca often replace the grains in grain free dog foods, especially in kibble foods, making them as high or higher in carbohydrates than grain-based dog foods.
2. What if My Dog has Grain Allergies ?
For dogs that truly do have allergies to grains, gluten free or grain free dog food would be the best choice. Here are some symptoms that would be expected in dogs that have food allergies:
Excessive hair loss
Sore and scabs
Obviously a food trial would be necessary to determine whether the grain free food is beneficial for your dog.
3. Is Grain Free Dog Food Dangerous ?
Back in 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found a possible link between Canine Dilated CardioMyopathy (DCM) and dogs eating certain grain free dog foods (after reviewing more than 500 recent cases of DCM) .
DCM is a primary disease of cardiac muscle that results in a decreased ability of the heart to generate pressure to pump blood through the vascular system.
According to a report published August 2021, peas are at the top of the list of ingredients linked with compounds that might be related to DCM.
Diets reported to be associated with DCM are often labeled “grain-free” and usually contain certain ingredients, including peas and potatoes, which are used to replace other ingredients such as rice or corn - reported in Guardian Friday 6th August 2021
In nearly all of these cases, the dog had been regularly eating a mostly grain free diet, the FDA report said :-
These products contain a high proportion of peas, lentils, other legume seeds (pulses), and/or potatoes in various forms (whole, flour, protein, etc.) as main ingredients (listed within the first 10 ingredients in the ingredient list, before vitamins and minerals).
In an article published on July 19, 2019 the Canine Journal urge it’s readers to use caution when feeding your dog an entirely grain free diet until the FDA learns more about the increase of DCM and its potential link to certain diets or ingredients.
Interestingly, the three vets at the heart of the DCM investigation — Dr. Lisa Freeman, Dr. Josh Stern, and Dr. Darcy Adin — all have financial ties to at least one of the massive dog food manufacturers - Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Mars Petcare, and Nestle-Purina Pet Care.
Historically these companies focus heavily on grain dog foods, so they stand to gain financially if the market for grain free diets drops out.
And the three vets who both instigated the FDA’s investigation and wrote the primary academic articles about DCM all have financial ties to one or more of these companies. Coincidence?
There has not been an increase in reported cases of DCM in the UK or Europe. So my dog loving friend, you decide whether it's a conspiracy theory or cause for concern.
4. Is There an Alternative to Grain Free Dog Food ?
A healthier alternative on the grain based dog food spectrum to consider is “single whole grain” formulas. Some dogs with food sensitivities and allergies do particularly well on single-grain dog foods.
Some grain based dog food brands offer formulas that are more easily digestible for dogs with mild food sensitivities to severe food allergies.
Their manufacturing process cooks the grains at lower temperatures for longer time periods than most regular grain based dog foods. They are therefore more easily digestible because they are cooked more thoroughly.
Guru Dog Food uses cold pressing as a method of producing dog food at very low temperatures.
They're conscious that food allergies are a problem so they use maize germ in their foods.
It offers high levels of energy and is easily digestible but the germ doesn’t have the starchy endosperm that contains the carbs and gluten.
Also, in the recipes where grain is included, they prefer to use brown rice for carbohydrates, as very few dogs seem to be allergic to it.
Guru Surf & Turf has a nutritional rating of 91% on AllAboutDogFood.
Scrumbles also use the cold pressing method and their range includes a Puppy and Toy mix with mini kibble so it's perfectly sized for puppies.
They exclude some common allergens such as gluten, eggs and dairy in their recipe.
The dietary fibre is included in a careful balance of brown rice & oats.
Their range includes adult and senior dog blends too.
Scrumbles Puppy and Toys has a nutritional rating of 87% on AllAboutDogFood.
We all want what is best for our four-legged friends so fact check the different options before making a change and then do so gradually. A good rule of “paw ”is to always consult your vet before making any major changes to your dog's diet.