Should You Feed Your Dog a Grain-Free Diet?

Published: 7/8/2021

From raw meat to organic treats, there have been a number of trendy dog diets over the years. One of the most popular alternative doggy diets recently is a grain-free diet. 

Search the web, and you'll find an equal amount of positive and negative reviews of grain-free diets for dogs. So, what's the truth about grain-free diets? Are they a better choice than traditional dog food? Here's a quick look.


What is a grain-free diet for dogs?

You might be wondering, "What's different about a grain-free diet, anyway?" A grain-free diet means the dog food contains no grains. Grains commonly used in dog food include wheat, corn, oats, barley, rice, rye, and soy. 

To compensate for the lack of carbohydrates, grain-free dog food usually contains a different carb source, like lentils, peas, potatoes, and quinoa. Most grain-free dog foods have a similar amount of carbs to traditional dog food.


The drawbacks of a grain-free diet

There are a few potential drawbacks to a grain-free diet for dogs. As grain-free dog foods feature an alternative carbohydrate, many pet parents believe they are lower in carbs. However, grain-free dog food is usually high in carbohydrates and could cause your pupper to pile on the pounds unexpectedly.

Perhaps the most worrying research is into the relationship between grain-free dog foods and a dangerous heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), commonly known as an enlarged heart. 

A study between 2014 and 2019 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that of 515 reports of DCM, 90% of dogs were on a grain-free diet. Additionally, 93% of dogs were on a diet with peas and/or lentils. 

While this research isn't conclusive, it's enough to suggest a relationship between DCM in dogs and grain-free diets. There have also been reports of the condition subsiding after placing the dog back on a diet with grains and supplementing them with taurine. 


The benefits of a grain-free diet

One of the most common myths about grains is that they cause allergies in dogs. In fact, grain allergies are among the rarest food allergies in dogs. Grain allergies only affect around 1% of dogs, and no research suggests grains cause allergies. 

If you think your dog has a grain allergy, consult a vet, who will be able to diagnose the allergy and recommend a suitable diet. It's actually much more common for a dog to be allergic to a protein source, with beef being the most common food allergy among dogs. While grain-free dog food might be the answer if your dog has a grain allergy, it's best to talk with your vet first before making the switch.

There's no concrete evidence that grain-free dog food has any general benefit, other than your dog may prefer the taste. Again, you should always contact your vet before switching to a grain-free diet. You'll also want to ensure any grain-free dog food you buy is approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).


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