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Pros and Cons of Feeding Grain-free Food to Your Dog

Pros and Cons of Feeding Grain-free Food to Your Dog
Grain-free dog foods are becoming increasingly popular in recent times. But, is it good for all dogs? Let's find out more about grain-free dog food and its various pros and cons in this post.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Feb 22, 2018
Did You Know?
Grain-free dog food is not necessarily carbohydrate-free. It does contain carbohydrates from non-grain foods like potatoes and sweet potatoes.
For most pet owners, choosing the right food for their dogs has become one of the most challenging tasks in recent times. With numerous dog food brands and the wide range of products they offer, it is quite natural to get confused. The latest trend in the dog food industry is grain-free food, which has gained widescale popularity and acceptance among the advocates of raw food diet for dogs.

According to the supporters of the raw food diet, the natural diet of the wild ancestors and cousins of dogs and cats includes mostly meat. But, most commercially available dog foods primarily contain grains like corn, oats, and wheat. So, grain-free dog food has been formulated to provide a diet that is closer to the natural diet of dogs.

However, every dog is different and many dogs no longer resemble their wild ancestors, as far as their activity level is concerned. So, why choose grain-free dog food? Do all dogs require a meat-based, grain-free diet? Let's find out more about the pros and cons of grain-free dog food, and the things to be considered while choosing a particular diet for your dog.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Grain Free Dog Food
Pros of Grain Free Dog Food
Grain-free dog foods basically contain meat-based ingredients like fish, chicken, lamb, beef, and turkey, along with carbohydrates from non-grain foods like vegetables. Many pet owners have reported a significant improvement in their pets' health and activity levels after incorporating high-protein grain-free foods in their diet.
Easier to Digest
Golden Retriever
Digesting corn and other grains can be difficult for some dogs, especially if they do not have enough amylase enzyme. This enzyme is crucial for breaking down starch and carbohydrates to simple sugar compounds. So, a lack of this enzyme can impair the digestion of grains, and cause various gastrointestinal problems in dogs. Such dogs can benefit from a high-protein diet and grain-free dog food.
Good for Diabetic Dogs
Dog Waiting
It has been observed that dogs with diseases like diabetes and cancer may benefit from a grain-free diet. Diabetic dogs should not be fed foods rich in simple carbohydrates, as these can raise their blood sugar levels. Even if your dog does not have diabetes, a diet rich in simple carbohydrates can cause over-production of insulin and weight gain. It may eventually cause diabetes as well. However, diabetic animals do require some amounts of complex carbohydrates, which can be found in whole grains.
Good for Dogs with Food Intolerance
It has been observed that food allergies are often caused by a grain-based diet. Many supporters of grain-free dog food therefore, maintain that grains are not bad, but they can cause digestive problems in dogs having food allergies or intolerance.

An intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other cereal grains, is not very common in dogs. But, if your dog has gluten intolerance, then a grain-based diet that includes wheat, oats, rye, or barley, can damage the lining of its small intestine and impair the absorption of vital nutrients. Such a dog can benefit from food that contains carbohydrates from sources other than grains.
Better Health and Activity Level
Walking With Dog
Grain-free dog foods can provide relief in digestive and allergy problems and thus, help improve your dog's health and activity levels. A high-protein, grain-free diet can provide more energy and so, it is especially ideal for highly active and working dogs. Many pet owners have reported that their dogs have a healthier coat, breathe better, and have more energy after they switched to grain-free dog food.
Cons of Grain Free Dog Food
Not Good for Older and Less Active Dogs
Mixed Breed Dog
While a protein-rich, grain-free diet can be great for highly energetic and working dogs, it can cause weight gain in dogs with a sedentary lifestyle. Such dogs simply do not require the amount of energy provided by a protein-rich diet. Such a diet is also not good for older dogs with limited mobility, and dogs that are already overweight.
Contains Mostly Carbohydrates from Non-grain Foods
Contrary to popular belief, many commercially available non-grain dog foods contain more carbohydrates than meat. All processed foods contain starch, which is essential for cohesion and to create a dry kibble. But, some commonly available grain-free dog foods can contain cheap and non-nutritious sources of carbohydrates.
More Expensive
Grain-free dog foods are usually more expensive than grain-based foods. So a decision to feed grain-free food to your dog can take a toll on your budget. However, many argue that grain-free foods contain more protein, and hence, are more filling than grain-based foods. This means that your dog will eat less, but will get the required nutrition.
Things to be Considered While Choosing a Particular Diet
Traditional veterinarians usually do not recommend a grain-free diet for pets, while holistic veterinarians support it. So it can be quite difficult for pet owners to decide what kind of food they should choose for their dogs. As a pet owner, you should always weigh the pros and cons of a particular type of food before incorporating or excluding it from your pet's diet. So, consider the following things before completely eliminating grains from your dog's diet.
❋ Each dog is different and has different nutritional requirements. There is no magic formula that fits all dogs. The nutritional requirement of a chihuahua is definitely not the same as that of a working dog like a German Shepherd or Siberian Husky.
Lonely old dog
❋ Dogs with a more active lifestyle can be fed a high-protein diet, but this type of diet is usually not recommended for older and less active dogs.
❋ Some dog food experts are of the opinion that dogs don't have a problem in digesting grains, as they do possess the enzymes required for digesting starchy carbohydrates. According to Dr. Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, dogs can digest cooked grains.
Overflowing Dog Food Bowl
❋ Many veterinarians maintain that grains, especially whole grains, are essential for dogs, as these can provide crucial vitamins and minerals. Whole grains also provide a significant amount of fiber that helps maintain digestive health.
❋ Before changing your pet's diet, be sure to evaluate its health condition, as pets with certain health problems may not respond well to a high-protein or grain-free diet.
❋ A sudden change in your pet's diet is not good. So, if you decide to switch to a particular type of diet, be sure to do it slowly and gradually.
To sum up, any decision to change your pet's diet should be based on factors like age, breed, the activity level of your pet, and its overall health condition. As a pet owner, you should always do some research on various types of dog foods to find out the one that will suit your dog. Lastly, never forget to take your veterinarian's opinion before placing your dog on a grain-free diet.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional veterinarian advice.