You may have noticed that the gluten-free food movement has trickled down to pet food. High-end, artisanal brands and household name brands alike are offering up gluten-free versions of dog chow.
Grain-free pet food sales have soared to cover 10% of the pet food industry’s market. But is this trend actually healthier for our dogs? Can dogs be allergic to gluten? And what about us, if we can’t eat gluten, can we be affected by what our dogs eat?
Before making any drastic changes to your pet’s diet (and to your bank account), some research is required. Here we’ll provide you with some of the important facts and answer your questions about gluten-free diets for dogs.
Can Dogs Have Celiac?
Short answer? Yes. However, celiac disease is incredibly uncommon in dogs. The exception to this is the Irish Setter, a number of which have been documented to suffer from a congenital disease that results in an intolerance to gluten. Dogs can also have dietary allergies and intolerances, which are detailed more below.
Grain-Free Versus Gluten-Free
While gluten-free dog food will be free of gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley and rye, grain free dog food goes further and eliminates gluten-free grains such as rice and millet. It is important to pay close attention to labels and ingredients, because gluten-free dog food may not be grain-free, and grain-free dog food may not be gluten-free.
Why is Grain-Free Dog Food So Popular?
Proponents of grain-free diets for pets claim that grains are an unnatural source of nutrition for our furry friends. They argue that ancestors of dogs ate heavily meat-based diets that did not include grains. Dog foods with ingredients such as corn, rice and oats provide diets for our dogs that they would never consume in the wild. Others argue that modern day dogs have evolved to allow them to easily digest carbohydrates, making grain-free food unnecessary.
Others claim that grain-free dog food is the answer to dogs who are prone to allergies. Vets and dog experts have also said that gluten and other grains may be the culprit behind irritable bowel syndrome and leaky-gut in dogs. Skeptics of this trend insist that while food allergies do occur in pets, they are much more likely to be foods such as beef or dairy, and not grains. However, for dogs who do have grain allergies, grain-free food can be the difference between a miserable pup and a healthy, happy one. Symptoms of a food allergy in your dog include itching, hair loss and bald spots, and you should consult your vet before making a significant dietary change.
Another advantage of gluten/grain-free dog food is that it will be much higher in protein. “Fillers” such as corn, rice and oats will be replaced with healthy proteins like fish and chicken. This ties into the above argument regarding what our dogs would eat in the wild, and supports the notion that their diets should be high in protein, not in grain.
If I Have Celiac, Does My Dog Require Gluten-Free Food?
At the 2013 International Celiac Disease Symposium, Melinda Dennis, Nutrition Coordinator at the Celiac Center of Beth Israel, made a presentation on possible sources of gluten exposure for people with celiac. While she spoke about well-known contaminants such as crumbs in condiment jars and nutritional supplements, she also spent time focusing on pet food. She explained that if your dog kisses you on the mouth after eating or if you give your dog treats and put your hands in your mouth without remembering to wash first, you can be exposed to gluten.
For people with celiac and gluten intolerance, a gluten-free lifestyle means more than just the food we put into our bodies. It can mean changing our toothpastes, makeup and hair products, as well as not sharing cutting boards, cooking utensils, toasters, dips and condiments with our families and roommates. It may just be that since we share a household with our pets as well, if their food contains gluten it has the potential to contaminate our surroundings and lead to us accidentally ingesting gluten.
Many pet owners attest to gluten-free food ridding their furry friends of allergies, joint problems and skin issues. While simply switching to gluten-free food may not mean that gluten is the culprit (there could be a host of other issues like preservatives, meat source, etc.), if the dogs are feeling better and getting healthier, does it really matter? My Dachshund Chihuahua mix was plagued with skin issues and after trying numerous treatments, putting him on a gluten-free diet has fixed the problem entirely, 4 years and counting. At the end of the day, us pet owners want to provide a diet for our pets that help them achieve a healthy, happy lifestyle.
Currently, there are very little industry standards when it comes to labeling pet food gluten-free. The most that can be done is to claim that no gluten ingredients were used, but those of us who are familiar with cross contamination know that this can be a far cry from gluten-free. Many grain-free pet foods will also by default not include gluten ingredients, so check those out too and remember to read the ingredients diligently.