Choosing the right diet to feed your dog is one of the most important decisions you will make as a pet owner, but it can also be one of the most confusing. There is a significant amount of conflicting information available about what the best type of diet is for a dog. One of the biggest debates in surrounding dog food is whether or not it is healthy and beneficial for there to be grain in dog food. Some individuals argue that grain is harmless in dog food, while others advocate for a grain-free diet to avoid potential allergic reactions and gastrointestinal issues. This begs the question, is grain-free dog food better? To help you become more knowledgeable about what type of diet is best for your dog and whether or not you should use dog food that contains grain, we have compiled information to help you make an informed decision that suits your dog.
The History of Dog Food
To understand how the debate over grain in dog food has developed over the years, it is necessary to examine the history of dog food. Research suggests that dogs were domesticated as much as sixteen thousand years ago, and have likely been spending time with human beings for longer than that. However, scientists are unsure of when dogs transitioned from animals used to serve a purpose as a work animal, into a beloved part of the family. Over the course of history, the diet of domesticated dogs has evolved. In some cultures and environments, dogs predominantly survived off meat, which is where the argument for a raw diet, which will be discussed later, stems from. However, as dogs became a more dominant part of the family household, their diet changed to consisting of scraps of what the human beings were eating, ranging anywhere from meat, bones, bread, milk, eggs, to potatoes or onions. The diet of a dog was situationally dependent on what it had access to whether in the wild, as some dogs did hunt small prey for its meat, or from human beings.
As the roles of dogs have grown in the place of households, the approach to feeding them has developed and changed. During the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, there was a rise in middle-class families that possessed enough excess income to keep dogs as domesticated companion animals. As this societal shift transpired, the market reacted accordingly and pet food began to be produced. The first commercially prepared pet food available in England was made by James Spratt. James Spratt was a businessman who had noticed dogs being fed leftover biscuits and took the initiative to develop a dog biscuit. This dog biscuit was made up of a variety of different materials, including vegetables, beetroot, beef blood, and a mixture of wheat meals. James Spratt introduced his dog biscuits in approximately 1860. From there, the availability of prepared pet foods and pet treats developed.
In modern society, many countries impose restrictions on pet food manufacturing facilities and products to make sure that they meet nutritional requirements and are compliant with applicable safety regulations. In the United States, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011 and made comprehensive changes to the United States food safety regulations. As a part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and food producers must place a focus on preventing foodborne illness in food for both human beings and animals. As the understanding of pet nutrition has evolved with science, specialty diets have been released into the market aimed at a number of different pet demographics, including puppies, elderly dogs, dogs with food allergies, and dogs that are overweight.
The Discussion About Grain in Dog Food
With an understanding of the how dog food has evolved over time, it becomes easier to see why there are such differing opinions about the place of grain in the diet of a dog. On one hand, dogs have survived for thousands of years while consuming grain in various forms. On the other hand, dogs have also survived for thousands of years relying primarily on meat and vegetables as their source of nutrients. To begin to parse this argument apart, it is vital to understand the underlying reasoning and factors that affect each side of the discussion.
Proponents of grain-free dog food argue that ancestors of modern dogs would not have sought out or relied on grain as a source of food in their diet. One image that proponents of grain-free dog food rely on to challenge the logic of using grain in dog food is that of a wild dog eating wheat in a wheat field. This seems inherently unlikely, which is why it is intended to support the grain-free diet. One of the main tenets of the argument for grain-free dog food is that dogs were not intended to rely on grains in their diet and their digestive system is created accordingly. This can result in allergies, gastrointestinal issues, and infections as a result of a digestive intolerance to grain. However, not all dogs display an adverse reaction to food containing grain.
Those that argue for the inclusion of grain in dog food assert that over the course of centuries of domestication, the digestive system of dogs has developed to accommodate grain as a part of their diet and that eating grain will not negatively affect the digestive system. Many individuals that support this assertion will concede that many modern dog foods rely too heavily on grain as a filler in the dog food to drive down cost. However, dogs have survived throughout history with grain as a part of their diet, so grain itself is not an inherently hazardous ingredient within dog food. With these two sides of the grain argument in mind, it is next important to consider whether or not your dog needs a grain-free diet.
Does Your Dog Need a grain-free Diet?
As a pet owner, it can be difficult to determine the right choice for your dog in every aspect of their life, particularly with regards to their nutrition as there is a substantial variety of different options available. It is important to keep in mind that many dogs do not require a grain-free diet in order to live a happy and healthy life, but for some dogs, it may be a beneficial choice. In order to decide whether or not a grain-free diet may benefit your dog, it is important to examine to of the most common reasons that pet owners change their dog to a grain-free diet.
As mentioned above, some argue that grain is an unnatural source of nutrition for dogs, which results in digestive and health issues, while others contend that domesticated dogs have evolved over time in order to digest grains. Some pet owners make the decision to switch their dog to a grain-free diet because they are experiencing digestive and/or gastrointestinal issues. For dogs that have a sensitivity or allergy to grain, a switch to a grain-free diet may resolve their digestive issues. However, it is important to seek the consultation of a licensed veterinary professional prior to switching your dog’s diet to make sure that they will still be getting the nutrition they need and there is not an underlying condition causing their gastrointestinal symptoms.
Another common reason that pet owners switch their dog to a grain-free diet is due to food allergies. If a dog possesses food allergies, it is important to determine what foods they are allergic to and then tailor their diet accordingly. Grains are one of the main ingredients of pet food that a dog may be allergic to, but other common allergies include beef, poultry, dairy, eggs, and potatoes. If your dog is allergic to grains, then a grain-free diet is an optimal choice for them. Food allergies can manifest in a number of different ways and recognizing the symptoms of a food allergy early can help spare your dog discomfort. If you suspect your dog suffers from food allergies, seek the help of a licensed veterinarian in order to do an allergy test to determine what specific foods and allergens your dog is allergic to. Below are a handful of the most common symptoms in dogs suffering from food allergies.
- Excessive hair loss
- Inflamed, red skin
- Bald patches
- Ear infections
- Impacted anal glands
- Chronic licking or biting to relieve itching
- Rash or skin irritations
- Loose stool/diarrhea
- Excessive flatulence
It is also vital to keep in mind that some breeds of dogs are at a higher risk of developing food allergies. Below are a number of dog breeds that studies have indicated have a larger chance of developing food allergies.
- Springer Spaniel
- Chinese Shar-Pei
- Cocker Spaniel
- Miniature Schnauzer
- West Highland White Terrier
- Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier
- Lhasa Apso
Conducting a Food Trial
One of the best ways to see if a grain-free diet may be the right choice for your dog is to do a food trial. Before making any changes to your dog’s diet, be sure to consult with your veterinarian. It is also important to keep in mind that if your dog is not experiencing any negative side effects on their current diet or exhibiting any symptoms indicative of a digestive issue or food allergy, then it is not vital to switch their food. If your dog is experiencing symptoms of a food allergy or digestive issues and you make the choice to switch them to a grain-free diet, there are a number of different tactics to keep in mind as you proceed.
Before you embark on your food trial, it is necessary to determine which food you will switch your dog to. To find the best food for your furry friend, be sure to read the labels on any food options you are considering. There is a huge variety of different foods available, so be sure to do your research about which type of grain-free diet will be most beneficial for your dog. Some pet owners choose to switch their dogs to a raw diet, which consists of raw meat, organs, bones, and occasionally vegetables as a source of nutrition. For raw diets, it is vital to find the right balance of nutrients so that it does not adversely affect your dog’s digestive system. In addition to a raw diet, there are all grain-free kibbles and wet foods available for purchase. The most important facet of selecting the right food to switch to is understanding what your dog is reacting to in their current diet, what the goals of switching their diet are, and tailoring your selection accordingly. Pet food labels can be confusing, so do research about methods for selecting pet foods made out of high-quality ingredients.
Once you have found the right food to switch your dog to, the next step is to begin switching their food. If you make the decision to switch your dog to a grain-free diet, it is important that you not switch their food immediately and all at once. If they switch their food cold turkey, they may experience adverse digestive side effects as a result since their body is not adapted to the new food yet. To switch to a grain-free dog food, slowly introduce the dog food by mixing it with the prior food. Over one to several weeks, gradually increase the amount of the grain-free food and decrease the amount of the previous food until your dog is only consuming the grain-free food. You will need to see how your dog is reacting to the change to gauge how quickly they can be transitioned without becoming constipated or having diarrhea. This process will be different if switching to a raw diet, which can vary based on the type of raw diet being adjusted. No matter what route you choose to go, be sure to consult with a licensed veterinarian to make sure that your dog is getting the nutrition they need.