The Definitive Guide to Grain Free Dog Food in 2022
So maybe you heard that grain-free dog food was bad for your dog. Or, maybe you are looking for a change in diet due to allergies? Whatever the reason, we wanted to give you the best researched and factual information that we could find.
To give you a better understanding of our complete guide to grain-free dog food we first want to touch on what grains are used most often in dog foods, who usually need this type of diet, and what a grain-free diet actually is.
Once we have a better understanding, then with this information, we answer your questions and concerns such as feeding this diet to puppies, a list of pros and cons and the top 5 things you should look for in this type of diet to make sure your pup is getting the complete nutrients they need.
A quick overview of commonly used grains in dog food are:
- Wheat - carbohydrates
- Corn - protein, carbohydrates, antioxidants
- Oats - contains Vitamin B, an alternative for wheat sensitivity
- Rice - Easy to digest, a high source of carbohydrates
- Some less common options are;
- Barley - low in cholesterol, high in fibre
- Rye - palatable and highly digestible
- Sorghum - an ancient grain
What is Grain-Free Pet Food?
The definition is; any dog or cat food/treat made without wheat, corn, rice or other grains.
Our pets still need carbohydrates for energy so no grain dog foods will use a grain substitute like potatoes and pea flour.
Kibbles need a starch binder to be shelf-stable and to make those little crunchy balls we are all familiar with - which come in many different forms, whether it is a carb or a grain.
These substitutes can also come from:
Sweet potato - an excellent source of Vitamin A promoting healthy skin, eyes, coat, and nerves.
Lentils - in moderation they are a good source of fibre and include nutrients such as zinc, iron, and Vitamin B.
Tapioca - A carbohydrate which is a source of energy, often used in formulas for dogs with allergies.
Peas - Cheap & plentiful. Rich source of minerals and protein, and a great source of fibre.
Quinoa - A very nutrient-dense source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Can Grain-Free Dog Food Cause Heart Problems?
This is a big question that requires a thorough answer.
In July 2018 The Journal of Animal Science published a study reporting on the possible connection between a grain-free kibble diet and developing heart conditions in dogs. This study investigated certain pet foods labelled “grain-free” containing high amounts of peas, potatoes, legumes, or other carbohydrate bases.
What DCM (canine dilated cardiomyopathy) does is affects the heart muscle by enlarging it, ultimately decreasing its ability to pump blood resulting in heart failure.
This list of brands is taken directly from the 2019 update that was conducted by the FDA regarding the most frequently reported food brands linked to DCM.
They state that out of 515 dogs that were reported, 452 of them were eating a diet of the kibble variety.
In June 2020 an update was published showing that there was no clear link between grain-free dog food & heart disease, specifically DCM in dogs.
However, in a turn of events, dogs who were being taken to the vet who were diagnosed with DCM were also found to also have dangerously low levels of taurine, it was then noted that diets low in protein and taurine were also contributing to canine dilated cardiomyopathy.
A little bit about taurine:
Taurine is a sulfur-containing amino acid important in the metabolism of fats and is found abundantly in meat. Most commonly found in beef muscle meat, dark meat and organs such as liver and heart in both chicken and turkey, pork loin, and many other sources. What taurine does is it supports cardiovascular health and normal heart function, boosts immunity, supports brain and eye health, aids in fat digestion, and supports digestion.
In the past, taurine deficiencies have most commonly been linked to cats, since their bodies are unable to produce it on their own. Cats suffered from DCM because it was not added to their commercial diets 30 years ago. When these reports were made, and commercial diets began adding taurine into their meals, DCM almost disappeared in cats.
Historically DCM has been an inherited, genetically linked condition and is now most commonly seen in large breed dogs. The study was then turned from the connection solely being from grain-free diets and turned to the possibility of certain dog breeds such as golden retrievers, and their genetic makeup, developing DCM.
While there were many confounding factors throughout this study, many were found to be a myth connecting grain-free dog food and heart problems. The current conclusion of this study states that there is more than one contributing factor and that there must be more research done around not only diet, but infection, metabolism, and the genetic involvement of each affected dog.
The FDA states that there is no definitive relationship between diet characteristics and DCM.
Pros Vs. Cons of Grain Free Dog Food
Like many things in life, there will always be pros and cons lists - and dog food is no exception.
- Eliminates the possibility of a grain allergy.
By removing the ingredients that your dog is allergic to, in this case, grains, you alleviate their allergies and allow their system to come out of a state of attack so that it can heal.
- Easy to digest
Commercial brands rely far too often on the fillers in their foods, this helps companies cut down on costs, but opting for a substitute such as sweet potatoes or quinoa can still help with costs but keep nutritional integrity in the product.
- Offers a more concentrated course of energy
Due to the higher percentage of protein and sometimes added carbohydrates, this gives your dog a healthier and purer form of energy.
- Can have a higher price point
As stated in the pros list, ingredients are often cleaner and therefore, easier to digest. Because of this, most grain-free diets are a little pricier than those with fillers and starches.
- Labels don’t always tell the truth
Let me explain, while companies can use low-quality ingredients they can also make grain-free food. Keeping that in mind, not all grain-free formulas are the same and they vary in quality and nutritional value. Even though it might say grain-free, it may not be the healthiest option, so best to double-check the ingredients list.
- Poor digestion
I know this one is counterintuitive to what is said in the pros list, but if your pup's GF diet hasn't been formulated properly, to meet all of their dietary needs it can cause an upset tummy as grains are a source of fiber
What Are the Actual Benefits of Grain-Free Dog Food?
On a more extensive note, here are some benefits of feeding grain-free dog food!
When you switch grains for other ingredients your pup can benefit from their nutritional makeup. For example, certain ingredients such as sweet potatoes are nutritionally dense forms of carbohydrates. Remember, dogs turn carbohydrates into energy, an absolute necessity for them. By incorporating this kind of meal into your dog's current diet it can also help eliminate the symptoms that are seen alongside allergies & intolerances such as;
- Excessive gas
- Loose stool
- Yeast infections
- Itching, biting, licking skin
The elimination of these symptoms comes from the minimal, clean ingredient list and your pet's internal ability to recognize their meals as food instead of fillers and preservatives as it was when it was eating processed food.
Many other pet foods diminish their nutrient profile by over-processing their food and cooking at high heat. An optimal diet will offer higher energy to your pet because there are no processed grains.
Is Grain-Free Dog Food Good For Puppies?
Puppies! What pet parent doesn’t do a ton of research on the best food to feed your puppy? With so many options out there it can be overwhelming to decide on what the best choice is, and grain-free is only one of them. In short, grain-free puppy food is good for puppies, especially if there is a grain allergy present in your little one.
- High-quality ingredients can offer vital nutrients for little-growing bodies, so making sure your little ball of energy is being fed the right stuff is crucial.
Protein - A powerful source of amino acids that are the foundation of
hormones, antibodies, tissue, and organ. Beef for example is an awesome go-to protein for your puppy. Organ meats such as liver and heart offer massive amounts of protein and vitamins. Beef heart is a natural source of taurine (we talked about this above!), thiamine, and B6 which are all equally important as they support red blood cells, glucose generation, hormone regulation, and gene activation… just to name a few.
- Fruits & Veggies - Natural sources of vitamins, minerals, and fibre
- Carbohydrates - A balanced amount of carbohydrates is a source of energy
- Fat - Muscle development, energy fuel, aids in healthy skin & coat
If your grain-free diet has all of these points, you’re on the right track!
5 Things to Look for when choosing A Great Grain-Free Pet Food
When you search “what is the best grain-free dog food“, natural and balanced fresh pet food should be at the top of the list. Fresh dog food gives you the confidence to know you are feeding your pet;
- Minimally processed meals - whole and natural ingredients are gently cooked keeping the nutrient profile as close as it can to the ingredient's natural state.
- Biologically appropriate - human-grade, whole, locally sourced ingredients that are combined to formulate a balanced and appropriate meal for your dog
- 0 additives or preservatives
- Formulated by a veterinary nutritionist following the AAFCO nutrition guidelines to ensure a complete and balanced meal for dogs at all life stages
- Rich in moisture - aids in the prevention of urinary tract infections, digestibility, and dehydration
Options like Kafka’s Organic gently cooked meals are an optimal choice as they can be fed as a grain-free dog treat, a full meal, or a topper and addition to your dog's current diet.
Of course, when deciding your pet's health it is important to talk with your vet to make sure you are making the best choice for your pet and their individual needs.
Over the years our dog's internal systems have adapted to accommodate grains in their diets, but lower-quality brands rely far too much on starches, such as corn, and wheat as fillers. This is a less than ideal option for our furry family members as these diets lack the nutritional makeup to keep our pets healthy.
Grain-free fresh food options go a long way, not just for dogs with allergies or dogs who may have suffered from a medical condition, or even puppies who are at the accelerated stage of growth.
No, at the end of the day, it is the natural and whole ingredients, gentle cooking, and moisture-rich meal, that makeup Kafkas Organic, which also happens to be grain-free.