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Grain Free Diets


A grain free diet is a diet free from all grains, including ingredients such as wheat, corn, rice, oats and barley. These diets have become increasingly popular in the pet food industry, mirroring trends in the world of human nutrition. But is feeding a grain free diet really better for your pet?

Grains contribute valuable nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and fibre to the diet. At the same time, they help to keep the fat and calorie content lower than if animal products were used in their place. If we decide to feed a grain free diet, we need to ensure we can still provide these key nutrients or 'building blocks' that make up a complete and balanced diet.

One big argument put forward by fans of the grain free movement is that as carnivorous animals, grains hold no place in the natural diet for dogs and cats. While cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat, technically domestic dogs are omnivores. Dogs have lived alongside humans for tens of thousands of years eating our scraps and cast offs, including meats, vegetables and you guessed it - grains! If we compare the genome of a dog to a wolf, it's been shown that dogs do have the ability to digest the starches found in grains.

So is grain-based nutrition ideal and biologically appropriate for dogs and cats? Not necessarily, but on the flip side it doesn't automatically mean that it is harmful.

What are the drawbacks of a grain free diet?

More expensive - less cost effective carbohydrate source such as sweet potato or tapioca flour need to be used to replace the grain

Carbohydrate alternatives can offer less in the way of beneficial nutrients - brown rice is an excellent source of fibre and slow release energy while tapioca flour is highly starchy and contains virtually no fibre

More energy dense - must pay close attention to feeding amounts to avoid weight gain and obesity.

Grain free diets have been implicated in the often fatal condition in dogs called dilated cardiomyopathy (Enlargement of the heart leading to heart failure and death)

There are of course anecdotal reports of dogs thriving on these diets and the elimination of some food intolerance symptoms such as skin and gastrointestinal problems.

The debate continues and each side of the argument has merit but it is important to maintain an open mind on the pros and cons.

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