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In Part 1 of “Is there a grain of truth behind the health claims of grain-free pet foods?” we waded into the debate over a popular trend in the pet food marketplace. We discussed what grains are good for and why grain-free pet foods have become favored among pet owners. We reviewed your pet’s 6 basic nutritional needs. And we defined gluten as a mixture of proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, brewer’s yeast, and rye.

Now, we’ll go a bit deeper, and answer the question, “Should you change your pet’s food?”

First big question: Do pets experience gluten intolerance? Cats – never. Dogs – almost never (it’s only been proven in one particular line of Irish Setters!)

Second big question: Don’t grains cause food allergies? Perhaps, but those instances are far less common than allergies to animal-sourced proteins. The most common culprits in food allergies are chicken, beef, and dairy proteins.

The bottom line, according to Kara Burns, an expert in pet nutrition, is that grain-free pet foods are no more beneficial than a pet food with grains.

Bonus big question: Should you switch your pet back to a grainy diet? Not necessarily. Consider whether your pet’s nutritional needs are otherwise being met by the diet of your choice.

Are your pet’s skin and furcoat healthy? Poor health can look like this:

  • red, inflamed skin
  • skin sores
  • large, flaky dandruff
  • odor
  • fur loss
  • itchy skin
  • chronically irritated or infected ears

Does your pet maintain a healthy weight? Poor health can look like this: 

  • obesity (cannot feel ribs; no definition of waist from above, or between chest and belly when viewed from the side
  • underweight (prominent ribs, spine, and hip bones)

Does your pet have a healthy gut? Poor health can look like this: 

  • flatulence (gas)
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea or chronically soft stools

The symptoms listed above may indicate that your pet’s food is not providing the proper nutrients, or perhaps your pet is unable to digest and utilize the nutrients provided. Of course, other disease processes can cause the same symptoms; your pet’s veterinarian is the best source of information.

So while feeding a grain-free diet may not be necessary to maintain your pet’s good health, it can be adequate as long as your pet’s nutritional needs are being met. If your pet digests the food well and is healthy, there is not a pressing need to change diets. The biggest change you might notice, however, is that grain-free diets can cost more than traditional pet food.

*This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, or recommend treatment for any condition or disease. Your veterinarian is the best source of information about your pet’s health.

This article is based on the peer-reviewed article researched and written by Kara M. Burns, MS, MEd, LVT, VTS — “Grain-Free Pet Foods: Fact vs. Fiction” published in Veterinary Team Brief, Vol. 5, No. 2.

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