There has been a lot of questions around grain free dog food, its’ necessity and other propaganda surrounding it. We hope to answer some of those queries through this article.
What is Grain Free Pet Food?
Grain-free pet food are those pet food formulas that contain 0% grains. They advertise the name ‘grain free’ is because they do not contain any of the following grains like:
The above are the most popular grains in grain-based dog food and grain free dog food does not contain any of it. This does not mean these formulas are low on carbohydrates and fibres. A high-quality grain-free formula will ensure that your dog has enough carbohydrates from ingredients like sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.
A well-balanced grain formula will keep your dog healthy, happy and full of energy.
Are Grain-Free Formulas Necessary?
Though it is not mandatory, we recommend a balanced grain-free formula for pets so that they can have a balanced lifestyle. The answer is a little tricky. Dogs have evolved and have learned to digest grains after years of living alongside humans and eating table scraps. But what they can absorb is not always beneficial to them.
Studies in the past have suggested that grains act more as filler food than anything else, and though there are a few studies that indicate a few benefits from consuming grains, there is no concrete evidence.
On the other hand, research shows a few benefits of a grain free diet. We will list them below:
- On average, grain free dog food is slightly more expensive than grain-based dog food. But, since it is somewhat higher on protein, you have to feed them less, and therefore a package would last longer.
- Good quality grain free formulas are digestible and dogs that consume it produce lesser waste. They are also less likely to produce stinky bowels and have flatulence.
- It is ideal for high energy dogs and is an excellent source of energy.
In fact, Sarah Carson, an award-winning American dog trick trainer, mentioned on a show that she feeds her dogs a formula that contains 90% dried fresh meat. Her main reason to choose the recipe is that she travels a lot and wants to carry food that is light yet effective.
Choosing high-quality grain free dog food
So, now that we know that we should pick high-quality variants to see health benefits, how do we know if the food is worth the money? Here are a few tips:
- The main ingredient should be a named meat – Always go for products that tells you the name of their primary protein (chicken, duck, pork, etc.) and also look for its percentage. A genuine company will happily mention the percentage of their primary protein.
- Pay close attention to the vegetarian ingredients in the formula – the vegetarian ingredients should be those that contain fibers, vitamins, minerals and are also easy to digest. For instance, sweet potatoes are a great vegetarian addition to a grain-free formula. They include lesser starch when compared to potatoes, are rich in iron and easy to digest.
- If a company lists ‘fresh meat’ percentage, it is higher than the required crude protein. This means the fresh meat was weighed before it was rendered down. The ideal range of required crude protein is quite vast (15-30%). This is why it is essential to do a little research on your dog breed, their protein requirements before choosing a formula. Contrary to popular belief, grain free dog food can contain a range of crude protein percentages. Some include as less as 10% while others are on the higher range containing around 25-30%. Both can qualify as a good quality dog food, depending on the products they choose to use.
- Avoid exotic meat like ‘crocodile meat’ or ‘kangaroo meat’ as there is very little research materials on the effects of these meat varieties on dogs. They may be useful for your pets, but there aren’t enough studies that prove it. This is why, consider going for known meat varieties like chicken, duck, turkey, pork, etc., to be safe.
- Check for artificial colours and flavours. More often than not, dogs show allergic reactions to the artificial products rather than the product itself, so it is better to stay away from them. Also, a good quality formula does not require artificial colours and flavours to enhance their products.
Health Risks of Poor Quality Grain Free Recipe
A recent article published by the New York Times suggested that grain free dog food may have been the reason for some dogs to fall sick in America. Though veterinarian Martine Hartogensis says ‘don’t panic,’ people continue to worry and stay away from grain free formulas.
The research is still on process, and there are no concrete evidences that say that grain free formulas cause potential health risks. The article also stated the following:
“The common factor was a diet heavy in peas, lentils, chickpeas, and potatoes — carbohydrates typically intended to replace grains.”
Though dogs can digest ‘peas,’ ‘lentils,’ ‘chickpeas’ and ‘potatoes,’ it cannot be a part of their everyday diet. Potatoes are cheaper and contain a substantial amount of starch that lowers the cost of production but also reduces the quality of the product. Other ingredients like chickpeas must be cooked exceptionally well before giving them to your dog. They must never become a part of their daily diet.
From the above example, we can see that though there is a possibility that the dogs got sick from the food they ate, we question the quality of the product rather than its ‘grain free’ label. In fact, Dr. Freeman, another veterinarian involved in this case, states:
“I recommend selecting a pet food that contains high-quality ingredients, is made by a manufacturer with strong nutritional expertise and rigorous quality control, and has the right nutritional profile for the individual pet.”
The problem here is not with grain free dog food. It only arises when we buy poor quality grain-free formulas thinking that they will be beneficial to your canines. Follow the tips we mentioned above and select a product that is worth it.