Is Grain-Free Food Right for Your Dog or Cat?

Written by: Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, DVM

Why Does Cat & Dog Food Have Grains?

The latest trend in pet foods is the introduction of grain-free dry kibble diets. The grain-free trend originated with raw diets as many proponents of raw food studied evolutionary dietary habits of our companions’ wild ancestors and decided that grains were unnecessary.  While wolves and wild dogs may graze a bit on greens periodically, most of their nutrition comes from meat – including organ meat and the stomach and intestines of their prey which contain small amounts of partially digested grasses and other vegetation. No processed grains. In the wild, cats eat only meat and the very tiny amount of grain or vegetable matter a mouse or bird stomach might contain. So why is grain in most pet foods? Basically, because it is a less expensive source of nutrients and energy than meat, and because something has to hold a dry food together.

While grains are not necessarily bad for companion animals, they can cause problems for some. Allergies are becoming more widespread among dogs and cats, and grains seem to play a fairly significant role in aggravating allergies.  Animals with some chronic or acute diseases such as diabetes and cancer often do better on a grain-free or low-carbohydrate diet. Grains and carbohydrates can also contribute to weight problems in our companion animals.

Is Grain Free Food Bad for Cats & Dogs?

Most cats are better off without grains. Cats are designed to acquire the protein and amino acids needed in their diet from meat. They do need some fiber in their diet since their lifestyle is not what it would be in the wild, but a small amount of steamed or ground vegetables is a good way to add fiber.

While grain-free diets are reminiscent of the Atkins diet for humans, they may not be the best choice for every overweight animal. Some less active animals have gained weight on the grain-free kibbles.  Keep in mind that if the animal is getting what it needs from less food, then you can cut down on the amount you feed.  In other words–Fluffy may have needed ½ cup of cat food that contained rice or oats as a large part of it’s content.  With a grain-free food that is as much as 50% meat, she will not need as much food to obtain the same amount of nutrition–1/3 to ¼ cup may be all she needs now.  Every animal is different–you will need to be the judge of how much to feed, not the label on the bag.

Very active working and sporting dogs may lose weight on a completely grain-free diet. Rotating a grain-free food with other foods may be a better option for more active dogs.

Puppies and kittens as well as pregnant and nursing mothers can use the extra protein and nutrients from a grain-free food.  Remember to feed extra for these high-need individuals; three meals a day until they are 4-6 months old, and for pregnant and nursing moms, too.

Ready to give it a try?