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To Feed – or Not to Feed – Pets Grain

Should Dogs and Cats Eat Grain?

whitworthpetfoodIt’s hard for most of us to imagine that our fluffy pets evolved from large, aggressive, savage predators prowling the forests and open plains of long ago to become the docile “best friends” that we share our lives with today. Dogs most likely resembled giant wolves and cats had sabre like teeth! The distant descendants of our pets were wired by nature to be carnivorous meat eaters that only ate plants such as grains to avoid starvation. With this scientific information, why do so many pet owners continue to feed their pets food that contain mostly grain and by-products that have minimal nutritional value and ultimately cause intestinal distress? Some grain or “cereal” (often referred to as fillers) is an acceptable ingredient. However, pet owners should avoid buying food with these elements listed in the top three (3) ingredients on the nutritional label of any pet food brand. Dr. Charles Whitworth at Whitworth Animal Clinic can recommend wellness diets to keep your dog or cat healthy all the way through the geriatric years and developed for particular conditions. Diet matters if you want your fur buddy with you as long as possible!

Pet Food Studies

Some scientific studies state that grain can create small fissures in the lining of the gastrointestinal resulting in “leaky gut syndrome” that allow bacteria, toxins, incompletely digested proteins and fats to abnormally leak out of the intestine into the bloodstream. It is speculated that these elements, not normally found in the blood stream, trigger an autoimmune reaction resulting in bloating, gas, food sensitivities, fatigue, and skin rashes.

Other reports indicate that some plant material such as corn, wheat, soy, rice, and barley are not bad or harmful to dogs and cats in limited amounts. Grains are a great source of carbohydrates. As such, they contribute to the nutritional content of the pet food. By definition, a filler has no nutritional value, which is not true of grains, despite the many claims to the contrary.

Gluten and Intestinal Sensitivity

Dogs and cats very rarely experience gluten hypersensitivity. While their ancestors may not have eaten grains, present day pets have evolved to be able to digest grains and glutens pretty easily. Dogs possess several genes that have been modified through the course of their evolution to allow them to easily digest carbohydrates, which includes grains. The distinction between a grain free diet and a gluten free diet needs to be clarified. Gluten free dog food, on the other hand, may or may not contain grain as an ingredient. Not all grains contain gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten free dog food does not contain sources of these proteins. However, gluten free dog food may or may not incorporate other types of grain ingredients, while grain free dog food will always be gluten free.

So, if you are feeding your pet a grain-free diet in an effort to avoid glutens, it may be unnecessary. On the other hand, feeding a grain-free diet will not do any harm either. Grain-free diets, depending on the diet itself, can be very nutritious and can be a good choice from the perspective of choosing a high-quality food that is complete and balanced. Some people think that a grain-free diet is low in carbohydrates. This is often not true. In many cases, grain is replaced with other carbohydrates such as potatoes.

What’s in a ‘Balanced’ Diet

There are twenty two different alpha amino acids that mammals need for optimal health. Dogs and cats have twelve internally by nature and must ingest the other ten in their diets. Because these ten amino acids are necessarily acquired only through food acquisition, they are termed essential amino acids. Years ago, people started referring to amino acids that are not formed internally, and need to be eaten, as “essential amino acids”. Make sure that you read the labels carefully to ensure that “essential amino acids” are represented in the food choice.

If you choose to feed a grain-free diet, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It’s a valid choice and many grain-free foods are of high quality. Remember to review the nutritional label and make sure that the first three ingredients contain quality proteins. It’s always a good idea to be able to make an educated decision. Dr. Whitworth provides veterinary and nutritional services for pets from Madison, Huntsville, and the surrounding Madison County areas. We carry many brands of pet foods specifically formulated to provide proper nutrition at any stage of their life, as well as accommodate health conditions such as diabetes, sensitive stomachs, kidney disease, allergies or dry skin. Whitworth Animal Clinic, located at the corner of Rainbow Drive and Highway 72 in Madison, is a premier veterinary clinic that offers high quality care and personalized service. Call (256) 830-1503 today to make an appointment to discuss your pet’s diet!