It’s not unusual to see health trends and even specific types of diets for people mirrored in our pets. An unfortunate example is that as the human obesity epidemic in North America has grown, so has the number of chubby, flabby and obese pets. But now, some pet owners are turning to another human craze, grain-free diets, as a means to solve health issues. So, is a grain-free food the correct answer for what ails your pet?
As a society, we have become very concerned about our diet and a number of health issues related to our consumption of various foods. Gluten sensitivity in people is just one example, and it has led to many looking at “whole food” diets or even eating only foods that our Paleolithic ancestors consumed. Naturally, pet owners will translate these concerns to their cats and dogs and look for more natural diets for their four-legged friends.
Pet food marketers have been quick to respond to the public’s desire for grain-free options in their lines of food. Catchy brand names like “Taste of the Wild”, “Natural Balance” or “Earthborn” tempt the human shoppers. But are these pet owners choosing a diet simply based on marketing hype and the sales pitch in the store?
Many believe that the gluten sensitivities common in people are also a widespread problem in pets and choose a diet based on a lack of specific ingredients, such as wheat. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that these particular problems occur regularly in dogs or cats. Gluten sensitivity and intolerance are documented in Irish setters, but to date we simply don’t know if other breeds are affected, and the problem has not proven to be widespread.
Another frequent reason for choosing a grain-free pet food is that the owner believes that wheat, corn or some other grain is highly allergenic and causes food allergies for their pets. The fallacy here is that many dogs are actually allergic to the proteins in the food. In a review of 267 cases, wheat actually was responsible for fewer canine allergy cases than beef and dairy, and corn comes in at a distant eighth, behind chicken, egg and lamb.