Gluten Free Dog Food
If you are interested in gluten free dog food there are a lot of things you need to know in order to separate myth from reality.
The truth about glutens
Gluten is a protein-composite that occurs in wheat, barley, rye and related grains after all the starch has been removed. It does not occur in all grains. For instance, it is not found in corn or rice. True gluten only occurs in grains that belong to the grass family (remember that all grains originally grew wild before they were domesticated). Corn and rice also have stored proteins and they are sometimes called “gluten,” especially in the pet food industry, but these proteins are not really glutens as nutritionists use this term.
In developed countries, about 1 in 133 people have an intolerance to gluten. Sensitivity to gluten is considered an intolerance and not an allergy.
Glutens and pets
It is relatively rare for a pet to have gastrointestnal problems associated with glutens. There is one documented and researched case of a family of Irish Setters in the 1990s that appears to have had a gluten sensitivity that could be called gluten-induced enteropathy (celiac disease in humans). It would be extremely unlikely if the celiac disease in these Irish Setters was related to their Irish origins since Irish Setters are not “Irish” in the same sense that Gaelic or Celtic people are Irish – ethnic groups who have lived in Ireland for thousands of years. Irish Setters are transplants to Ireland, bred from a number of other breeds over the centuries.
If your dog should, by some chance, happen to have a gastrointestinal reaction to glutens, it would be to wheat, barley, or rye and not to corn or rice. Humans with celiac disease are able to eat corn and rice proteins.
Dogs can have allergies to wheat and other grains but that doesn’t mean they have celiac disease. You can feed a food to avoid that particular grain or feed a grain free dog food. Grain free dog foods are also, automatically, gluten free since glutens have to come from grains.
Along with corn and rice, other grains that don’t contain glutens include buckwheat, millet, quinoa, oats, sunflower seeds. Some of these grains are more nutritious than others.
According to the Whole Dog Journal, one veterinarian familiar with celiac disease recommends feeding dogs a diet that avoids glutens – as well as many other common allergy triggers. He says that the change in his patients has been dramatic. However, it’s impossible to say whether the dogs are reacting to removing glutens from their diet or to removing other ingredients that could have been problematic for them. In addition to glutens, the vet recommends eliminating all dairy products, soy, and corn. These ingredients can cause problems for many dogs who have gastrointestinal issues or food intolerances.
There are some researchers who believe that instead of gluten sensitivity, the issue may really be FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols) – fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates that are known to cause gastrointestinal problems. While they are often found in the same foods that contain glutens (at least in human foods), they are not glutens themselves. But eliminating them from the diet will often improve the symptoms that are associated with gluten sensitivities.
FODMAP culprits you might find in dog foods:
Vegetables and Legumes
- Garlic – avoid entirely if possible
- Onions – avoid entirely if possible
- Soy beans
- Split peas (peas are widely used today in the pet food industry as a substitute for grains)
- Wheat products
- Egg noodles
- Regular noodles
- Bran cereals
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Xylitol (harmful to dogs)
- Prebiotic Foods
- FOS – fructooligosaccharides
- Cream cheese
- Ice cream
- Milk – cow, goat and sheep
- Sour cream
- Yogurt – including greek yogurt
If your dog has gastrointestinal sensitivities, then all of these ingredients are items that could cause a reaction that might be mistaken for gluten intolerance, even though most of them do not contain gluten. This is not an all-inclusive list but you get the idea. Even some ingredients that are often considered to be beneficial for the gut, like yogurt and inulin (a prebiotic usually from chicory in dog food) can have a negative effect if your dog has certain gastro issues. You don’t have to completely avoid all of these ingredients for your dog. Some dogs may be more sensitive to some of them than others. But they are things to consider if your dog has problems with a certain dog food.
Feeding a gluten free dog food
As mentioned, if you are feeding a grain free dog food then you are already feeding a food that is gluten free. If you would like to feed a food that is gluten free but not necessarily grain free, there are a number of companies that make gluten free dog foods today. For example, Nature’s Logic makes all of their foods to be gluten free – both dry and canned foods. Nutro makes Ultra Adult and Small Breed using gluten free ingredients in several formulas. Purina makes several veterinary diets which can be suitable for dogs with gastrointestinal issues. Even Rachael Ray has a gluten free dog food, sold as a limited ingredient diet – Rachael Ray Nutrish Just 6. So, there is no shortage of gluten free dog food available if you decide this is what your dog needs.
If your dog is sensitive to glutens, especially from wheat, then be careful when you buy treats and snacks. They are particular likely to contain wheat which could trigger problems for your dog. Check the labels carefully. Even treats and snacks which claim to be “meaty” often contain lots of wheat – used as protein or as a thickening agent.