It is estimated that up to 40 million people in the US have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
We explore whether there are potential issues for dogs and could a gluten free diet be beneficial to our four-legged friends?
First things first, yes. Your dog can go gluten-free. Gluten intolerance is not something that affects only humans. In very rare cases, it can affect some other mammals.
Gluten is found in a number of different foods, including wheat, rye, and barley, and is present in a considerable amount of standard dog foods.
But how can you tell if your dog has an intolerance? Some of the most obvious signs include;
- Poor skin conditions
- Coarse or a poor fur coat
- Red or inflamed paw pads
- Poor skin condition
- Chronic and recurring ear infections
- Diarrhea and digestion issues
- Inflammation of the intestines
Like humans, these symptoms may vary, but being aware of these common side effects can help identify and rectify your dog’s diet quickly and accurately.
Why Would My Dog Go Gluten Free?
Other than if your dog has a gluten intolerance, it is not essential to change your dog’s diet. It is also worth mentioning that intolerance to gluten is extremely rare and will only affect a small percentage of dogs. However, more and more people are now enjoying a gluten-free diet and it seems that many pet owners are now choosing to give their dogs a diet to coincide with their own. This includes vegetarians, pescatarians, and even vegans.
Others believe a gluten-free diet is better for dogs with sensitive digestion issues or skin problems and many will then opt for a gluten free alternative. Whatever your reason, as a responsible pet owner, it is entirely your decision, but do make sure that you do your research. If you do opt to change your dog’s diet, just be sure to monitor their intake for the first few days and keep an eye out for any weight loss or bowel changes.
Can A Gluten-Free Diet Harm My Dog?
Absolutely not. If you opt to give your dog a gluten-free diet for whatever reason, it will not cause them any physical harm. There is no evidence to suggest a diet that is free from gluten is either more beneficial or unhealthy than a standard diet. Gluten-free dog food does not contain wheat, barley, rice, oats or rye, making it grain-free. Please bear in mind that you’ll probably notice a significant difference in the price between standard dog food and a grain-free brand so it is worth looking at the food volume requirements of your dog and seeing if it fits within your budget.
Do Dogs Need Grains?
Grains are a highly beneficial nutrient source and provide carbohydrates, fat and antioxidants. Dog food that contains grains helps to support healthy skin and hair as well as a healthy immune system.
So what happens when you give your dog grain-free food? Dogs need carbohydrates to promote a healthy and balanced diet. That’s why grain-free dog foods use alternative sources of carbohydrates, including potatoes, sweet potato, beet pulp, and pea flour. A few of these substitutes have been linked to excessive weight gain in pets, so it is important to seek advice from a professional before completely eliminating grains from your dog’s diet.
If you are on the lookout for alternatives, keep an eye out for dog foods that are formulated as complete and balanced. Foods that are formulated mean all the ingredients provide the recommended levels of fat and protein. It also means they’ll get all the nutrients they need in the correct amounts. Always check that the food meets the correct pet food guidelines.
Can Gluten Aggravate Other Conditions?
There are some breeds that are prone to things like digestive issues, cramping, and skin problems. For example, the Shar Pei breed can develop skin irritations and other problems. An allergy or intolerance could complicate this condition, so in this case, it might be a good idea to choose a diet that excludes most of the common allergens. This could be a hypoallergenic blend that does not include foods like beef, dairy, wheat, soya, or eggs.
How Long Will Any Changes Take?
From the time you start feeding your dog gluten-free foods, you should start to see an improvement in around 12 weeks. If you have tried a wheat-free only diet and have seen no real improvement, try a no grain diet after that. But remember that you must exclude all potential problem foods completely and that includes treats!
Should I Make My Dog Gluten-Free?
This decision is entirely up to you. It could be that you have researched all of the gluten free food group options and have decided that this method is still healthy for your dog. Or your hand could be forced if your dog is showing any signs of sensitivity to certain foods. If your dog is one of the rare percentages that suffer from gluten intolerance, switching their diet may make them happier and more energetic pooch.
If your dog is perfectly healthy, but you would like them to experience a gluten-free diet, try offering some gluten substitutes as a taste tester gradually, rather than taking a more radical step and suddenly changing their whole diet. Grain-free foods do come with a higher price tag, but this does not always mean it is necessarily better for your dog. Some producers use fancy packaging but the food does not match up to the quality of the exterior.
Always look at the ingredients and weigh up if the food contains good quality foodstuffs that are going to be beneficial to your dog’s health. For example, many dog foods contain fillers and things like corn, which has no real nutritional value to your dog. Whatever you decide to feed your dog, always make sure that you monitor your dog’s weight during any changes, as dogs need a high level of carbohydrates to thrive.
Andrew Long is a dog owner, blogger, writer, runner, and reseller of dog walking products at Wiggles and Wags.