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Grain-Free Pet Diets: What To Know Before You Choose

By March 1, 2022 February 7th, 2024 No Comments

You would do anything for your pet, so you don’t balk at spending more (sometimes a lot more) on designer grain-free food. But is grain-free food really better for your dog or cat? Did you know that the FDA has been investigating a link between grain-free pet diets and a deadly heart condition in dogs and cats since 2018?

Here’s what you need to know.

Grains Can Offer Health Benefits to Dogs and Cats

Dogs and cats have fiber needs too! Whole grains provide digestive support and are a good source of protein, Vitamin E, and Omega 3. Common grains found in pet food include:

  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Rye
  • Wheat
  • Oats
  • Corn
  • Barley

Grain-Free Doesn’t Mean “Low-Carb”

Some think they’re lowering their pet’s carb intake. But grain-free food replaces the carbs with other carbs on which we have less safety research. There is no evidence that chickpea carbs, for example, are any better for your pet. And many pets are actually allergic to them. Grains rarely cause pet allergies.

The Link Between Grain-Free Food and Heart Conditions

The FDA and veterinary organizations are still unsure what explains the link between grain-free food and heart problems. The link appears stronger in dogs than cats, but exactly why needs more research.

In the meantime, we have some recommendations for pet parents.

What We Recommend

First of all, because there is no science to support grain-free food as better, we recommend that you not spend more on it simply because you think it’s better than a quality, nutritionally-balanced pet food containing grains.

When Choosing Store-Bought Food

  • Only choose grain-free foods if your vet has recommended them to you, usually because of a diagnosed allergy or sensitivity.
  • Look for AAFCO statement (Association of American Feed Control Officials)
  • Select food intended for your pet (for example, puppy food for puppies)
  • Verify that the food company employs a qualified veterinary nutritionist
  • Ask your vet about the brands they trust (e.g., Iams, Hill’s Science Diet, etc.)

If Making Your Own Pet Food

As humans, we typically rely on variety in our diets to make sure we get all of the nutrients we need. Since pet diets have less variability, it’s critical to get their food right. But how can you know if you’re checking all of the boxes on nutrition? Please use this free online tool to ensure you have created a complete nutritional profile for your pet.

We have no affiliation with this tool and simply find it very helpful for our pet parents who we know want to make the right decisions for the health of their pets.