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Grain Free Dog Food: Cut Down on Carbs

By Lauren Leonardi . April 27, 2012 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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Grain Free Dog Food: Cut Down on Carbs

Adjusting carbohydrates and grains is one way to help your dog shed some pounds. Learn about grain free diet options for your dog here.

If your dog has skin irritation, fur loss, goopy eyes or ears, or if you find yourself saying Fluffy just isn’t herself, but you can’t put your finger on it, you may be dealing with an allergy. Eliminating grains is one course of action some nutritionists and veterinarians will take to identify and treat allergies, although we don’t traditionally think of carbohydrates as having proteins that can cause allergy, in some cases they do.

Some argue that while ancestral wild dogs would have consumed some small amounts of non-meat foods - fruits and vegetables found in the bellies of their prey, for example - they would rarely, if ever, have consumed grains or carbohydrates of any kind. They believe that dogs’ diets should remain grain and carb free, period.

Types of Carb Conscious Dog Food Diets:

Low Carb

Your average store bought kibble is likely to be 40%-60% carbohydrate. Foods with less than 30% carbohydrate content will often call themselves “low carb,” when what they really mean is “lower” carb. Low carb does not necessarily mean grain free, just as grain free doesn’t necessarily mean carb free.

No Grain or Grain Free

Dog foods free from grain might still contain other carbohydrates. When a dog is dealing with digestive problems, a nutritionist might suggest cutting out grains like corn and oats, while leaving in other carbs like potatoes, rice, or peas, which are less likely to cause allergy and stomach problems. Almost all dry dog foods require at least some sort of carb to hold the kibble together. Many wet foods will be totally grain free.

No Carb

There are few commercially prepared dog foods with zero carbohydrates. If getting your dog off carbs completely is a goal, you might be relegated to a specialized wet food diet, a do it yourself home cooked food regimen, or possibly even a raw food diet.

Other Carb Considerations

Processed cereal grains are inexpensive, both to produce and store. This is the primary reason they’re included as a main ingredient in so many popular dog food brands, not because they’re healthy for your dog. When seeking alternatives, some pet owners will end up with a food that’s still high in carbs, just different carbs, like tapioca and potatoes. Dr. Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM says, “Unless a dog has sensitivity to grains, replacing small amounts of nutrient rich whole grains with starchy vegetables has no real advantage.” The best course of action for a dog who is not dealing with specific allergies or sensitivities is to find a food that’s very high in protein, with highly digestible carbs.  When looking at ingredient labels for high protein foods, dry food should have over 28% and wet food should have above 6% protein.

Benefits of Experimenting with Different or Lower Carbohydrate Diets for Dogs

Some pet owners find that their dogs aren’t well. Their stool may be too firm or too soft, or they may suffer from any number of other previously mentioned ailments that could be related to diet. In this case, experimenting with lower carbs or different grains is an obvious next step.

Dr. Crosby says potato, sweet potato, peas, oats, rice, and barley are a few common carbohydrate alternatives that pet owners may wish to try out when attempting to diagnose gastrointestinal disorders. But, she adds, carbohydrates aren’t the only ingredient to consider when diagnosing allergies: “Allergies tend to be adverse immune reactions to proteins, not to carbs.” In that case, “pet owners may also wish to experiment with alternative proteins like salmon, lamb, duck, and egg.”

Other pet owners wish to pursue a diet for their pets that most closely hits their dog’s biological needs on the head, even when that pet already seems healthy and well. The facts about canine anatomy suggest that dogs are primarily meat eaters, and that protein is the most important part of a dog’s diet. The levels of carbohydrates in traditional grocery brand dog foods simply don’t square with what a dog would be eating in the wild.

Regulations on Low Grain and No Grain Dog Foods

There are no AAFCO limits on how much of a given dog food may be comprised of grains or carbohydrates. However, ingredients will always be listed from highest to lowest in quantity. This will help you determine exactly what your dog’s food consists of.  

Dog food manufacturers are only required to report levels of protein, fat, fiber, and water. Ash comprises about 7% of dry food and 2% of wet food; so you can use simple arithmetic to figure out how much of your dog’s food comes from carbs.

Criticism

Some practitioners feel that the higher carbohydrate content in pet foods may be part of the obesity epidemic in pets today. However, overweight dogs simply need to balance caloric intake with proper exercise. Very simply, if a dog is overweight or lethargic, they may just be eating too much or exercising too little. It’s rarely the grains alone causing your dog’s spare tire.

Great Dog Foods

Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream All Natural Dog Food
Wellness Core Grain Free Original Formula
Canidae All Life Stages Formula Dry Dog Food
Natural Balance L.I.D - Limited Ingredients Diets
Halo Spot's Stew Wholesome Chicken Adult Dog Food
Nutro Natural Choice Venison Meal/Brown Rice Dog Food
Nature's Variety Instinct Grain Free Lamb Canned Dog Food
Merrick 5-Star Canned Dog Food

More on Dog Food and Nutrition

Diets for Dogs: Here’s What You Need to Know
Raw Food Dog Diet
Natural Dog Food: Holistic and Organic Dog Food Diets
What is in My Dog Food?
Homemade Dog Food for Your Pet

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by,your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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