Grain-free diets have become quite popular in recent years, with many popular brands devoting entire product lines to being “grain-free.” What does this mean for your cat, though? Do all cats require grain-free diets?
While not all cats are allergic to grains, those that do have this allergy often develop very problematic symptoms such as dry/irritated skin, bouts of itching, gastrointestinal distress, vomiting, and diarrhea. It’s important to note that there is a major difference between allergies and sensitivities. Your cat can be sensitive to grains and not be allergic. The difference between the two is that allergies have the potential to develop into serious health issues (in direct opposition to sensitivities - which typically only cause mild symptoms).
Grain-free cat food, such as Nature's Variety Instinct canned cat food, is one of the best ways to mitigate your cat’s grain-related issues (or remove them altogether). There are many different brands and products on the market touting themselves as “grain-free,” but how do you know which one to purchase? And what certain ingredients should be avoided (or included) in these products? Don’t worry, in the following sections we provide answers to both of these questions (and more).
The Details Behind Grain-Free Cat Food Products
Many pet owners often wonder whether or not these grain-free products are actually healthier than other options. Like most things in life, the answer to this ultimately depends on numerous factors (e.g. your cat’s breed, medical history, age, current diet, etc.). The main variable in answering this question is the actual reasoning behind your decision to give your pet cat a grain-free diet.
Grain-Free Does Not Mean Free From Carbohydrates
This is one of the most common myths about grain-free cat food out there. People associate grains with carbs, and for some reason think that just because a product is labeled as “grain-free” that it must be low in carbs as well.
The truth is that grain-free cat foods have just as many carbs as other product lines (sometimes they even have more carbs). There are many different carb-based ingredients that can be included in cat food (that don’t contain grains). For example, even though rice is a type of grain, pet food manufacturers will almost always replace this type of ingredient with something like potatoes (which means that no, your grain-free food is not “carb-free” too).
Is Grain-Free Food Good for All Types of Allergies?
Contrary to popular belief, most cats are actually allergic to ingredients other than grains. In fact, the most common types of food allergies found in cats are nearly always linked to protein sources (e.g. beef, lamb, certain fish, etc.). Of course, cats are carnivores, which means that they need most of their nutrients from animal sources.
This raises the question of which ingredients to avoid, and which ones to include in your pet’s diet. Generally speaking, if your cat is allergic to grains, you should obviously stick to food that’s clearly labeled as “grain-free.” However, you shouldn’t simply stop at that. You also need to look for other additives, fillers, and byproducts, all of which can trigger certain responses in your cat’s GI tract.
Glycemic Index and Grain-Free Cat Food: Is There a Connection?
Many pet owners are worried about how the production of grains has changed over the past few decades, to the point where the glycemic index of these grain-based ingredients has been tied to changes in the GI system of pets, as well as the absorption of nutrients. However, it’s not just grains that have undergone this change, nearly all ingredients have changed (i.e. the effect they have on the glycemic index has changed). If your main concern is related to your cat’s nutrient absorption, it’s recommended to feed them a minimally processed diet of natural, fresh foods (e.g. animal-based proteins and fats).
Alternatives and Other Important Questions
Just because grain-free diets are popular doesn’t mean that you should completely rule out grains. If your cat has an actual grain allergy, you, of course, should never feed them grains. Some great alternatives include potatoes, and in particular sweet potatoes (which are very nutrient-dense).
Grain-free diets, because of their higher protein content, are actually pretty well-tolerated by most cats. Remember, cats are what’s known as hyper carnivores (i.e. they eat mostly protein and fats - almost always from animal sources). Feeding your cat a grain-free diet is an excellent choice for many reasons, which is why it’s become a popular dietary choice among pet owners.