Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Feed Grain Free Dog and Cat Food?

By Lexiann Grant

Should you feed grain free food to your cats and dogs? While grains contain many beneficial nutrients, cats are carnivores and not normally grain eaters, and, some dogs don’t do well with grains while other dogs need the higher levels of protein a grain free diet can offer.

Although grains are a good source of essential vitamins, minerals and fiber, the digestive system of the feline is not designed to efficiently break down and utilize a large amount of carbohydrates. The small quantity of carbohydrates that ancestral cats ate came primarily from the stomach contents of prey which they caught and consumed. While pariah and feral dogs were more versatile in their diets, eating more carbohydrates than cats, the source of these carbs was vegetables, fruits and also food remnants in their prey’s digestive tract.

Studies over the years through various veterinary colleges and journals have shown that several health conditions can be aggravated by too much dietary grain. Special diets for affected pets usually eliminate or greatly reduce the grain source of carbohydrates in their food.

* Allergies. In dogs, allergies most often manifest with itching, dry flaky skin, skin lesions, and excessively waxy ears with frequent ear infections. Cats may experience itching, hair loss, nasal discharge and respiratory symptoms. Although food allergies are the least common type of allergy diagnosed in dogs and cats and make up only about 5% of all cases of skin disease, there are rare cases of allergy to soy, corn and wheat grains.

* Inflammatory Bowel Disease. A serious, complex disease which results in chronic diarrhea and sometimes vomiting, IBD is linked in part to diet. Grains have a history of making the symptoms of this condition worse. Elimination diets to diagnose and control IBD rely on a single meat protein source and most frequently – no grains.

* Urinary tract disease, including struvite bladder stones and feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC or FLUTD). For pets predisposed to bladder problems, a precisely balanced diet is critical to maintaining health. Meat protein in strict proportion is necessary to maintain proper urine pH, which is typically too alkaline in these painful conditions. Grains contribute to alkaline urine pH: the more grain in the diet, the more alkaline urine is likely to become.

“With urinary problems I recommend food that is higher in protein content and lower in grain,” says Dr. Shawn Messonnier DVM,, and author of Unexpected Miracles, “and, IBD and allergies can be worsened because of possible interactions with grains.”

* Obesity and high glucose. Partial grains can contribute to weight gain or unstable blood sugar levels, particularly in cats. Energy from grain carbohydrates rushes into the system and converts quickly to glucose. This sudden excess can lead to high levels, followed by a plunge. Dogs who “work” or compete in high-energy activities need more meat protein for sustained energy. Pets with diabetes can more easily maintain normal blood sugar levels with diets lower in grains and higher in meat protein. And, calories from partial grains can also pack on as pounds of fat more quickly.

* Additionally, non-premium foods that rely on grain plants as their main source of protein can be deficient in the amino acid, taurine. Taurine deficiency plays a key role in the development of eye and heart problems, particularly in cats.

If grains are bad, then why are they used in pet food? Because not all grains are bad, and not all animals have a problem with grains. Not only do whole, low-allergenic grains, like oats, barley or brown rice, contain beneficial nutrients, they are useful to the production of kibble. These healthy grains help “hold” dry food together and supply nutrients.

For the dog or cat who needs a grain free diet, these nutrients come from other sources – which also facilitate the manufacturing process – such as potatoes, peas, cranberries and other vegetables or fruits. The essential nutrients found in grains are also available in these food sources and do not have to be “added back” into the diet.

Not every dog, or even some cats, should be fed a grain free food. But for the health conscious owner who wants to provide an “ancestral diet” or for the special needs or "high energy" pet, grain free is a healthy option. Grain free foods are more expensive, but like any dietary choice, it’s an investment in good health. Like their other premium products, CANIDAE® offers a grain free line of kibble and canned foods for both dogs and cats.

Personally, I feed grain free to two of my dogs and most of the cats. One dog is my “little carnivore” that has always turned up her nose at the first whiff of a vegetable, grain or fruit (except for peanut butter)! The other dog has problems with alkaline urine and struvite crystals, and CANIDAE Grain Free has been key in keeping him healthy. The cats, some of whom have FLUTD, eat mostly grain free as well... and I’m looking forward to trying the new Grain Free FELIDAE® food.

Read more articles by Lexiann Grant

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