Myth Busters: Grain-Free Craze
You are what you eat — and the same applies to your pet. The end goal in selecting pet food is to provide them with a well-balanced diet appropriate for their size and life stage. With all of the current hype over grain-free diets, it can be hard to differentiate between fact and fiction. While protein is an essential element of your pet’s diet, this does not mean grains, corn, and by-products are bad for them — in fact, the opposite is often true.
Similar to the human food industry, pet food manufacturers utilize trends in order to make their food more appealing for purchase by consumers. Their end goal as a business is to sell more pet food, but rather than coming to your own conclusions about whether or not certain ingredients are good or bad for your pet, take a look the nutritional facts behind the fads. The bottom line: every pet’s diet should be tailored to their specific needs and there is no substitute for quality.
Breaking it Down — Allergies
The hype of grain-free pet food and market saturation is based on the myth that our pets are generally allergic to gluten, which includes corn and other grain products. The truth is that few veterinarians or veterinary researchers believe that corn is a common allergy in animals at all. In fact, it has been proven that animals are more likely to be allergic to an animal based protein such as: beef, chicken, or dairy products — if any ingredient at all. If your pet is on a high-quality, nutritionally balanced diet, maintains a healthy weight, and is not subject to any allergic symptoms, there is no reason to change their food simply based on a public misconception. Why fix something if it’s not broken?
If your pet is having issues on their current diet, however, jumping to the conclusion of a corn or grain allergy is a premature step. Feeding elimination trials per your veterinarian are the best way to identify your pet’s individual ingredient sensitivity.
Busting the Myth: Insight into Grains, Fillers, and By-Products
High-quality, nutritionally balanced pet diets are developed by food manufacturers under the direction of veterinary nutritionists and veterinarians. Ingredients are specifically added to diets in order to provide adequate levels of essential nutrients — not to act as space-fillers. Whole grains are a valuable carbohydrate supplement and protein source that also provide essential amino and fatty acids, fiber, and serve as an effective way to keep calorie and fat levels low. Dogs and cats are equally capable of digesting and using nutrients derived from grains.
What about by-products? The word itself can be misleading — by-products are leftover ingredients from animal meat, but despite widespread belief do NOT include hair, hooves, horn, hide trimmings, manure, and intestinal contents, as confirmed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Why are they used? First of all, by-products often provide a more concentrated source of nutrients, using organ meats as an example. Secondly, by-products may be less desirable to humans, but using them in pet food reduces environmental waste and actually attributes to common sustainability goals, as defined by the World Wildlife Organization.
The Bottom Line
Your pet’s diet should be specifically tailored to their individual needs — and there is no substitute for quality. Consult your veterinarian about any concerns you may have regarding feeding your pet. If allergies are suspected, a monitored food trial should be implemented in order to isolate the exact ingredient culprit. Like all fads, this grain-free craze will fade, and until then stick to well-balanced diets from reputable companies that were created with the help with veterinary nutritionists and bear the official AAFCO stamp of approval. Visit http://www.aafco.org/ for more information on commercial pet food diets.