What you need to know about grain-free and gluten-free dog food

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At tails.com we know choosing dog food is confusing, with many brands making claims on what’s best. One of the popular trends recently is ‘grain-free’ or ‘wheat-free’ dog food. We wanted to explore where this trend came from, if it’s truly beneficial for our pets and what it actually means.

In humans, coeliac disease is caused by an allergy to a protein called gluten in wheat. Non-allergic intolerance to gluten can also occur in humans causing indigestion, bloating, cramps and diarrhoea. However, coeliac disease or true gluten allergy in dogs is extremely rare, only occurring in Irish Setters. Intolerances to wheat or other grains are relatively uncommon in dogs too; by far the most common ingredients causing digestive upsets or allergies are animal proteins such as beef, dairy products and chicken only then followed by wheat. Approximately 10% of allergies in dogs are to food ingredients, and only 1% of allergies are to wheat. It’s important to note that food allergies in dogs usually result in chronically itchy, sore skin and occasional digestive issues, but dietary intolerances normally lead to digestive upsets alone such as diarrhoea, vomiting and loose stools.

Dogs are not exclusive carnivores but omnivores, meaning they can digest plant and animal ingredients. In fact, domestic dogs evolved to live with humans successfully because of their adaptation to digest the types of food we offered them, including plant and grain based leftovers. Dogs are genetically different to their wolf ancestors and can digest starch from whole grains very well when cooked.

Whole grains can offer a range of important nutrients for dogs as part of a balanced diet in conjunction with high-quality animal protein sources. Wheat itself provides an excellent source of complex carbohydrate for energy, essential amino acids from plant protein as well as fibre for intestinal health. Wheat, barley and rye all contain gluten, which can cause food allergies in dogs but again this is rare compared with humans.Confusingly, maize gluten is actually a different protein to wheat gluten and even less likely to cause issues in dogs.

Dogs can develop dietary allergies or intolerances to any ingredient in their food over time; the simplest and most reliable way to identify the offending ingredient is by carrying out an exclusion diet trial. Your vet can advise on how to do this correctly as well as outlining other diagnostic tests. As mentioned previously, it is far more often an animal protein source in food causing adverse food reactions rather than grains.

At tails.com, we provide an option to exclude ingredients from your dog’s blend whenever you wish. Choosing to exclude wheat will result in a diet formulated without wheat; if you exclude grain however, it will formulate a diet without wheat and all other grains including oats and rice which can be valuable ingredients in the diet. Rice and oats are very rarely the cause of digestive upset or allergies in dogs. Even if excluding grains and wheat, we still include sweet potato and potato as healthy, digestible and beneficial carbohydrate sources as well as beet pulp as a beneficial fibre source. Switching to a new animal protein source such as fish can sometimes give better results for dogs with suspected food allergies, itchy skin or digestive upsets. Our customer support and nutritionist team are always on hand to discuss reblending your dog’s food to suit their specific needs.

14 comments

  1. My Jack Russell has ‘turns’ very similar to those seen in Spikes Disease In border Terriers. Like many border terrier owners I put her on a grain free diet and the turns have more or less stopped, they only seem to happen when she’s snuck a wheat treat like sausage or biscuits.

  2. My Jack Russell has ‘turns’ very similar to those seen in Spikes Disease In border Terriers. Like many border terrier owners I put her on a grain free diet and the turns have more or less stopped, they only seem to happen when she’s snuck a wheat treat like sausage or biscuits.

  3. Hi Fen,

    Glad to hear you’ve figured out what might be the cause. As you know Spike’s disease has been linked to a genetic gluten sensitivity in Border Terriers only, but many with cramp and spasm episodes don’t improve even with a gluten-free diet. There are similar disorders in other breeds which don’t have any link to diet; episodic falling syndrome (EFS) in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for example. Jack Russell Terriers and Labradors in the UK are seeing a rise in similar movement disorders recently, but whether this is purely genetic or there is a dietary link is unclear at present. Luckily tails customers can select wheat or grain as an exclusion on their dog’s profile if it appears to cause problems.

    Best wishes,
    The tails.com team

  4. Hi Fen,

    Glad to hear you’ve figured out what might be the cause. As you know Spike’s disease has been linked to a genetic gluten sensitivity in Border Terriers only, but many with cramp and spasm episodes don’t improve even with a gluten-free diet. There are similar disorders in other breeds which don’t have any link to diet; episodic falling syndrome (EFS) in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for example. Jack Russell Terriers and Labradors in the UK are seeing a rise in similar movement disorders recently, but whether this is purely genetic or there is a dietary link is unclear at present. Luckily tails customers can select wheat or grain as an exclusion on their dog’s profile if it appears to cause problems.

    Best wishes,
    The tails.com team

  5. Hi Abbey. Shar Peis are prone to many skin conditions, some complicated by food allergies or intolerances. Many Shar Pei owners choose a diet that excludes the most common food allergens just in case there are skin problems. But the breed itself is not naturally allergic to grain. At tails.com if you choose a hypoallergenic blend we exclude beef, eggs, dairy, soya and wheat. You can also exclude grain and other ingredients if you wish. Each dog is an individual and their allergies or intolerances are too.

  6. Hi Abbey. Shar Peis are prone to many skin conditions, some complicated by food allergies or intolerances. Many Shar Pei owners choose a diet that excludes the most common food allergens just in case there are skin problems. But the breed itself is not naturally allergic to grain. At tails.com if you choose a hypoallergenic blend we exclude beef, eggs, dairy, soya and wheat. You can also exclude grain and other ingredients if you wish. Each dog is an individual and their allergies or intolerances are too.

    1. Hi Ellen,

      We’re able to exclude a large number of ingredients from any potential blend, including grain. There are certain ingredients however, that we are unable to exclude together in the same blend. At this time we’re unable to provide a blend at this time that’s both fish flavoured and excludes grain.

      We’re always looking to expand our range of available kibbles so we hope we can provide your dog with a suitable blend in future.

      Best wishes,
      The tails.com team

    1. Hi Ellen,

      We’re able to exclude a large number of ingredients from any potential blend, including grain. There are certain ingredients however, that we are unable to exclude together in the same blend. At this time we’re unable to provide a blend at this time that’s both fish flavoured and excludes grain.

      We’re always looking to expand our range of available kibbles so we hope we can provide your dog with a suitable blend in future.

      Best wishes,
      The tails.com team

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