Everything you need to know about gluten-free dog food

Gluten-free dog food
Learn about dogs

You’re probably aware that gluten-free diets are continually becoming more and more popular for humans, with many people opting to avoid gluten at all costs. Gluten-free bread, pasta and puddings along with many more all keep creeping onto the supermarket shelves, and possibly even into your own shopping basket.

However, should we be feeding our dogs the same way, is gluten actually something we should be avoiding, and would a gluten-free diet be beneficial for your pooch? We’re here to give you all those answers and more, so keep reading for everything you need to know about feeding Fido gluten-free.

What is gluten?

Gluten-free, grain-free, cereal-free…You’ve probably seen some of these buzzwords on dog food packets before, and it can be pretty overwhelming to know which is right. To define gluten, we’ll need to define the rest too, as the terms often get used interchangeably.  

  • Gluten: A gummy, glue-textured protein that is found in various grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Wheat is the grain most commonly linked to human food intolerances.
  • Cereals: A form of grass that are harvested for their edible grains.
  • Grains: Grains are tiny, dry seeds that grow on the plants called cereals. Types of grain include oats, rice, corn, barley and many, many more.

So, one of the main things to remember is that grain-free will typically mean that the food is also gluten-free, but gluten-free doesn’t always mean that the food is grain-free. Basically, gluten is found in some types of grain, but not all, meaning that your dog’s food could contain a grain such as brown rice and still be classed as gluten-free, but it wouldn’t be classed as grain-free.

Do dogs need carbohydrates?

The information varies everywhere you look, so it’s understandable why so many pet parents feel misled, confused and super overwhelmed when it comes to deciding what the best food for their furry family member is.

Many think that grain-free is the way to go always, and that dogs should be eating next to no carbs. Contrary to popular belief, dogs are actually omnivores, not carnivores, so they thrive on a diet of meat, veggies, fruit and carbs. Carbs provide energy and fibre, promoting stable digestion and regular bowel movements for healthy stools. A healthy poo is a big sign of a healthy dog!

Therefore, carbs are a great part of a balanced diet for our dogs, but as with everything, there’s always better-quality carbs and lower quality ones.

Can dogs eat carbohydrates?

Human sources of carbohydrate such as bread, cake and pasta are all given their chewy, sometimes fluffy texture due to the gluten inside, which acts like a glue. In many dog foods, such as kibble, the gluten in some carbs works to help the kibble biscuit hold its shape. These carbs might not be the most nutritionally valuable and instead just be there as a binding agent. Therefore, it’s important to look out for the right types of carbs when it comes to feeding your dog.

Dogs thrive when they’re eating complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats and legumes. Complex carbs such as these are essential, having many benefits, including:

  • They’re rich in nutrients
  • Help your dog to feel full and satisfied
  • Aid digestion and keep bowel movements stable
  • Help to prevent sugar rushes and dips and spikes of energy by releasing the energy steadily

All in all, it’s definitely a good idea to look out for a dog food that contains high-quality complex carbs to ensure your dog feels happy, healthy and always satisfied after they’ve eaten their dinner.

Is gluten bad for dogs?

Humans can suffer from a condition named coeliac disease, which is an illness that produces a severe, negative reaction when that person eats gluten. Although the condition only affects approximately 1% of the population, it needs to be taken seriously and luckily gluten-free food options are ever-increasing.

Gluten-free food for dogs

Unlike humans, the pooch population don’t suffer with coeliac disease. Dogs seem to be perfectly fine when it comes to tolerating gluten, rarely experiencing any kind of side effect. However, sensitivities to gluten and grains do occur, albeit rare, so it’s important to always keep an eye on your dog for any signs of intolerance after mealtimes.

If you own an Irish Setter, you definitely need to be careful when it comes to gluten. They’re the only reported breed in the UK to suffer with ‘gluten-sensitive enteropathy’, which is an inherited disease similar to coeliac disease. However, even this is relatively rare within the breed.

So, gluten and grains are definitely not bad for dogs, but it’s possible for some dogs to be sensitive. Therefore, knowing exactly what goes into your dog’s food is essential so you can nip the problem in the bud if you notice any abnormalities.

What are the signs and symptoms of a gluten allergy in dogs?

If your dog is sensitive to gluten, the symptoms will be relatively nonspecific, including:

Although, all these problems could indicate any type of food allergy, not just one to gluten. Therefore, it’s a good idea to speak to your vet about an elimination diet to figure out the root of the problem and tackle it head on with a switch in food that’s perfect for their allergies.

Why choose gluten free dog food and how can it help your dog?

So, even though most dogs can handle gluten just fine, you might want to choose a gluten free dog food for digestive reasons. Certain grains aren’t as good for your dog’s digestive health as others, such as wheat, which contains gluten.

Therefore, you might want to choose a dog food that omits gluten-filled grains such as wheat and opt for a food that contains a better-quality grain like brown rice, which is free from gluten.

Looking for gluten free dog food?

As we know, dogs really benefit from having a good-quality source of carbohydrate in their diet, which is why we use a balanced amount of complex carbs in our Pure recipes. All our recipes are gluten-free anyway, and after telling us about your dog we’ll rustle up a full menu of tailored recipes, with or without the grain brown rice depending on what best suits your pooch.

What is the best gluten-free dog food?

Brown rice is free from gluten anyway, and it’s a gut-friendly wholegrain that’s sensitive on the tum and provides your dog with loads of benefits to keep them happy and healthy.

However, we know that some dogs can be sensitive to grains, even those that don’t contain gluten, which is why we tailor all our plans to suit. Just tell us all about your dog before ordering your food, their breed, age, weight, ailments and allergies (such as brown rice) and we’ll get to work preparing a delicious, tailored menu that’s totally grain-free and gluten-free.

Don’t worry though, it’ll still be filled with complex carbs and goodness from natural ingredients such as fruit and veggies. Every dog is an individual, so it’s essential that you feed them high-quality food that’s suitable for their needs and provides them with balanced nutrition to help them thrive.

Recap

All in all, both gluten and grains are nothing to be afraid of, but it’s always good to be totally clued up about what’s included in your dog’s food. High-quality, healthy sources of carbohydrates are a great addition to your dog’s dinners, encouraging healthy digestion and providing a stable source of energy.

It is possible that your dog can experience an intolerance to both gluten and grains, which is why tailored dog food can really help. This way, you can omit any ingredients that are causing your dog trouble so that they can still enjoy tasty, nutritious dinners without the trouble.

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.

Sources
  1. Celiac disease Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 7, (8), Aug 2011, 554-556, PMID:22298994
  2. Dietary modulation of gluten sensitivity in a naturally occurring enteropathy of Irish Setter dogs Gut, 33, (2), Feb 1992, 198-205, doi:10.1136/gut.33.2.198
  3. Gluten proteins for dogs Food Science, June 2020
  4. Gluten-sensitive enteropathy of the Irish Setter and similarities with human celiac disease Minerva Gastroenterology Dietology, 66, (2), Jun 2020, 151-156, doi: 10.23736/S1121-421X.19.02648-5

Related Articles