Why Feed Grain Free Pet Food?

If your dog isn't 100% healthy it maybe that it could benefit from a grain free diet.

Created: 8/28/2018 Updated: 1/19/2024 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

diet, Diet & Nutrition, digestion, dogs, health

It seems almost every pet food brand has at least one option of grain free pet food in their range. So, what is special about grain free pet food and why are grains used in the first place? Fear not, all will be revealed!

First things first, how did pet food begin?

Historically, humans started domesticating dogs more than 15,000 years ago. It is generally believed that they lived in close company with humans – feeding on all sorts of scraps and leftovers such as meat, bones, vegetables, fruit, and bread. Over the years, we have become more and more aware of what our pets need to live long, happy and healthy lives. These days, the best dog food has more precise components and we have gained a deeper understanding of the nutritional needs of our pet families. Now, when we look at a ‘complete’ diet for dogs and cats (be this wet or dry) there are certain essential components.

Where do grains fit in, and are they essential?

Grains are the seeds of cereal crops that we cultivate for food. Grains are complex carbohydrates made up of fibre and starch. Unlike refined grains, whole grains do not have their bran and germs removed by milling. Therefore, all of their nutrients remain intact. When fed, enzymes break down the starch turning it into simple sugars such as glucose, which the body can use as an energy source. Some of the fibre in whole grains is indigestible but helps support healthy digestion. Popular grains used in the best dog foods include Barley, Buckwheat, Corn (or Maize), Oats and Rice.

As mentioned, whole grains are a great source of fibre. They have two different types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre foods help to maintain an even blood glucose level and boost nutrient absorption. Whereas insoluble fibre aids digestive health, regulates the digestive system, and feeds the good bacteria in the gut. Some grains can even reduce the calorific value of the food as because the fibre offers a “fuller feeling” which can help when trying to slim down our slightly too ‘cuddly’ pet family members!

Grains are a valuable addition to the best quality dry dog food. Many of our furry families have been living a long and healthy life on these foods. But they are certainly not essential. As we all know, not everyone is the same. Something that works for one may not necessarily work for all.

Full OSCAR food storage bucket

Grain or grain free pet food?

Sensitivities, intolerances, and dog food allergies are terms that are becoming increasingly noticeable in the pet food world. The reasons for these problems are not clear. If someone mentioned a couple of years ago that their cat was allowed only "grain free cat food", you would have been surprised. Nowadays, it is more common to hear this. Some breeds of dogs and cats are more sensitive to certain ingredients in the food. These sensitivities can cause dog food allergy symptoms such as digestive upset and changes in coat and skin condition.

Sensitivities can develop from many different things. There are a few grains in pet food that are relatively easier on a sensitive tummy than others. Some grains (such as Barley and Wheat) contain the protein gluten while others, such as Rice, do not. Unfortunately, gluten can be one of those tricky tummy ‘ticklers’ that can irritate sensitive dogs and cats.

Aside from gluten, our pets can be sensitive to many different things. Even environmental factors can exaggerate sensitivities, intolerance, and dog food allergy symptoms in several different ways.

OSCAR believe that the outside of the body mirrors what’s happening inside: if you look good you feel good! Your pet should have clear skin, bright eyes, firm stools, and enough energy to fuel an active and healthy lifestyle. Are any of these areas giving a cause for concern? If yes, we advise you to make an appointment with your vet.

Dog looking worried at the vets.

What problems to look out for

Skin irritation, chewing, licking, or scratching a little more than usual, can all be signs that there is something not quite right. An efficient digestive system should process food and produce a perfect poo that is a pleasure to pick up! If this is not the case, then maybe it’s time to look at the cause. Several factors can upset digestion. Avoid overfeeding and check that the digestive system is easily breaking down the ingredients in the food.

A change in diet can improve many medical conditions, as well as intolerances or sensitivities. Dogs that need to follow a low (but good quality) protein diet, or those following a low-fat diet for Pancreatitis or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can benefit from the carbohydrate energy present in grains. If you've been to the vet and ruled out any underlying medical problems you can opt for a grain free dog food that has a minute quantity (or is devoid) of grains, which can make digestion easier for your four-legged ‘sensitive soul’. Grain free dog food can help them to get their system back on track and running more smoothly.

However, if you've been to the vet and ruled out any underlying medical problems, opting for a diet that has little or no grain could make digestion easier for your four-legged ‘sensitive soul’ and help them to get their system back on track and running more smoothly.

If your ‘pampered’ pooch or ‘purrrfect puddy’ cat is flourishing on their diet containing grain, that’s great! A shiny coat, bright eyes, healthy weight, perfect poops, and bags of energy for frolicking with their friends will indicate a healthy pet, and confirm that you’re feeding them the best pet food – just what they need to keep them in tip-top condition! But if you’re concerned that their coat could be better, skin a little clearer and poops a little firmer then maybe it’s time for you to try grain free pet food.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.