Grain-free kibble is the hottest health trend in the world of high quality pet food. With so many new grain-frees on the market, and established brands bringing out grain-free versions, two questions need answering…what are the makers trying to accomplish, and are grains really bad for dogs and cats?
Grain-Free—More Meat, Fewer Carbs
When the first grain-free foods appeared five years ago, they were designed
to be closer to the natural diet and more biologically appropriate—more meat,
higher protein and fat, and fewer carbs. In place of the usual grains, they had
a smaller amount of starchy vegetables: potato, sweet potato, tapioca, peas,
jicama or some combination.
Empty Filler Calories From Grain
Carnivores aren't equipped to digest more than small amounts of carbohydrates,
and unhealthy levels can lead to weight gain, unstable blood sugar, inflammation
and a host of chronic diseases. Many conventional pet foods contain 50% or
more refined starches, mainly from corn, wheat and soy. These grains are
utilized because they're cheap and the vegetable protein inflates the protein
Calculating the Carbohydrate Content
It's hard to know exactly how much carbohydrate a pet food contains because
the guaranteed analysis on the label is only required to list the percentage
of protein, fat, fiber and moisture. (Aside to AAFCO - please require total
carbohydrate labeling on our pet foods!) But you can get an approximate count
by adding the percentages for those four items plus another 8% for minerals
(ash) and subtracting the sum from 100. What's left is carbohydrate.
Example: Instinct Chicken dog food contains 42% protein, 22% fat, 10%
moisture and 3% fiber. The sum is 77%, add in 8% ash, total is 85%. Therefore,
carbohydrate is approximately 15%. A lower protein and fat food is California
Natural Lamb & Rice. 21% protein, 11% fat, 2% fiber and 10% moisture. Sum is
46. Add 8, total is 54. Therefore, carbohydrates = 48%.
Are All Grains Allergens?
Wheat, corn and soy are high protein grains known as common allergens for
dogs and sometimes cats, contributing to itchiness, hot spots, hair loss, colitis
and bowel disorders. Not all animals are sensitive to them though. Other low-protein grains such as rice and millet have far less incidence of sensitivity.
And some grains, like barley and oats seem to have health-giving properties,
making them more desirable than potato or tapioca. At the end of the day, it's
the quantity of carbohydrate in a food that's most important, and whether grains
are standing in for protein instead of meat. There's nothing magic about a large
quantity of potatoes. Make sure your pet food is giving you what you want.