The topic of grains in dog food has become a more familiar one over the past few years. Pet food commercials keep pointing out the importance of feeding dogs a food that is grain-free. The growing volume of foods for humans that are labeled “gluten-free” is also being mimicked by pet food manufacturers. The first step in considering a grain-free pet food for your old dog is to determine the difference between these two types of foods. The second is to look at the reason dog owners feed them to their pets.
Gluten-Free Vs Grain-Free
Gluten is the name of the protein found in all types of grain. When people with a condition called celiac disease consume gluten, it triggers an autoimmune response that results in damage to the small intestine. Most only have a reaction from the gluten in wheat, barley, and rye. Although corn and rice contain gluten, it is not the “bad gluten” that hurts people with celiac disease. That means people may need food that is gluten-free, but not necessarily grain-free.
When you purchase dog food that is grain-free, that means it contains no wheat, rye, barley, corn, rice, or other grain at all. However, a gluten-free food might contain grains that are considered safe such as corn and rice.
Celiac Disease in Dogs
This is the area of reason where the idea of grain-free foods for dogs becomes the most argumentative. Irish Setters are the only breed of dogs that celiac disease is found in and, even then, it is not the same as it is in humans.
Why, then, do many vets and other canine experts recommend the benefits of feeding dogs a grain-free diet? Most believe that dog food that contains grain is more likely to trigger food allergies in pets. But the number of pets that actually develop food allergies is extremely low.
In most cases, digestive issues, itching, vomiting, diarrhea, and ear infections will have one of many other causes. In fact, when a dog is sensitive to a certain type of food, it is more likely to be due to an imbalance in the protein, fat, and fiber it contains. In those cases where food allergies do exist, they are most commonly to chicken, beef, dairy, and eggs.
Another reason that pets might not respond to a new dog food well is that the dog owner just starts giving them a new food in place of the old one. New food needs to be introduced gradually to give your dog time to adjust to the changes.
Why Grain-Free May Be a Better Choice for Senior Dogs
Dogs undergo a lot of changes as they age. They become less active and more prone to put on weight. Some dogs begin to have digestive problems even when they are eating the same foods that they have eaten for years. Senior dogs also have a greater need for some nutrients, including fiber. These are all good reasons that dog food with grain may no longer be an acceptable choice for your dog.
Grains like corn and rice are high in carbohydrates and calories. They provide fewer nutrients while keeping the calorie count high. One of the most important things you can do for your senior dog’s health is to keep his weight down. An overweight or obese dog is much more likely to develop other health conditions.
If your senior dog is not overweight and is still active enough to make weight control easy, there may be no need to completely remove grain from his diet. Corn and rice are highly digestible grains and are unlikely to be the source of digestive issues.
Another difference in senior dogs is that they often require more protein and fiber in their diet. Any pet food that lists corn as the first ingredient is not likely to have the amount of these nutrients that a senior dog requires.
A good strategy for most senior dog owners is to purchase pet food that is formulated specifically for senior dogs. This should include no more than 10% grains and have the additional nutrients that your dog’s aging body needs. If your dog has reached old age without any complications from a food that contains grain, there is little chance that it will cause a problem now. However, a grain-free pet food may provide a better balance of other nutrients and make you feel better about how you are caring for your beloved pet.