Grain-free and gluten-free diets have become exceedingly popular among humans. And, because humans sometimes have a tendency to carry over their own dietary choices to the animals in their lives, these fads have caught on in the realm of dog food too. Many commercial dog food manufacturers now offer grain- free and gluten-free options.
So, in your desire to take care of your guide, hearing, or service dog as well as possible, perhaps you’re wondering if you should feed her a grain-free or gluten-free diet.
If you’re just looking for a quick yes or no, unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer. Here’s a little more information about the subject.
The Difference Between Grain and Gluten
First, to clarify a common point of confusion. “Grain-free” and “gluten-free” don’t mean the same thing.
Grains are a food group. It includes things like wheat, corn, oats, rice, rye, barley, millet, spelt, and others. Grain-free dog food doesn’t contain any of these (or any of the others unnamed here).
Gluten is a protein that’s found in certain grains—namely, wheat (and wheat varieties like spelt, farro, kamut, durum, et. al.), barley, and rye. Gluten-free dog food doesn’t contain any of these, but it may be made with other gluten-free grains like corn or rice.
The Most Common Take on Feeding Dogs Gluten or Grains
Many traditional veterinarians and dog nutritionists say there’s no harm in feeding a dog grain or gluten, provided they’re eating an appropriately balanced diet overall. And whole grains are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Also, this only holds true if there’s no specific reason for withholding either of these ingredients. Celiac disease, for example, is far rarer in canines than in humans, but it can occur. Most food allergies in dogs are to meat-based proteins.
A typical take from this group would simply be, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” In other words, if your assistance dog is happy, healthy, energetic, and performing her tasks well, and if your vet doesn’t have any concerns that may be tied to her diet, there’s no reason to mess with anything by cutting out gluten or grains.
Of course, the reverse can be true to; if your assistance dog is already on a gluten-free or grain-free diet and thriving, there’s no cause to change that either.
While it’s true that canines in nature don’t eat grains and primarily rely on a carnivorous diet, domesticated dogs are generally accepted to have evolved the ability to readily digest grains and gluten. Canines are what’s known as “scavenging carnivores,” which means they can and sometimes do eat other foods besides meat.
The Holistic Take on Feeding Dogs Gluten of Grains
Many holistic veterinarians and dog nutritionists do not agree with the traditionalists’ take on the matter. They often recommend feeding dogs a gluten-free and grain-free diet.
This group places more emphasis on the natural state for canines. Our domesticated dogs, they point out, still have a DNA makeup that’s 99 percent the same as wolves—animals that don’t eat grains. They also stress that dogs have the teeth of carnivores, not of omnivores that also depend on eating plant-based foods in addition to meat.
If you take a holistic approach to feeding and caring for your assistance dog, you may opt for a gluten-free and grain-free diet. As long as you’re feeding her a diet that is considered “complete and balanced,” there’s no reason to believe there would ever be any negative effects from excluding gluten or grains.
Dogs with an Allergy to Gluten or Grains
As mentioned above, gluten and grain allergies are rare in dogs. However, it does happen. If your assistance dog is experiencing itchiness, thinning hair or bald patches, skin inflammation, hot spots, or sores, these are common symptoms of a food allergy.
Consult your vet, who’ll help you create an “exclusion diet” for your service, guide, or hearing dog to get to the bottom of her condition. Obviously, if it does turn out that your assistance dog is allergic to gluten or a particular grain, a gluten-free diet or dog food free of the offending grain is in order.
Talk to Your Veterinarian
As always, the best course is to consult your veterinarian before making any decisions about your assistance dog’s diet. Only your vet can provide tailored professional advice that takes into account all of your dog’s individual health factors and concerns.