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Should I Buy Grain Free Dog Food?

Posted by Animal Planet - Allison Kim Perry on 1/11/2013 to Nutrition
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Should I buy grain-free dog food?

By: Alison Kim Perry

There's one truth that's common among dogs of all breeds: They love meat. Sure they can eat pretty much any type of food that their owners put in front of them. But meat is assynonymous with dogs as carrots are with rabbits. However, a lot of store-bought pet foods contain more carbohydrates than proteins. With eating healthy being all the rage, many pet parents wonder if they should be just as concerned with what they are feeding their best friends as with as what they put in their own mouths. It begs the question: "Should I start buying grain-free dog food?"

Why grain free? Stray cats and dogs living in the wild typically consume mostly meat, and every now and then fruits and vegetables. They rarely eat grains.  Stray pups follow the dietary footsteps of their ancestors, wolves, which are carnivores (meat eaters). Ancient wolves passed this taste for dead flesh down to our canine friends, which is why our pooches salivate over T-bone steak scraps we feed them. We know dogs are wired to be carnivores because their pointed teeth and digestive system tell us.

Herbivores (plant-eating animals) and humans have an enzyme known as salivary amylase that breaks down starchy carbohydrates into simple sugars before they enter the stomach. Dogs also produce this enzyme, but it doesn't kick in until after the food travels down to the small intestine. Since their saliva doesn't have any amylase, it's much harder for them to digest carbs. 

So, should we switch our dogs to an all-meat diet? Not necessarily. After all, captive wolves are fed commercial dog food, and live longer than those in the wild. And while dogs find raw grains hard to digest, they do not seem to have a problem with cooked grains, according to a study published by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

So what is the best type of dog diet? 

Grain-free Diets

Meat is found in today's commercial food, but so are carbohydrates like cereal grain and starchy vegetables. Grains like rice and corn serve as good fillers and are a cheaper alternative for the manufacturer to add. As a result, they're better for the consumer's wallet.

Grain-free dog foods are typically more expensive than regular dog food because they don't have the fillers and by products that are found in commercial dog foods.  But the costs can actually be less when you consider the fact that you won't have to put as much food in your dog's bowl in order for him to feel satisfied.

If you do decide to switch over to grain-free food, there are a few different kinds to choose from. Grain-free kibble, which typically contains potato or vegetable matter, is the most convenient on the market. Freeze dried grain free food is another option. All you need to do is add water to these pellets or nuggets.

Raw frozen meat requires the most effort but it's the closet thing to a "natural diet." Raw foods come in patties or nuggets that are kept frozen until mealtime. Some owners don't like the idea of feeding raw food to their animals, so they cook it instead.

But is feeding your dog grain-fee just the latest in "fad" diets? Maybe. Some experts say that unless a dog has a pesky food allergy, there's no real advantage to switching to dry, low-carb food diets because these are high in fat and calories which can lead to fat pups and other health problems associated with obesity. Others contend that grain-free diets are the best, particularly for older dogs that have trouble digesting carbohydrates. They tout benefits such as a shinier coat, less allergies, increased energy, and an easier time passing stools.

If you do decide to switch your dog's diet, just like with humans, it's better to introduce the new change slowly, adding more meat and reducing the amount of grain over a period of time.

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