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Top 10 Easy Tips about Grain Free Foods for Dogs and Cats

1). Grains are not part of the natural diet of dogs and cats

Dogs and cats are carnivores and, as such, they have evolved to derive the majority of their nutritional requirements from animal sources. The primary energy source of canines and felines is animal proteins and fats, not carbohydrates. Dogs, being omnivorous, can benefit from small amounts of carbohydrates, while cats have little to no dietary need for carbohydrates. Vegetables and fruits are the preferred source of carbohydrates because of their array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Excess grains are best avoided in dog and cat foods because they can be irritating and lead to inflammatory conditions, cause spikes in blood sugar levels and take the place of healthier ingredients. Because grains are not part of a dog or cat’s natural diet, excess consumption, such as that obtained from commercial pet foods, can lead to allergy symptoms, bloating, obesity, illnesses such as diabetes and symptoms of nutritional deficiencies such as inadequate musculature and joint deterioration.

2). Grains shouldn’t be your pet’s primary energy source

Dogs require some carbohydrates to provide glucose for energy and functioning of the nervous system, while cats have no dietary need for carbohydrates other than small amounts as a source of fiber. Generally speaking, excess carbohydrates supply empty calories for our pets. This means they have limited essential function in the body and are quickly converted to glucose to provide sugar for short-term energy, with most extra being stored as fat. Our dogs and cats utilize protein and fats as energy sources very efficiently and are better off receiving small amounts of carbohydrates from nutritious fruits and vegetables rather than grains.

3). Grains are often used as cheap protein sources

Grains can boost protein percentages in pet food much less expensively than meat, so it should be fairly obvious to everyone why large pet food corporations would use them to the degree that they do. Frequently occurring in the form of gluten meals (corn gluten, wheat gluten…), grains are not complete sources of protein and as a result, do not provide all the essential amino acids our dogs and cats need to receive from their diet. This became apparent when cats began dying because of a lack of taurine in their commercial diets. Taurine is one of those essential amino acids that cats require and is found in animal protein. So, what do those large pet food corporations do now? Add more nutritious animal protein? No! They add taurine as an isolated chemical to your pet’s food. It’s just cheaper that way!

4). Grains can be a source of contaminants

Contamination can include pesticide and other chemical residue as well mold, fungus and even dead grain insects. Mold can be a very serious concern because it produces mycotoxins, which are substances that can cause acute, life-threatening liver damage. Unfortunately, trace amounts of these poisons can accumulate in the liver without causing noticeable symptoms until liver cancer develops.  Over the years contaminated grains have been the cause of numerous pet food recalls. It is best to avoid commercial pet foods made with cheap, low-quality cereal grain ingredients and instead select low-grain or no-grain pet foods or products made with high quality, whole grain ingredients.

5). Grains are a common cause of allergies

This is the primary reason many dog and cat parents are making the switch to grain-free pet foods. There are two likely causes of our animals’ sensitivity to grains. One being that any irritating substance eaten in excess can cause inflammation in the body resulting in a hyper reactive immune response and allergy symptoms. This can easily be the case when susceptible animals have been fed a grain-based commercial pet food diet for a period of time. Second is the contamination of grains by mites in storage. A recent study of atopic dermatitis conducted at Wright State University has concluded, “storage mite sensitivity in dogs may be as important, if not more important, than dust mite sensitivity”, and because of this can be considered a major cause of atopic dermatitis in dogs.

6). You now have to do some math to determine carbohydrate content

That’s because the FDA and AAFCO have decided they will no longer allow the carbohydrate content of pet food to be listed in the guaranteed analysis. This is a difficult decision for many people to understand, given that carbohydrates comprise more than 50% of some pet foods. However, you must understand the large corporations, that own many commercial pet food brands, have a huge amount of influence on those two decision-making bodies. This change is clearly designed to make it harder for pet parents to make educated purchasing decisions. The large pet food makers can now work to fool consumers with expensive commercials and creatively designed packaging to make it look like there is a better pet “food” in that bag than there really is. You can always determine carbohydrate content by adding protein, fat, moisture, fiber and ash, and then subtracting this sum from a total of 100%. This will give you an approximate idea of the total amount of carbohydrates present in the pet food.

7). Grains can be a primary source of weight-gain

Grains are considered a high glycemic food and convert quickly to glucose that enters the blood stream. This causes unhealthy blood sugar spikes that can place stress on the pancreas, as it desperately pumps out insulin in response to high blood glucose levels, and can eventually lead to diabetes. If grains are provided in excess, as they often are in commercial pet foods, the surplus glucose provided by carbohydrate metabolism converts easily into body fat making grains one of the primary dietary causes of excess weight in our domestic canines and felines.

8). Sugar consumption in linked to many diseases

The byproduct of carbohydrate metabolism is sugar. Excess sugar has been linked to many disease including obesity, diabetes, urinary tract issues and cancer. High carbohydrate diets place a huge strain on our animal’s bodies. The resulting sugar that grains provide cause blood sugar spikes that can stress the pancreas and cause a reduction in cellular insulin sensitivity leading to type II diabetes; provide food for opportunistic bacteria and fungi leading to repetitive bladder and fungal infections; and as many of us are aware, feed those abnormal cells with a “sweet tooth” – cancer.

9). Not all grains are alike

Much of the grain used in commercial pet foods is “not fit for human consumption”. This means that they are the byproducts or waste products of the human food industry. As mentioned previously, because of poor storage, handling and harvesting practices most of these grains have been shown to contain insect and mold contamination. Because they are often the byproducts of the human food industry, the grains found in pet foods are frequently the less nutritious processed products such as flour, bran or brewers rice. However, there are higher quality pet foods that contain human-grade, whole grains that are nutritious sources of: complex carbohydrates, fiber, zinc, iron, folic acid, vitamin E, minerals such as selenium and B-vitamins and can be much safer and healthier for your family pet.

10). Grain “splitting” is used to fool the consumer

Now that consumers are becoming a little savvier, pet food manufactures have to adapt and stay one step ahead. One way they have done this is to make sure they place a source of meat protein first on the ingredient panel because they know consumers will think that is what essentially comprises the pet food. I can’t tell you how many of our customers, with whom we discuss the pet food they have been feeding their cat or dog, say “but chicken is the first ingredient!” We then have to go on and discuss the ensuing ingredients and this is how we get into grain splitting. Did you ever consider how chicken could wind up as the first ingredient on the ingredient panel when most commercial pet foods have upwards of 40% -50% carbohydrate levels? Well, since every ingredient must be listed separately by weight on the ingredient panel, the only way manufacturers can get a meat source to show up first is by splitting a grain into several fragments, e.g., rice flour, rice bran, and brewer’s rice. If listed together as rice, chicken would not be first on the ingredient panel and consumers would realize this food is not mainly chicken but instead it is primarily… rice!

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