Grain-Free Dog Food (Raw vs Dry)
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Grain-Free Dog Food – Dry vs Raw
Grain-free dog food. It sounds new and trendy, but it’s quite the opposite. While the concept has received more attention in recent years, it’s rooted in ancient times. Did you know, for example, that grain was originally introduced into dog food as a filler, yet is not nutritionally necessary for your pet? To help explain how raw, grain free pet food offers your pets more benefits than dry grain-free food, we dug into renowned dog nutrition expert Steve Brown’s research, and asked holistic vets about what grain-free means for dogs.
First, let’s discuss what we’re talking about when we reference “grain-free dog food,” and where this notion came from in the first place. The whole idea of grain-free stems from how dogs originally fed themselves in the wild—long before kibble or dog dishes.
The concept is similar to the paleo diet for humans, which has also become popular in recent years. Relying on unprocessed fresh foods high in protein and low in carbs, the paleo diet is modeled after the diets that our ancestors ate. The theory goes, if it served our ancestors well—without processed foods and artificial ingredients—then it should serve us well too. And proponents of the diet claim it does: weight loss, anti-inflammatory benefits, and increased satiety are just some of the reasons people are drawn to what’s also known as the Caveman Diet. The same holds true for our canine friends, and the popular paleo diet has trickled down into the dog dish. “Once the paleo diet became popular, people then realized, ‘Hey wait, why aren’t we feeding our animals the same way?” reports, holistic vet Tiffany Margolin, DVM in Summerland, California. And, with increased incidences of allergies, more people are visiting vets trying to get to the root cause—eventually realizing that grain may be to blame. “The bottom line is, grain is inflammatory, and it’s the first thing that is cut when there are allergies present,” Dr. Margolin explains.
Are Grains Part of Their Ancestral Diet?
The research backs up the theory: a high-protein, fat-balanced diet is the healthiest combination for your dog. According to Steve Brown’s research and his review of recent literature, “The Ancestral Diet”—the canine equivalent of the paleo diet—is made up of 85 to 90 percent meat, 10 to 15 percent grasses, berries, nuts and other vegetation, and trace amounts of fish and eggs. No surprise, given that dogs are natural hunters and scavengers. This means that nearly half of their calories came from protein, 44 percent from fat, and 6 percent from complex carbohydrates from plant foods. In other words, very few—if any—grains.
Why Is Grain In Dog Food?
Of course, the natural question is then raised: Why is grain added to most dog food in the first place if they don’t need it? Simple. They’re used as fillers. “You have to remember, grain was originally developed to feed the masses,” says Dr. Margolin, “Dry grain is inexpensive, and helps to fill you up.” However, they’re an unnatural source of dog nutrition. Going back to our paleo diet example, grains are not something an animal would encounter in the wild.
Does Grain-Free Mean Carb- or Gluten-Free?
So, what does grain-free mean? While it’s commonly mistaken with its cousin, gluten—which has also received its share of press lately—it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between grain-free and gluten-free. Grain-free, as its name suggests, means being free of any grains (such as corn, wheat, barley, rye). Gluten, however, are proteins found in certain, but not all, grain types. So, while gluten-free means it’s free of those proteins, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s grain-free. Grain-free, however, always means it’s free of glutens. While a gluten-free diet is not necessary for dogs, keep in mind that many dogs, just like people, are sensitive to gluten—therefore, steering clear of gluten can also help relieve allergies.
Grain-free dog food is also sometimes confused for other popular dog-food buzzwords which are bandied about: organic, natural, or carbohydrate-free. They seem interchangeable, but remember that there is a big difference. Instead of looking for those words, look at the ingredient list: If it contains corn, barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, or rice, you know it’s not grain-free.
Now that we’ve looked at what grain-free means—and doesn’t mean—let’s look at the burning question of why. That is, how can your dog benefit from a grain-free diet? And, how can raw food provide even more benefits than dry grain-free meals? Let’s look.
1) Better Digestion
During the digestive process humans produce a substance called amylase in saliva. Amylase breaks down starchy, complex carbs (like sweet potatoes, legumes and grains) and convert them into simple sugars. Dogs, however, don’t produce amylase until later in the digestive process, which means that it’s harder for them to process starches and grains than it is proteins. Eliminating grains makes it easier for them to digest their meals and will utilize more of it in the process. Do be careful though, too much protein can be hard on a dog’s system. Therefore, a balanced diet is important. Another bonus: Since they’re utilizing more of what they eat, it may result in fewer and smaller stools, reduced flatulence and better breath!To replace grains, grain-free food often uses ingredients such as potatoes and legumes, and can contain carbohydrate levels similar to, or even higher than, grains, mitigating the benefits. With raw food, you can be assured in knowing what’s in your food: high-quality real animal meat.
2) Relief From Allergies
Common food allergy symptoms include chronic diarrhea or gas, excessive paw-licking, itchiness, inflamed skin, bald spots, and chronic ear infections. As a dog owner, you know how aggravating allergies can be to pinpoint—after all, it’s not like they can tell you what’s wrong. Grains, particularly wheat, can be a common allergen for dogs. As we stated earlier, allergies can be difficult to pinpoint. While grains are a common cause, so are artificial substitutes. Unlike natural, unprocessed raw food, can be found in dry food. To make matters even more complicated, dogs can also be allergic to some animal proteins. A single-animal protein source is best so that you can pinpoint the source.
3) Feeling Fuller
You may think your dog is just trying to sneak a treat when he looks up at you with those big “I’m still hungry” eyes just moments after eating, however there could be some method to your furry friend’s madness. It all goes back to digestion—since a dog’s body utilizes it better, grain free food simply fills their bellies better. They are getting all the nutrients they need and don’t come back for more. “Grains are actually an appetite stimulant,” says Dr. Margolin. “My clients are amazed when they switch to no-grain because their dogs’ hunger decreases. Think of it like pasta for humans, you eat a little and then you’re hungry a minute later for more.” Raw food takes this concept one step further, because it’s highly digestible with no fillers found in most dry food.
4) Healthier Coat
Switching to a grain-free diet can also help with dry, brittle fur. With additional essential fatty acids omega-6 and omega-3 in raw food, your dog will enjoy an even healthier and shinier coat — with less shedding. The high-water content in raw food also provides much needed hydration, unlike with dry food, and contributes to a glossy coat.
5) Boosted Energy and Reduced Weight
It just makes sense: Because your dog is utilizing more energy from protein instead of grains, in a highly digestible form, the result is a more energized and slimmer physique—so if your dog is prone toward obesity, which is becoming a more common problem these days, a raw, grain-free diet could help lower those numbers on the scale. As previously mentioned, just because it’s grain-free doesn’t mean it’s carbohydrate-free. Some dry grain-free food contains carbs that can add to a dog’s waistline. Not so with raw food. “Raw food actually takes calories to digest and is amazing for overweight dogs,” says Dr. Margolin.
It’s important to remember that just because a dog food is grain-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. You also need to keep in mind that it needs to be complete and balanced. Going back to our ancestral diet discussion, you want to make sure the first ingredients on the label are high-quality animal fat protein—chicken, lamb, fish, beef. If possible, the rest of the ingredients should be organic, free of starches, artificial dyes and additives, and includes essential vitamins. When in doubt about a particular brand, research different brands’ recall histories to ensure you are feeding a product you trust.
How and whether to introduce your dog to a grain-free existence depends on your pet’s size, age, and health. Of course, as with any dietary change, discuss your dietary plans with your vet and make sure to ease into any change for best results.
Go Beyond Grain-Free and Customize for Your Dog’s Specific Needs
Darwin’s believes in going beyond grain-free to help the health of your dog. We use free-range, grass-fed beef, cage-free poultry and organic vegetables. Our meats are free of hormones, steroids, and antibiotics. Our low-carbohydrate, moderate-fat formulas also include essential fatty acids and minerals from natural or organic compounds which exceed the guidelines of both AAFCO and the National Research Council for canine nutrition. Further, we have agents ready to talk to you about your dog’s specific diet to customize it to your pet’s needs. Feel free to reach out with any questions!