Gluten Free for Pets

by Melissa Diane Smith

More dog and cat owners are tossing out conventional kibble and feeding their pets against the grain.

A few years ago Melissa McLean Jory’s dog Fairbanks was so sick he couldn’t even lift his head off the ground. After he was diagnosed with autoimmune conditions and severe intestinal problems, Melissa, a nutritionist who has celiac disease, became convinced that Fairbanks had gluten intolerance, too. She shifted him to a completely grain-free diet, and Fairbanks regained his weight and health fairly quickly. Now, if Melissa gives him a dog biscuit that contains gluten (found in wheat, rye and barley), her dog immediately experiences health trouble, such as gastrointestinal problems, skin rashes, and reduced energy. “I believe without the dietary changes, he wouldn’t be here today,” Melissa says.

When Destiny Stone, a former writer for Celiac.com, went gluten free in 2009, she realized she didn’t want accidental exposure to gluten from licks from her cat or two dogs or from washing their food dishes. After thinking about a series of pet-related articles she read in the Journal of Gluten Sensitivity, she switched her pets to gluten-free, grain-free pet food. Since then, her dog that suffered from recurring eye infections hasn’t had a single one, and all of her pets have experienced improved health.

Different reasons were behind their decisions, but Melissa and Destiny are a few of many pet owners who are going gluten free with their pets.  Some people purchase gluten-free pet food because they worry about cross-contamination and compromising their own immune systems. Others avoid gluten to play it safe: gluten tainted with the chemical melamine was implicated in the sickness and deaths of thousands of pets in 2007 and numerous pet food recalls. Many other animal lovers are looking for solutions to their pets’ health problems and figure that changing the food their pets eat is the most basic place to start.

Celiac disease has been definitively diagnosed in one breed of dog, the Irish Setter. Gluten sensitivity that is not celiac disease is prevalent in other breeds, as evidenced by gastrointestinal problems, rashes, lack of energy, and other symptoms often disappearing when dogs and cats are placed on a gluten-free diet.

More Than Just Gluten Free

Gluten is only the beginning of the foods that provoke health problems in cats and dogs, says John Symes, DVM, known as “Dogtor J.” After researching the subject for more than a decade, Dr. Symes now advises a diet free of gluten, cow’s milk, soy and corn for all cats and dogs. Most commercial pet food, especially dry food or kibble, contains these filler ingredients.

According to Dr. Symes, gluten, milk, soy and corn are sticky and act like glue in the intestine, causing malabsorption of nutrients, which leads to countless health problems in pets. When these ingredients are eliminated from pets’ diets, “medical miracles” often happen, Dr. Symes says. Allergies abate, intestinal problems clear up, older pets become more active, and epileptic seizures in pets often completely stop.

Pet foods free of gluten, milk, soy and corn that Dr. Symes recommends include certain varieties of Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance, AvoDerm Natural dog and cat formulas, Canidae dog foods, and Felidae cat foods. Different formulas have different ingredients, and ingredients sometimes change, so read labels carefully to make sure they are free of those “big 4” allergens, Dr. Symes advises.

Cats are classified as true carnivores (or meat-eaters) and dogs are mostly carnivores. In the wild, they both eat meat from live prey, little plant material, and no grain. Though dogs may be able to utilize carbohydrates from plant foods slightly better than cats, neither cats nor dogs are metabolically adapted to high amounts of carbohydrates or grains.

To give cats and dogs a diet more in keeping with the diet they evolved on, many holistic veterinarians now suggest that pet owners feed their pets grain-free canned cat or dog food, supplemented by some meat-and-vegetable-based table food or homemade food made specifically for your pets. Examples of grain-free pet food include Wellness CORE formula, Merrick Before Grain, and the Original Pet Food Co. organic varieties of cat food and dog food, which are made from organic grass-fed beef.

Copyright © 2011 Melissa Diane Smith

A shorter version of this article was originally printed in Better Nutrition magazine.

This article may not be reprinted elsewhere without written permission from email hidden; JavaScript is required.

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