Grain-free Pet Food

Recently, grain-free pet food is becoming increasingly popular. Similarly, there is also an increase in other nutritional approaches such as vegan, BARF, exotic or boutique. Of course, the raw materials used in food preparation are important. However, what is more important is whether the feedstuff has a complete and balanced nutrient composition for your pet, or which functional components it contains to support your pet’s health.

Grain-free pet food is defined as the food that is produced without using grains such as corn, wheat, rice, oat and barley. The contents of the products in this class vary based on consumer trends, and accordingly, the raw materials used in the food composition have a wide variation. This type of food might either contain animal or plant proteins at a high level, or be formulated by intensively using other non-grain food raw materials. In short, when grain-free food is in question, it is quite hard to guess which raw material is used instead of grains.

At this point, it should be noted that grains are not bad for cats and dogs. As long as they are used in suitable proportions and the food has a balanced starch level, grains are a good source of energy. They also help meet the fiber requirements of cats and dogs and promote the regular functioning of the digestive system.

Due to the raw materials used in its composition, grain-free food generally contains a higher level of proteins. As a common mistake, grain-free food is believed to not contain starch. Existing as a stored nutrient in plants, starch is grouped under carbohydrates, one of six essential nutrients needed in the nutrition of living beings.

Grain-free cat and dog food series might also contain starch. However, in those products, starch is sourced from other vegetal components such as green peas and potatoes rather than grains (cereal grains). One of the biggest differences between grain starch and other starches is that their amylose/amylopectin levels are different from each other. As a result, the speed at which starch is broken down in the digestive system varies. For example, the starch derived from green peas, a member of the legume family, is broken down faster than the starches derived from grains (corn, wheat, barley, etc.). As a result of eating a food rich in grain starch, enzymatic activity might be inadequate in the small intestine. In such a case, the starch passing into the large intestine without being digested is used as a nutrient source by the bacteria existing there. Consequently, the intestinal microorganism balance might be disturbed, causing to develop digestive system problems.

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

Another point related to starch breakdown speed is the glycemic index, namely the speed at which carbohydrates affect the blood sugar level. All carbohydrates do not elevate the blood sugar level at the same speed. Consuming those products with a high glycemic index elevates the blood sugar faster. At this point, insulin becomes involved carrying the glycose from blood to the cells, thus blood sugar level decreases. Namely, when healthy cats and dogs consume those products with a high glycemic index, their blood sugar increases quickly, then decreases quickly, too. As a result, a feeling of hunger arises and food consumption increases. Additionally, increased insulin level also causes the sugar to be stored as fat in the body. Such cases might lead to insulin resistance, obesity and other obesity-related health conditions (cardiovascular problems, oxidative stress, high blood pressure, etc.) in the medium and long term. Besides the glycemic index of the carbohydrate sources used in the feedstuff, their glycemic loads should be taken into account, too. Glycemic load refers to the total sugar load created in the blood after eating a portion of food. Accordingly, feedstuff formulated using raw materials with a low glycemic index and glycemic load should be preferred particularly for those cats and dogs which are intended to be kept under weight control or already in a weight-loss program.

Areas of Use for Grain-free Food

Regarding the carbohydrate and energy metabolism, grain-free food might be recommended for weight control, weight-loss programs and starch-borne digestive system problems.

Another mistake commonly made by the pet owners about using grain-free food is that they think that grain-free food and gluten-free food are the same. In order to assess this situation, we should firstly know what gluten is. Gluten is a kind of stored protein existing in some grains (cereals). Gluten-free food is prepared without using such raw materials that contain gluten such as wheat and barley. However, they might have other gluten-free grains in their composition. As a result, a gluten-free food might be with or without grains. The opposite case is also possible, namely gluten might rarely be found in a grain-free food. In order to avoid a big mistake when feeding our cats and dogs, we should carefully read the information on the label, and if necessary, consult a Vet specialized in nutrition.

If your pet has a history of grain-borne sensitivity or intolerance, you must prefer grain-free food. Otherwise, you might encounter such conditions as vomiting, skin redness, irritation and rash.

Depending on the raw materials used in the composition, grain-free food can help improve skin and hair health. If the grain-free food is produced using high-quality raw materials of animal origin and enriched with Omega-3 fatty acids, consuming that food will affect the skin and hair health positively.

Excessive and foul-smelling gas formation in the bowels of cats and dogs might indicate a digestive system problem. Using such grains that are rich in starch like corn and wheat at a high level causes excessive gas formation, reducing your pet’s quality of life.

There are also data suggesting that grain-free food consumption might affect pet’s health negatively. Recent field studies show that long-term grain-free food consumption might lead to heart diseases (dilated cardiomyopathy). Although there are field findings, this condition has not been proven with scientific data, yet.

Consequently, every grain-free food does not have the same characteristics. You can prefer a grain-free food prepared in such a composition that matches the physiological features, and health and accommodation conditions of your pet. However, when selecting food, you should also consider the nutritional and medical history of your friend. In this regard, you should analyze the food composition and its functional compounds well, check the information and statements on the label, and if necessary, consult a Vet specialized in nutrition.

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