What’s the Deal with Grain-Free?

Grain-Free is a strikingly popular pet food trend. It origins are like those of the Paleo Diet many people have assumed in recent years; according to its proponents, grain-free dog food most closely mimics a canine’s natural, or “ancestral” diet as a carnivore. It works to combat low-cost food fillers, such as corn, wheat, and barley, that were introduced to kibble as a way to create bulk and keep costs down. This food reports to increase pet energy, create a healthier skin and shinier coat, reduce shedding, reduce pet flatulence, and keep animals fuller for longer periods of time. Grain-Free pet food is expensive and popular, but is it worth it?

Put simply: No, it is not worth it. There is no data showing these diets have any health benefits for dogs and cats over more traditional, corn- and grain-inclusive diets. Nutritionally, the most important aspect of a pet food is whether it provides complete and balanced nutrition. If a food contains excesses or deficiencies of specific nutrients, the animal may suffer; this concept holds true regardless of whether the kibble contains grains.

Grain-Free foods appeared as a marketing tactic rather than a genuine concern for pet health. Many foods, including those made for human consumption, market themselves by highlighting what they don’t include. This implies that the excluded ingredient is bad or unhealthy when, in most cases, it is either beneficial or completely harmless. To that end, these foods often use other fillers, such as lettuce, celery, avocado, and chia to make the food bulkier. In a few cases, grain-free food does include a grain—barely is a popular ingredient for many of these trendy food brands.

If a friend or advertisement recommends switching your animal over to a grain-free diet, you may fall prey to this fad. Regardless, if you plan to make any significant changes to your animal’s diet, consult your veterinarian—only a professional can make sound recommendations to improve your pet’s health.