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What’s The Truth About Gluten?

Hear what a clinical veterinary nutritionist has to say about gluten in pets’ diets.

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Before you remove the gluten from that pet's diet, you might be interested in hearing what a clinical veterinary nutritionist has to say.

“To me, food is a way of delivering calories and nutrients into the animal,” said Lisa Weeth, DVM, Dipl. ACVN, with Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, N.J.

“As long as the animal does not have a documented food allergy, owners shouldn’t worry about whether the food contains corn, wheat or rice—the ingredients themselves are not important—and more about the quality of food overall,” Dr. Weeth added.

Weeth said “gluten” is a term for the protein portion of the carbohydrate. True gluten enteropathies, or sensitivities to gliadin and glutenin, are extremely rare in dogs.

“Gluten-free or no-grain diets, which use primarily simple carbohydrates like tapioca or potato, may not have enough fiber compared to diets that include more complex carbohydrates like oats, barley and brown rice,” Weeth said. “What I see clinically in otherwise healthy dogs that are eating ‘gluten-free’ or ‘no-grain’ diets is poor stool quality and increased gassiness. This is often resolved with adding more complex carbohydrate to their diet.”

Cats are carnivores, dogs are omnivores, and their dietary requirements differ accordingly, she said.

“Healthy cats are more adapted to higher protein and fat diets that include less carbohydrate and fiber,” Weeth said. “You can feed a grain-free or low-carbohydrate canned diet to an otherwise healthy cat without ill effects, and often with improvement in certain health parameters, like weight and urinary health.”

To illustrate her point, Weeth invokes the image of farm cats eating well-fed rats and mice, which gives them about 66 percent water and 10 percent of calories as carbohydrates.

“I wouldn’t recommend that people go back to the days of having their cats rely on prey only, but use this example to illustrate the point that the diets we typically feed may be very different than what nature intended,” she said. “A typical dry cat food, even one marketed as ‘grain-free,’ is still 10 percent water and 25 percent to 50 percent of the calories as carbohydrates.”

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Dogs have evolved and adapted to human food patterns for a longer period of time, Weeth said.

“While the nutrient requirements are not identical between people and dogs, there are many similarities, and in my experience dogs do better when eating diets with a more even distribution of protein, fat and carbohydrate.”

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