Going Grain-Free

Why a grain-free diet might be best for your pet

by Megan Patterson

photo by Megan Patterson, February 23, 2011, Toronto

Grain-free food has been popping up all over pet stores in the last few years, promising to provide a more natural diet for your cat or dog. These foods are often more expensive than conventional pet food, but they do come with a variety of health benefits. Here are the kinds of grain-free food that are available and the benefits of providing your pet with this type of diet:

Types of Grain-Free Food

Grain-free kibble and wet food
This is the more widely available and cost effective option. This type of food is made without rice, corn, wheat, rye or other grains in its formula and typically has a high protein ratio of 20% or more.

Freeze-dried Portions
Pellets or nuggets of meat and vegetables that have been freeze-dried to retain the most nutrients. You just add water to it before serving. However, it takes a little bit longer to prepare than canned or bagged pet food and is more expensive.

Raw Frozen
The most expensive option, because it is frozen raw meat and/or vegetables. It can be found at your local pet store if they have a fridge or freezer. You defrost and serve raw at mealtimes, or if that makes you squeamish, you can also cook it, making this also the most prep-intensive of the three options.

Why should I go grain-free?

In the wild, your dog or cat would have primarily eaten protein and very little to no grains. Grains have been found to actually cause or irritate allergies in some pets, and cats especially benefit from a grain-free diet because they require a more protein rich diet than dogs. Other benefits include:

  • Shiny coats
  • Increased appetite in picky eaters
  • Increased energy
  • Easy digestion
  • Decrease in weight for obese dogs and cats

I can actually attest to these claims because I feed my dog a grain-free diet. I have a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the only breed of dog with dwarfism, which means he has the long body of a medium-sized dog with proportionally shorter legs. It’s very important to keep a Corgi’s weight in check because they can have back problems if they’re overweight, which can lead to a slipped disc and making them partially paralyzed. When my dog Darwin was a puppy, I fed him conventional dry food, and he was much chubbier. When I switched to grain-free, he started putting on muscle instead of fat. He is now five-and-a-half and has never suffered a back injury. His fur is also incredibly soft, and he definitely seems to prefer higher protein food (if it has less than 30% protein, he usually won’t even eat it).

So, if you have a breed of dog where weight gain is an issue, such as Dachshunds, Pugs, English Bulldogs, Beagles or Cocker Spaniels (to name just a few), a grain-free diet might be a good option. Also, if your dog shows any signs of a food allergy or intolerance– such as severe itching or the formation of small red pumps or pustules often appearing around the ears, feet, back of the legs, or belly (but check with your vet first because this also could be a sensitivity to fleas or other parasites)–grain-free is also the more desirable diet.

Buying grain-free food is more expensive than conventional dog food, but there are some budget brands that are starting to come out with their own grain-free formulas. President’s Choice just released a grain-free food, and you can get about double the amount of food for the same price as a name brand dog or cat food. My dog seems to enjoy it just as much as the more expensive kinds, and it has a comparable protein ratio to boot.

Other Brands of Grain-Free Food

  • Taste of the Wild
  • Natural Balance
  • Wellness
  • Orijen
  • Innova (EVO)

All of these great brands are available at Pet Valu and Global Pet Food. Wellness is available at For the Love of Animals in Pape Villlage.
Just remember that whenever you’re switching your pet’s food, gradually phase it in with the old food, in order to give your pet’s tummy time to adjust!

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