When it comes to gluten free pet food, it’s not unusual for pet parents to have questions.
You may wonder: What are the symptoms of a gluten allergy in dogs, and how do you know if your best furiend has one? What are the health benefits of going gluten free for your pet? Is gluten bad for cats, too?
We’re here to help you decide if gluten free food and treats are the right choice for your fur-babies!
Signs of a Gluten Allergy in Dogs or Cats
You may have heard of gluten intolerance in dogs, but how do you know if your pup has a gluten allergy?
So far, celiac disease in dogs has only been formally identified in a minority of Irish Setters. More research still needs to be done to see how widespread the disease really is. Even harder to pinpoint is how many dogs have gluten sensitivity — essentially a mild gluten allergy.
The formal studies may not be in yet, but the experiences of thousands of concerned pet parents certainly are! Many pet parents have recognized the symptoms of a gluten allergy in their own fur-kids, and have seen these symptoms subside once gluten is removed from their pups’ diets.
Some common dog gluten allergy symptoms include:
Ongoing digestive distress
The occasional stinky dog fart may be a fact of life, but if your pup seems to constantly have diarrhea or room-clearing flatulence — or if your cat’s litterbox can be smelt from across the house — it may be indicative of a sensitivity to the gluten in their diet. Gluten takes a lot of effort for your pet’s digestive system to break down, and can cause recurrent stomach upset if your pet is particularly sensitive to it.
Itchy, unhealthy coat
If your pet has a rough, unhealthy coat, is prone to skin infections or hotspots, or is constantly itching and scratching, these are all common signs of a food allergy. You should also be aware if your dog or cat is repeatedly chewing on their feet, as paw pads tend to be some of the itchiest spots. Almost any ingredient could be the allergen, but gluten and grains are common culprits.
Chronic ear infections
Your pet’s body breaks down gluten into various sugars. But if your buddy’s diet contains more gluten than their body can handle, those excess sugars can have unpleasant side effects — such as recurring yeast infections in their ears. If your pet is constantly shaking their head or has smelly buildup in their ears, those are all signs of an ear infection, which can even impact your pet’s balance if the infection is chronic.
Mood swings and restlessness
We often underestimate how much diet impacts mood — and that’s true both for ourselves and our pets! Gluten causes inflammation, which can affect levels of mood-regulating hormones like serotonin, so that your pup’s mood goes from up to down abruptly. Plus, if your pup already isn’t feeling well physically, that can definitely make them grumpy or impatient!
If you see any of these signs in your best furiend, it may be worth trying a gluten free diet for a few weeks to see if symptoms improve. You may be pleasantly surprised by the dramatic difference you see!
Is Gluten Bad for Dogs or Cats?
You may be wondering if a gluten free diet is appropriate for your pet if they don’t seem to have a gluten intolerance. Is gluten bad for dogs or cats in general? Can your pet even digest it?
The short answer to the question, “Can dogs eat gluten?” is “Yes — if they have to.”
After all, it was beneficial for your dog’s wild ancestors to be highly adaptable and able to scavenge whatever they could find to eat if their preferred food source was not available. But, “able to survive on it” and “able to thrive on it” are two completely different things!
While the majority of dogs don’t have a gluten sensitivity per se, and can digest gluten successfully, just because their bodies can digest gluten doesn’t mean they should or that it’s the ideal option for their health and wellbeing.
If gluten isn’t ideal for dogs, you may wonder why it’s so common in dog food. In fact, today’s traditional kibble pet foods are vastly different from the diet your dog’s wild ancestors sought out. As pointed out by DogFoodAdvisor:
“Today’s kibbles contain as much as four times the carbohydrate content historically found in the canine ancestral diet.”
That difference is due to the high level of grains and other carb-heavy ingredients found in nearly all commercial pet foods, even ‘healthy’ brands. These ingredients are widely prevalent not for their nutritional value, but because they are more cost-effective for large pet food manufacturers than sourcing quality protein to provide the same number of calories.
Wheat and other gluten-heavy ingredients provide clear advantages during the manufacturing process — but it’s ultimately your pet who pays the price. Gluten is known to promote insulin production and inflammation, which results in weight gain and painful joints.
Essentially, your pet’s body has to work pretty hard to break down gluten into sugars, and then it needs to make insulin to process and break down the sugars, too. Most of those sugars are excess anyway, and ultimately get excreted. Overall, it’s a lengthy and energy-intensive process with very little payoff for your pet’s health!
Compare that process with digesting the protein in real meat, and the difference is night and day. Protein is something your little carnivore’s body instinctively understands and can utilize efficiently — so that the components of a protein-rich meal actually go towards building muscle, repairing damage and fueling your pet.
Finally, when it comes to cats and gluten, even less is known about gluten allergies in cats than in dogs! What is known is that a balanced raw meat diet (which is naturally gluten free) has many health benefits for your kitties. As obligate carnivores, cats are even more dependent on real meat (and have even less use for veggies and grains) than dogs are. That makes gluten free cat food high in real, natural protein a great choice for Whiskers as well.
Remember: your little wolves and lions love meat!
The Health Benefits of Gluten Free Dog Food & Cat Food
There are many health benefits to a naturally gluten free raw diet for your pets.
These benefits will be especially stark if your pet has even a mild gluten sensitivity, as eliminating gluten will also eliminate all the problems it caused! That means easing digestive distress, soothing itchy skin, clearing up ear infections and even stabilizing your pet’s mood.
Even if your pet doesn’t have gluten sensitivity, a gluten free diet brings other health benefits to your pet, too.
Because gluten is not processed as efficiently as protein by your pet’s body, it tends to cause weight gain. Switching to a gluten free diet will help your pet lose weight even without any other lifestyle changes! Also, as gluten promotes inflammation, going gluten free reduces inflammation, easing the strain on your pet’s joints.
Gluten-heavy diets lead to “spikes” and “crashes” in blood sugar level throughout the day, as your pet’s body works to keep up with the “sugar rush” after each meal. Eliminating gluten and increasing protein regulates energy levels and blood sugar, since protein is “slow burning” and does not spike and crash.
Finally, since the sugars released by gluten cause rapid buildup of tartar on your pet’s teeth, removing gluten from your pet’s meals drastically reduces their risk of developing painful dental disease. Your “dog breath” pup may finally obtain a fresh white smile!
The cumulative effect of all these positive impacts on your pet’s wellbeing ultimately means a happier, healthier companion! As DogFoodAdvisor writes:
“Look for dog foods rich in meat-based protein and lower in carbs. You could be adding years of better health to your best friend’s life.”
How to Transition to Gluten Free Food & Treats
The good news is, minimizing or even eliminating gluten from your pet’s diet isn’t as intensive as it sounds. And since all Vital Essentials and Vital Cat products are certified gluten free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization, you can feed our raw food and treats to your fur-kids with confidence!
Even just swapping out your pet’s grain-based treats for single ingredient, protein-rich gluten free dog treats like freeze-dried minnows (adored by both dogs and cats) drastically reduces the amount of gluten Fido gets in their diet. (Let’s be honest, you probably don’t even realize how many treats your pets swindle out of you in a day!)
Plus, there are many easy ways to mix gluten free dog food or gluten free cat food into your pet’s meals. One great option is to use toppers to substitute even a portion of your best furiend’s daily calories with real, raw protein, reducing the amount of gluten your pet’s body has to work to break down.
Once you start seeing the health benefits of incorporating raw food into your kitty or pup’s diet, you may decide to take the plunge and go 100% gluten free! We’re here to help you and your pets make the transition, and we’re confident that once you’ve eliminated gluten, you’ll see a happier, healthier pet!
Gluten-heavy ingredients have been linked to many negative health effects for your pets, from itchy skin to weight gain — and even killer farts!
A gluten free raw diet can relieve these symptoms and help your dogs and cats feel more like themselves, especially if they have a gluten sensitivity or gluten allergy. In fact, we hear from pet parents every day whose lives have been transformed by going gluten free — and we’d love to hear from your fur-family, too!