Grain-free diets are part of a larger group of diets referred to as B.E.G. which stands for boutique, exotic and grain-free foods that have flooded the pet-food market in recent years. Whilst some of these foods may be of excellent quality unfortunately this market is extremely poorly regulated, and brands can label their foods with whatever claims they wish and often hide the fact the food is unbalanced or of poor quality. This makes it incredibly hard for consumers to know which food is best for their pet.
Plenty of research has gone into grain-free foods in recent years and what we do know is that less than 3% of pets with food allergies have allergies to grain. So improvements in your pet’s gut or skin health once placed on a grain-free diet is probably more likely due to the increased omega oils, novel protein source or the improvement in overall quality of the food than to the actual lack of grain. Many of the cheaper, supermarket-style dry foods are loaded full of the useless part of the grain that does nothing but bulk out the diet so grain-free does not necessarily equal quality.
For years veterinary cardiologists in the United States of America have noted an increased incidence of dilated-cardiomyopathies (a form of heart disease leading to heart failure) in Golden Retrievers that were linked to taurine deficiencies. Taurine is an important amino-acid we need for brain and heart function. Whilst they already knew of this connection to taurine, recently other less prone breeds started having similar issues and the apparent link was every dog was on a boutique, exotic-protein or grain-free diet. At this point is it unknown what exactly is the cause within these diets but it is enough to cause vets to hesitate in recommending B.E.G. diets until we know more.
Please discuss your pet’s diet with a trained professional such as your vet or a veterinary nutritionist whose knowledge should be non-bias, evidence-based and up-to-date. If you want to research further stick to reputable brands, look for evidence-based research, read every label and if you’re going down the home-cooked bath, balance it! Literally, there is a company called BalanceIt that for a small fee will formulate an appropriate home-cooked diet specifically for your pet. If you’re looking for someone closer to home Murdoch University offer a similar service. We caution you to be wary of recommendations on social media and word of mouth as what may be right for another pet may not be right for yours.
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association December 1, 2018, Vol. 253, No. 11, Pages 1390-1394 https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.253.11.1390