There is a lot of talk about grain free diets at this time and a lot of misinformation. The truth is that properly cooked grains can be well utilized by dogs and cats; actually can be utilized 90 percent. Each grain has a distinct nutrient profile differing in amounts of protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, as well as amounts and types of fiber. Less than 1 percent of dogs are sensitive to grains. In dogs, the most common food allergy sources are beef, dairy, wheat, lamb, egg, chicken, and soy. In cats, the most common are beef, dairy, and fish. Many of the grain-free diets substitute potato or tapioca for the grain; they have similar amounts of carbohydrates. While whole grains contain many vitamins, minerals, and types of fiber, potatoes and tapioca are relatively pure starches which contribute minimal amounts of nutrients and have higher glycemic indices.
Corn is the most often implicated as being “filler”, not nutritious, and a source of allergies. Corn can be a source of carbohydrates, protein, and essential fatty acids. It also has abundant amounts of antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta carotene. There is whole corn and corn meal which is a source of highly digestible carbohydrates used for energy. Corn gluten meal is 60-70 percent protein and an excellent source of essential amino acids; it is also highly digestible. The quality of corn varies greatly, according to the USDA there are 5 grades of corn and grades 1 and 2 are used in humanfood products. Purina, for example, also uses grades 1 and 2 in their foods.
Gluten Free diets are also being sold; gluten sensitivity is very rare in dogs. There is a gluten sensitivity recognized in Irish Setters, but still is rare. Dogs with gluten allergies react to wheat, rye, and barley but there is no reaction to corn gluten. Wheat gluten protein is greater than 80 percent; so an amazing source of protein in diets.
With all of the marketing today, you likely feel that feeding a diet with by-products is one of the worst things you can do for your pet. Meat by-products are defined by AAFCO, American Association of Feed Control Officials, as “non-rendered clean parts other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals…it includes but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidney, brain, livers, blood, bone, and stomachs and intestines freed from contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth, and hooves…” Chicken by-product is defined by AAFCO as “ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.” In reality, by-products, organ meats, often have a higher nutritional value than muscle meats. These tissues may be higher in essential nutrients such as amino acids, minerals, and vitamins; they are often more palatable. Muscle meat is often deficient in calcium, other minerals and vitamins. Many people that refuse to feed diets containing by-products, often use byproducts as treats in things such as bully-sticks and dried liver treats. Humans often eat by-products including broths and gelatin. What we can blame for the misinformation is marketing that has made by-products a bad word. Many foods may be labeled as “no by-products” but if you read the ingredient list, they may have liver, a by-product, listed as an ingredient. If you have questions regarding by-products or the ingredient list of your pet’s food, please ask your veterinarian.