Grain-free dry dog food was introduced in 2005 and it has increased in popularity in large part because people are more health conscious and want to feed their dogs the best food possible. Both small dogs and large breeds can benefit from a grain-free diet, especially one in which all the ingredients are nutrient rich.
Proteins vs. Grains
A balanced, grain-free diet high in meat proteins provides dogs with necessary and valuable nutrients. Veterinarian T.J. Dunn writes that " Dogs ... are primarily meat eaters; to fill them up with grain-based processed dry foods that barely meet minimum daily nutrient requirements has proven to be a mistake." Carnivores' digestive organs were not designed to digest plant materials but they are ideal for breaking down, absorbing and utilizing proteins, bones and fat.
Problems With Grains in Dog Food
Grains are linked with food allergies, obesity and diabetes, whereas feeding a complete, grain-free diet may prevent these health problems. Dogs, both small and large, that have been eating high-grain dry food for years may be more likely to develop grain-based allergies. According to Drs. Foster and Smith's article on "Food Allergies and Food Intolerance," a switch to grain-free dry dog food might prevent or stop common allergy symptoms such as itchy skin, chronic ear infections, hair loss, hot spots and excessive scratching.
How to Choose a Grain-free Food
Grain-free dry foods are not made entirely of meat. While conventional kibble contains inexpensive grains and by-products for the "flour" necessary in baked foods, grain-free kibble uses vegetables such as potatoes, peas and sweet potatoes. Grain-free, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets may be healthier for dogs, but it is still important to read labels and ingredients. The Whole Dog Journal suggests that the first two ingredients should be proteins--whole foods and meals from named sources such as chicken, lamb, beef or fish. According to Dog Aware, it is wise to avoid generic terms such as meat meal, by-products, fats or digests. Choose foods deemed nutritionally balanced by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) that use "hormone- and antibiotic-free meats." Avoid preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin and "stay away from artificial colors, sugars and sweeteners."
Cost of Feeding Large Breed Dogs
A major consideration when purchasing grain-free dog foods is cost, especially when you are feeding a large breed dog. Most grain-free dry dog foods are expensive because they tend not to contain inexpensive fillers. Grain-free dog foods usually have more protein, so dogs need to consume less food to meet their nutritional requirements. Because less food is required at each meal, the cost is comparable.
Switching to Grain-Free
Dogs may suffer from digestive problems when changing diets, so when you switch to a grain free dog food, it is best to make the transition slowly. Gradually introduce the grain-free diet by mixing a small portion of the new food into the old; increase this portion and decrease the old food over time. If vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite occur, slow down the transition. It may take three to six weeks for your dog's digestive tract to adjust to the new diet.