There is a lot of talk about grain free and gluten free pet treats and pet food, especially when it comes to dogs. Let's be clear. To create a dry kibble or dry dog treat, some sort of flour needs to be present. This is because pet treats require some sort of a binder to form the kibble or treat shape. Given this conundrum, what flours are safe for your pet?
At Pet Nibbles, we use top quality whole grain wheat flour in some of our dog treats, and for our gluten free treats we use stone ground brown rice flour. We are experimenting with other flours, and as we test we find that some work well to form a treat while others fail. The thing to remember here is that flour isn't necessarily bad for dogs, it just isn't considered a natural food for them.
There is much debate about what flours are safe and/or best for dogs. So what is the answer? Well, actually all flours are "safe" for your dog, but it is up to you to determine if your dog's digestive system is okay with the flour. The important thing, if flours are being used in your pet's food, is to ensure that it is a top quality flour being used that is derived from a whole grain. Here at Pet Nibbles we only use top quality, 100% organic, whole grain flours.
According to the ASPCA:
[W]heat flour, commonly used in breads and pastas, is considered safe to use in treats for your pets. However, please remember that pets' digestive systems are sensitive, so people foods—even those that are nontoxic—can cause digestive upset.
Just like humans, some foods set well with us, while others may cause our stomach to become upset, or may cause us to have an allergic reaction. The thing to remember? If you are buying a dry dog food or dry dog treat for your pet, it is likely to contain some type of flour. And while some flours are considered better than others, you are always making a trade off when it comes to your dog's nutrition.
Grain free doesn't necessarily mean "healthy". Unless you are buying a pure meat product from a butcher or market, you are likely introducing more carbohydrates into your dog's diet. Grain free dog foods often contain potato starch or potato flour. Some may use other forms of flour derived from various vegetables.
Potato starch is often used in human food as a thickener for sauces or a light breading for frying. Potato flour is ground from the whole potato, and is denser than potato starch. The main difference between potato flour and wheat flour is carbohydrates.
For every 33 grams (approximately 3 tablespoons) of potato flour versus the same amount of wheat flour, you are introducing almost 5 more grams of carbohydrates to your pet. That means that for every pound of the flour consumed, you are increasing your dog's carbohydrate intake by almost 55 grams! You are also decreasing protein intake by approximately 11 grams for each pound.
The question becomes, is this trade worth it? There is no right or wrong answer! It depends upon your pup and what fits best in their diet.
Now that we have discussed grain free dog food, let's chat about gluten free. What difference does gluten free make in a pet's diet? Good question!
Gluten free pet foods came about to address pet food allergies. Many of you think gluten free and immediately think celiac disease. Celiac disease (according to celiac.org) is an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Let's be clear. If you query "Can dogs get celiac disease?" in Google, you get all kinds of wild results. According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, they answer this question in the simplest way:
Dogs can’t get celiac disease.
However, your dog may have an allergy to gluten, which can cause shedding and even skin rashes. If you suspect this, switch to a gluten free dog treat or dog food to see if that helps.
While choosing between grain free and gluten free, know that neither potatoes or grain were part of your dog's ancestor's diet. You just need to make the right diet choice for your pet. Dogs can lead healthy and happy lives eating treats that use flour! What is important is that you choose pet treats that do not have nasty by-products or that use unhealthy fillers, and you feed your pet proper portions. You can count on us at Pet Nibbles to always keep your pet's health at top of mind!