Grain-Free Dog Food. What's The Deal?

Grain-Free Dog Food. What's The Deal?

Grain-free is the buzzword in premium dog food. We should know, given that THE PACK’s wet food launched without grain! Feedback from pawrents suggested that you’d prefer grain-free so, after a lot of consideration, we decided not to include it in our recipes. 

But is grain really the enemy? 

Is my dog gluten intolerant?

Perceived food allergies are one of the most common reasons why pawrents choose grain-free diets for their furry friends. Yet it’s extremely rare for a dog to be allergic to gluten. In fact, food allergies in pets are way less common than allergies to fleabites and environmental allergens (things like pollen, moulds, grass and dust mites). When dogs are allergic to food, it’s far more likely to be animal products causing the bad reaction than grain! A 2016 study showed that ingredients like beef, dairy, chicken, lamb, egg, pork, fish and rabbit were responsible for 236 cases of food allergies in dogs, whereas plant-based ingredients (wheat, soy, corn, rice, barley, kidney beans and tomatoes) were the culprit in only 77 cases.

While dogs don’t need grain to survive, unless your pup is one of the very unlucky allergic hounds, it isn’t intrinsically harmful for them. So why has grain become a dirty word on pet food labels? 

Are grains toxic or just a bit rubbish?

One of the reasons that grain got a bad rep is the notorious 2007 melamine pet food recall. Now, 15 years on, wheat and gluten have struggled to shake off the negative association that grain = toxic. 

Today, cheap dog food often has a high percentage of low-nutrient grains and cereals compared with ‘real’ meat content. While even these basic carbohydrates provide energy for dogs, most pawrents want to see more nutritious heavyweights in their pet food ingredient list. Consequently, the presence of grain as so-called ‘filler’ in cheap dog food has caused grains to be associated with ‘poor quality’ and the label ‘grain-free’ to be associated with premium nosh. Yet Dr Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist at Tufts University, explains in The New York Times that “Contrary to advertising and popular belief, there is no research to demonstrate that grain-free diets offer any health benefits over diets that contain grains.” Actually, the poor-quality ingredient in conventional dog food is more likely to be the meat! That’s why it was important that in our meals we substitute meat protein with ingredients that would stand out to pawrents as high quality and nutritious: those heavyweights we talked about, like pulses, proteins, seeds, oils, vegetables and superfoods.  

The truth is, all carbohydrates provide energy and fibre for dogs. They make them feel satisfied and give good wags! The important thing is that your dog’s diet is nutritionally complete, with or without grain. We focus on providing carbs in the form of fibrous fruit and veg like blackberries and butternut squash, but your pup can get them via grains too. 

Hold on! Could grains actually be… the good guys?

Pawssibly! Both fruit fibre and complex carbohydrates can positively benefit a dog’s microbiome, weight and poop consistency. This isn’t so surprising when we consider that wholegrains such as brown rice and ‘pseudo-grains’ such as quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat are packed with amazing nutrients. Nutrients which dogs have been proven to digest and use inside their bodies to make them their healthiest, strongest, shiniest selves.

What’s this about grain-free dog food causing heart disease?

Okay, this is where things get really confusing in the grain-free debate! Three little letters: DCM. In recent years, weak links have been made between grain-free dog diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a rare type of canine heart disease. A 2021 study blamed ingredients used to replace grains in dog food, speculating that peas and maybe lentils might make it harder for dogs to make or absorb taurine, that essential amino acid for healthy hounds. Because many vegan dog foods contain ingredients like peas and pulses, this report has been used to attack meat-free as well as grain-free dog diets: no surprises there!

Yet there’s zero evidence to prove that either these plant-based ingredients or lack of grains cause DCM: it’s all just speculation. The 2021 study only looked at the pet foods already associated with DCM, so it’s more likely that these specific diets simply weren’t formulated to provide the right nutrients. Furthermore, many of the foods tested had been stored open for months, allowing them to degrade. A more recent scientific paper in Journal of Animal Science concluded “The use of plant-based proteins as ingredients in canine and feline diets not only meet consumer demand but also provide a valuable, safe, and nutritionally adequate alternative to traditional protein sources.”

To ensure that all pooches eating our meals will digest all the nutrients to give them the doggy strength they need we conduct an animal free in-vitro digestibility studies. Our wet food scored over 90% meaning that dogs will be absorbing all the main nutrients they need to thrive. 


In the future, we haven’t ruled out including grains in our recipes. But for now, we want to give you the option to add them in or leave them out. Maybe you want to mix our wet food with some brown rice or quinoa, or maybe you’re happier serving up THE PACK sans gluten. 

You know your dog better than any pet food manufacturer, so it’s your choice to feed them the food that makes them healthiest and happiest.

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