There’s a lot of hype around gluten free diets in people and more recently for our pets, but what is the scientific reasoning behind this, and is gluten free a healthier alternative diet?
Firstly – What is gluten exactly?:
Gluten is a type of protein that is found in cereal grains, mainly in wheat, barley and rye. For humans, day to day, we encounter gluten in the form of bread, pasta, cakes and beer to name a few common foods. It’s not an essential nutrient, however in some cases there’s evidence to show that gluten can actually be good for the body- for example, it can act as a prebiotic for normal colonic flora (gut bacteria), reducing the risk of obesity and metabolic imbalances. (1)
In some cases, Gluten can be problematic for people (we’re covering dogs right below this) who specifically suffer from celiac’s disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivities and wheat allergies. These individuals cannot eat gluten, as their bodies will attack the gluten, causing inflammation and damage to the gut. This can result in a variety of symptoms from bloat, diarrhoea, constipation through to malabsorption, weight loss and damage to the intestines.
Gluten-free doesn't equal Healthier
Many people unknowingly assume that gluten free equals healthy, which isn’t necessarily the case. Most people tolerate gluten very well and it may even be helping their gut health. We seem to be experiencing a similar hype within the dog food market, with more commercial gluten free options becoming available for dogs.
Of course, like people, dogs too can suffer from gluten intolerance or related diseases. However an extensive journal review found that this is extremely rare and the likelihood of gluten causing a problem is lower than many other more common protein sources. In reality, beef was the most likely offender with 34% of cases, followed by dairy (17%), chicken (15%), wheat (13%) and lamb (5%) (2). In theory any food or protein source can be the cause of a food intolerance, however the results show gluten intolerances in dogs are probably not as significant as people might think they are.
Canine symptoms of Gluten intolerance
In dogs, symptoms of food intolerances may include: itchy paws, ears, backsides (perineum), undercarriage, with dogs showing symptoms from 6 months to 13 years old (3). Food intolerances may also cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as flatulence (farting), increased frequency of defecation, diarrhoea, vomiting, inappetence, lethargy and weight loss too (4).
It’s worth pointing out that although true gluten intolerances are uncommon in dogs - there is a genetically inherited neurological condition, often seen in Border Terriers called ‘Paroxysmal Gluten- Sensitive Dyskinesia’. These dogs suffer from bouts of uncontrolled movements without losing consciousness. This is a genetic condition and does typically respond to a gluten free diet so is the main scenario such a diet should be considered with certainty.
So, from the data that exists it’s clear that gluten-free diets often seem to be misrepresented on the market as a novel, healthier alternative when actually there is little evidence to support this. Gluten is no more harmful than beef, dairy, and chicken which is commonplace in pet foods. Of course, if your dog is suffering from any allergy symptoms mentioned above- it would be wise to try an 8-10 week diet trial guided by your Vet. Ideally use a prescription allergy diet or a vegan diet like Omni to see if your dog’s symptoms resolve when common triggers are eliminated from their diet. All the ingredients in our vet formulated Omni recipesare naturally free of gluten but we can’t guarantee that there are no gluten traces from the mills in which the ingredients are ground up prior to steam baking.
If you’re concerned your pup is suffering from allergy symptoms and you’re a subscriber, why not have a chat to one of our Omni Vet team, to see if they can give you some advice, and put your mind at ease.
(1) Neyrinck, A.M., et al. Wheat-derived arabinoxylan oligosaccharides with prebiotic effect increase satietogenic gut peptides and reduce metabolic endotoxemia in diet-induced obese mice. Nutr Diabetes. 2012 Jan; 2(1): e28.
(2) Mueller.R.S and Olivry.T and Prelaud.P (2016) ‘ Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats’ National Library of Medicine 12 (9).
(3) Olivry.T and Mueller R.S. (2019) ‘Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion amimals (7): signalment and cutaneous manifestations of dogs and cats with adverse food reactions’ BMC Veterinary Research 15 (140).
(4) Ballauf.B (1993) ‘[Feed allergy in dogs and cats—not only a gastrointestinal problem]’ PubMed 21(1):53-6