Gluten and grain allergies in dogs

Can Dogs Eat Gluten?

In recent years, gluten has become a “red flag” ingredient in foods (for both people and pets), but what’s all the fuss about? Let’s dive into what gluten is, where you may find it in dog foods and treats, and whether or not your dog should be eating grains with gluten in them.

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What Is Gluten and Which Foods Contain It?

“Gluten” is a generic term that describes the proteins found mostly in wheat, along with other cereal grains and seeds like barley, rye, triticale, farina, spelt, couscous, and farro. There are many foods that contain it, so check out this full list of gluten sources.

Gluten is what gives certain breads and grain-products a chewy, fluffy texture. In dog-food products, it’s what helps wet food, kibble, and treats hold their shape and sometimes provides flavor.

In most cases, gluten is harmless, but for the small percentage of dogs suffering from gluten intolerance or celiac disease, it can cause long-lasting and sometimes irreparable damage.

Gluten Intolerance vs. Celiac Disease in Dogs

It isn’t yet known what causes gluten sensitivities and intolerances in dogs or humans. However, some good news is that most dogs don’t suffer from true celiac disease. Like humans, celiac disease in dogs is thought to be genetic. Some studies have shown that Irish Setters are at a higher risk of getting celiac disease, but no other breeds have been singled out yet.

That said, gluten can still be a problematic ingredient for dogs. Veterinarians can prescribe steroids or antibiotics to help relieve allergy symptoms, but in many cases, simply reducing or removing grain from your dog’s diet can solve the problem.

Some dogs literally end up taking prescribed medications for years on end to keep their reactions under control — before their owners see the link between grains and sickness, take dietary action, and help their dog get back to their old self.

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance or Celiac Disease

Wondering whether your pooch is sensitive to gluten? Look for the following symptoms:

  • Chronic GI upset: Your dog may be gluten intolerant if they constantly have loose stools or diarrhea, mucus in their stools, constipation, or flatulence. There may be vomiting in more severe cases.
  • Atopic dermatitis: Chronic dry and flaky skin, hair loss, hot spots, redness, bumps, rashes, and constant scratching are classic signs of a food intolerance.
  • Weight loss: Dogs may begin to lose their coat, drop weight at an abnormal or unhealthy rate, or become weak.
  • Foot chewing: Dogs may repeatedly lick or gnaw at their feet (and other body parts) to get relief from dermatitis. Red and inflamed paw pads is another sign.
  • Chronic ear infections: Over-consumption of gluten can lead to a buildup of excess sugars in the system, creating a yeast overgrowth that eventually leads to ear infections in your pooch. Look for signs like dark, smelly waxy debris in their ears, head shaking, or poor balance.

Keep in mind that there are other conditions, major or minor, that can trigger similar symptoms. For example, seasonal allergies can cause dermatitis, or there could be another ingredient in your dog food that’s causing allergies.

How To Identify Gluten Sensitivities in Dogs

If you notice the signs we’ve covered above, such as weight loss or diarrhea, or other changes that are out of the ordinary, tell your vet immediately. They’ll be able to run blood, saliva, urine, or fecal tests that can help determine whether your dog has a gluten intolerance.

An elimination diet is another great way to determine if your pet is sensitive to grains. It can be a time-consuming process, but it’s still the gold standard for discovering the exact ingredients causing your dog’s distress.

Do Dogs Need Grains? Should My Dog Be Gluten-Free?

Historically speaking, dogs are scavengers. A wild dog’s diet includes almost any food that provides calories, including meat (their primary food) as well as berries and wild grasses — but very little grain.

According to biologists and dog trainers Ray and Lorna Coppinger, the natural diet of ancient dogs featured “bones, pieces of carcass, rotten greens and fruit, fish guts, discarded seeds and grains, animal guts and heads, some discarded human food and wastes.”

As with almost every aspect of health, the answer to both of these questions is that it depends on the individual animal. Some dogs need a certain amount of grain in their diets, whether to maintain a healthy body weight or because they get dry skin and dull hair when they go grain-free or gluten-free.

In general, there’s an overload of grain and a lack of nutritional variety in many modern commercial pet diets.

This imbalance could deplete your dog’s immune health over time, leaving them more susceptible to serious diseases and disorders. Think about it — many dog food companies are creating highly processed, grain-based diets for an animal that thrives on a fresh, meat-based diet.

So, work with your vet to make sure your dog is getting a well-rounded diet, packed with protein and full of healthy carbohydrates. The Honest Kitchen offers plenty of tasty, grain-free dog food options that help you do just that.

Finally, if you need to feed your dog a diet free of gluten, try foods like oats (make sure they’re labeled as gluten-free), amaranth, buckwheat (a seed not related to wheat), millet, rice, and quinoa. Other gluten-free starches include garbanzo beans, lentils, dog-friendly nuts, corn/maize, fava beans, and cassava.

Try These Delicious Gluten-Free Recipes From the Honest Kitchen

If you think your dog is battling the ill effects of eating gluten, a simple diet switch could make all the difference. Get started with these gluten-free recipes your pooch is sure to love:

Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.

Lucy Postins

Lucy Postins is founder and Chief Integrity Officer at The Honest Kitchen. She is a companion animal nutritionist who started The Honest Kitchen in her kitchen in 2002. She is passionate about advanced nutrition and holistic health including complementary modalities such as herbalism and homeopathy. Considered an expert in her field, Lucy frequently writes articles for local and national media, conducts radio interviews and educational spots, and occasionally holds educational seminars for pet owners on the importance of good nutrition. She also recently authored Dog Obsessed, a guide to a happier, healthier life for the pup you love.
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