Like humans, dogs require a specific balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates in their diet for optimum health. Many pet parents have opted out of dog foods that contain corn and wheat. Instead they choose to feed their pets grain-free dog food. Learn about the benefits of grain-free carbs such as peas and sweet potato for dogs.
Is a Grain-Free Diet Beneficial to Some Dogs?
Like conventional dog foods, grain-free diets contain protein, fat and carbohydrates. The difference with a grain-free dog food is the source of the carbohydrates.
Grain-free diets are marketed to be corn- and wheat-free. They typically utilize alternative carbohydrate sources, such as sweet potato, white potato, peas, legumes and so on.
Some dogs develop a sensitivity to corn and/or wheat, so if they eat these foods they can manifest skin or gastrointestinal problems, such as itching, rashes, vomiting or diarrhea. If dogs develop a sensitivity to corn or wheat, then they should avoid those ingredients. In these cases, a grain-free diet utilizing an alternative carbohydrate may be beneficial.
Common Carbohydrates in Grain-Free Dog Food
There are many carbohydrates used in grain-free diets. Sweet potatoes and peas are two commonly used carbs.
Clients often ask me, “Is sweet potato good for dogs?” My answer is, “In most cases, yes!”
Sweet potato is high in vitamin C, B6 and A. It also is an excellent prebiotic, which means that it nourishes cells in the digestive tract, and sweet potato is high in fiber, which contributes to normal stool and optimum gut health.
Several grain-free dog foods utilize sweet potatoes as a carbohydrate source. One is Nutro’s Grain-Free Lamb, Lentils & Sweet Potato Recipe.
Are peas good for dogs? Peas are awesome for dogs! Many grain-free diets are formulated with pea protein or legumes as the carbohydrate and fiber source.
Peas are high in essential vitamins A, B1, B6, C and K, minerals and lutein, an antioxidant that supports skin, heart and eye health. The fiber contained in peas can help maintain a healthy weight and normalize cholesterol. Tiki Dog Aloha Petites grain-free dog food utilizes peas as a carbohydrate source.
However, some dogs do not tolerate peas or legumes well, resulting in stomach upset, excessive gas and/or loose stools. For these dogs, a pea- and legume-free diet may be in order. Sport Dog Elite Series grain- and pea-free dog food might be a good option to try.
Note: If you are switching your dog’s diet, transition slowly to avoid stomach upset. Allow 4-5 days to switch the food, slowly increasing the amount of the new diet and decrease the amount of old diet. Also, stomach sensitivities to diet can take up to 2 weeks to resolve, and skin sensitivities can take upwards of 8 weeks to resolve.
Other Grain-Free Carbohydrates
Dog food manufacturers are getting pretty creative with different carbohydrate options, so you may see many variations on labels. Lentils, tapioca and chickpeas all are used as carbohydrate and fiber sources in many foods, such as Canidae Grain-Free Pure Ancestral freeze-dried raw covered dog food and Castor & Pollux Pristine Grain-Free Lamb & Lentil dog food.
Grain-Free Dog Food Isn’t for Every Dog
Grain-free dog food isn’t right for every pup. Different ingredients can cause sensitivities and intolerances in dogs.
Additionally, in the past year, several veterinary cardiologists reported increased rates of dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease) in dogs, and not only in breeds that are predisposed to the disease, but also breeds not associated with the disease. Some experts suspect a dietary connection to grain-free diets because the dogs in these cases tended to eat food that had high levels of ingredients typically seen in grain-free dog diets.
Despite the uncertainty of a link between grain-free and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning and is investigating the situation. Until more is known, pet parents who are concerned about their dog’s heart health—especially in breeds predisposed to develop DCM, including Boxers, Great Danes, Dobermans, Spaniels and German Shepherds—should talk with their veterinarian before starting their dog on a grain-free diet. Regardless of which diet you choose, speaking to your veterinarian always will help you find the best diet for your pup.