One of the latest trends in pet foods is grain-free diets. The grain-free trend is fueled by the idea that grains are not vital to the raw diets of the wild ancestors of cats, especially since cats are obligate carnivores. They thrive by eating prey-- meat, internal organs, as well as the contents of the organ-- without the need for processed grains.
As the name implies, it is a type of cat food that does not contain any grains in its formula. The most common grains that are often included in cat food are corn, wheat, barley, rice, and oats.
Grain allergies in cats are quite rare, thus, most cats do not really need to be on a grain-free diet. A study about the common causes of allergy in cats found out that out of the 56 cats used in the study, 45 cases of allergy were associated with eating fish, dairy, and/or beef, while only 4 cases were linked to corn.
In humans, gluten has been linked to the occurrence of celiac disease. However, there is no scientific evidence that this is true in cats, thus, there is no need for them to avoid a gluten-free diet.
A grain-free diet, however, does not mean it’s free from carbohydrates. Instead of grains, grain-free food uses grain substitutes like sweet potatoes, potatoes, peas, lentils, and tapioca. This means that there are indeed grain-free cat food products that contain similar or higher quantities of carbohydrates to cat food that contain grains.
If you’re concerned that the carbohydrate content of your cat’s food can make him overweight or obese, don’t be. Overfeeding, a sedentary lifestyle, feeding table scraps, and excessive calorie consumption are what make pets fat.
In feline nutrition, protein is a primary source of nutrients because they are true carnivores. For cats, protein is their primary source of energy. While cats require that a portion of their dietary protein should be animal-based, their systems have evolved to efficiently digest and absorb nutrients from plant-based ingredients of high quality. Cats utilize carbohydrates for muscle build-up and function thereby sparing body proteins from being broken down to be used as energy.
A pure meat-based diet generally contains higher levels of phosphorus. While it’s an essential nutrient, a diet that is high in phosphorus has been linked to the increased progression of kidney problems in cats and dogs. Protein from vegetables and grains has a lower phosphorus content but they provide essential amino acids that cats need.
Although most cats don’t actually need a grain-free or gluten-free diet, there are cases in which a cat can be allergic to grains or is suffering from a health issue.
Diabetic cats can benefit from a high-protein, low-carb diet however, always remember that not all grain-free cat food is low in carbohydrates. Some grain-free pet foods contain ingredients with similar or higher carbohydrate levels to diets with grains. Many grain-free pet foods substitute grains with potatoes, rye, sweet potatoes, and tapioca. And many of these ingredients contain more carbohydrates than most grains that are used in pet food. It is enough to say that grain-free and low carbohydrate pet foods are not always the same.
When it comes to helping keep your pet’s weight within healthy limits, there are cats that gained weight on grain-free kibbles, especially if they are less active.
Grain-free cat food products are not created equal. To help ensure that you are choosing the right one for your pet, do your assignment. Know what options are available and dig in a little deeper about their ingredients. Always remember never to compromise your pet’s health by choosing quantity over quality. Premium quality pet food may be priced higher than generic ones but you and your kitty will eventually benefit from your choice. Your veterinarian is also a valuable source of information regarding your pet’s health and nutrition.