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Are Grain-Free Diets Healthier for Pets?

TFrazao is a registered Veterinary Practitioner and a M.Sc. Computer Science graduate. She believes in the fusion of things.

Dog lying down and looking at his pet food.

Dog lying down and looking at his pet food.

What are grain-free diets?

In current times, there has been an outburst of pet foods marketed with grain-free diets or cereal-free. The diets are available in dry and canned forms. They utilize potato, tapioca, peas, or other carbohydrates instead of corn, wheat, rice, or other grains.

Forbidden wheat symbol.

Forbidden wheat symbol.

Can grain-free diets help my pet with allergies?

Not to ignore that these diets are usually marketed as being healthier and less prone to cause allergies to pets.

Despite the popular trend to buy pet food with no grains, there are no known health benefits to substituting non-grain carbohydrates in commercial pet foods.

Contradictory to shared information, if you are concerned with allergies, know that grains are less likely to cause food allergies than meats, particularly chicken (1).

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Changing to a grain-free diet while keeping the same meat proteins fed previously is doubtful to benefit dogs or cats with a real food allergy.

Are grain-free diets low in carbohydrates?

Many people think that grain-free diets are low carbohydrate diets, but this is frequently inaccurate. The grain-free diets have the same carbohydrate levels as grain-containing diets or higher —for example, sweet potatoes, which have a higher carbohydrate level than corn. These alternative carbohydrates may be simple compared to whole grains. Highly refined starches (for example, potatoes) may deliver fewer nutrients and less fiber than whole grains and are not considered cost-efficient (2).

Are grain-free diets right for my pet?

At the moment, unless your pet has a particular grain allergy, which is rare, there is no health benefit to feeding a grain-free diet, nor do any nutritional foundations support this claim. And, gluten-free diets are unlikely to be of help even if the pet has a gastrointestinal disease.
However, the only reported case of a gluten-sensitivity enteropathy is in an Irish Setter, and there is no evidence that other dog or cat breeds may be affected(3).


The bottom line is that “grain-free” is a marketing concept designed to sell pet food, not a health solution to help your pet live a long, healthy life. Don’t believe the hype! (2).

— Clinical Nutrition Team

Wheat grain.

Wheat grain.


  1. Roudebush P. Ingredients and foods associated with adverse reactions in dogs and cats. Vet Dermatol. 2013;24(2):293-294.
  2. Grain-free diets: big on marketing, small on truth. Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. Published June 14, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2020.
  3. Garden OA, Pidduck H, Lakhani KH, Walker D, Wood JL, Batt RM. Inheritance of gluten-sensitive enteropathy in Irish Setters. Am J Vet Res. 2000;61(4):462-468.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2020 DVM MSc T Frazao

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