As a pet parent, you want your furry friend to live as long and as happy a life as possible. This begins with choosing the right pet food, which is an important part of supporting your pet’s health with proper nutrition. You may have come across grain-free cat food in Malaysia while looking for the best pet food. But is grain-free cat food the best choice for your cat? If you have been wondering whether grain-free cat food is good or bad, this is the place to start.
What Does Grain-Free Cat Food Mean?
Grain-free cat food is a pet diet without grains, as well as ingredients derived from grains. Grains are the seeds of grasses and the ones commonly used in cat foods include:
The following “grain by-products” may also appear on an ingredient label of pet food with grains:
- Starch Grain
- Cereal Flour
Is Grain-Free Cat Food Gluten-Free?
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in certain cereal grains, which include wheat, barley and rye. In a gluten-free diet, only gluten-containing grains are excluded and it may still contain other gluten-free grains. A grain-free diet eliminates all grains, including gluten-free ones (e.g., corn and rice). As a result, the grain-free cat diet is much more restricted.
Why Is Grain-Free Cat Food Popular in Malaysia?
All-natural cat food with no preservatives and harmful additives is becoming popular nowadays as pet parents become more aware of the importance of selecting the right pet food, which directly contributes to our pets’ overall wellbeing.
1. Halo Effect from Human Food Industry
Many pet owners believe that what is good for humans is also good for pets, so they think that grain-free cat food is good for cats. A grain-free product, whether for human or pet food, is frequently perceived as a premium or healthier choice in the food market. However, what is true for humans may not be true for pets. Continue reading to the end of this article to gain a better understanding of grain-free pet food.
2. Palatability of Grain-Free Pet Food
One of the benefits of grain-free pet foods is that they are more palatable than rice-based foods, which has received a lot of positive feedback from pet parents. If your pets are picky eaters, grain-free cat food may be a good option.
3. Allergies to Grains
Veterinarians might recommend grain-free pet food as part of a treatment plan for pets with unusual allergies or sensitivities. The common symptoms of grain allergies may include:
- Hair loss
- Itchy, dry skin
- Rashes, inflamed skin
- Obsessive chewing or licking of body
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Blood in poop
Although allergies to grains in cats are uncommon when grains are properly cooked and fed as a food ingredient, when they do occur, they can be distressing for both the pet and the owner. Therefore, some pet parents are not taking any chances and are going straight to the grain-free option.
Is Grain-Free Cat Food Carbohydrates-Free?
A common misconception about grain-free cat food is that it is low-carb or even free of carbohydrates.
However, no-grain pet foods usually use alternative sources of carbohydrates like potatoes, sweet potatoes, pea flour, lentils or quinoa to replace grains. Therefore, grain-free does not mean carb-free. It also does not mean is all-meat, although it can be higher in meat content. In some cases, grain-free pet food may contain the same or even higher level of carbs than regular pet foods.
Grain-free pet foods with the grains-substitutes mentioned above may cause excess soluble carbohydrates which can lead to health issues in cats. A high-carbohydrate diet can cause obesity, diabetes, decreased metabolism, digestion problems and kidney problems.
As a result, grain-free pet food containing other carbohydrates to replace grains may not be as good as it appears. It is important to understand the composition of ingredients and ensure that carbohydrates are not excessive.
Why Does Grain Exist in Cat Food?
Grains contain carbohydrates which play an important role in the manufacturing of dry cat food like kibbles.
The main function of cooked carbohydrates is to hold the structure or the form of kibbles and to prevent crumbling. Just like making cookies, flour or grain is a common ingredient to hold the shape. Therefore, a certain amount of carbohydrates-containing ingredients like cereals, peas and potatoes needs to be included in the recipe, no matter in the making of grain kibbles or grain-free kibbles.
Grains are the cheapest carbohydrates-containing ingredient, yet they are durable and have a long shelf life, which is why traditional pet manufacturers like to include grains in the kibble-making process.
On the other hand, grain-free dry kibbles are normally manufactured using carbohydrate-containing ingredients such as potatoes and legumes which are more expensive than grains. At the same time, some of these ingredients may have a higher carbohydrate content. Pet owners should be aware of the potential risk of excessive carbohydrates in their pets’ diets.
Although wet cat food typically contains a lower proportion of carbohydrates, most wet cat food contains gelling agents that are also made from carbohydrates.
Can Grain-Free Pet Food Lead to Heart Disease?
A grain-free diet does not pose a health risk to cats. However, there is a potential link between grain-free dog food and dilated cardiomyopathy.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (“DCM”) is a heart condition that decreases the heart’s ability to pump blood.
Between 1 January 2014 and 30 April 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) received 524 reports of DCM (515 for dogs and 19 for cats). They have opened an investigation on what these dogs were eating and found that 90% were on grain-free diets and 93% were on diets that contained peas and/or lentils. A smaller proportion contained potatoes or sweet potatoes.
As of the date of this article, the FDA has not fully proven the relationship between grain-free diets for dogs and the development of DCM. The investigation is still ongoing.
Why would grain-free pet food contribute to DCM, especially in dogs? It might not be as simple as grain-free or not grain-free because the amount of other ingredients of concern complicates the issue. For instance, a deficiency of taurine can also cause DCM in pets.
How Freeze-Dried Raw Pet Food Is Different?
Freeze-dried raw pet food like GraceFull RAW, does not contain grains and other carbohydrates used to replace grains such as potatoes, peas and lentils. The only ingredients are what nature intended for both cats and dogs — meat, vital organs, egg yolk and bones. It is not just grain-free but is also free from any other ingredients that could potentially cause issues for your pet.
Conclusion: Grain-Free Cat Food in Malaysia, Is It Better?
Let us recap some of the facts about “grain-free”:
- Grain-free product is gluten-free. But gluten-free does not mean is grain-free.
- Grain-free pet food is generally more palatable than grain pet food.
- Although uncommon, cats or dogs can be allergic to grains, especially wheat.
- Grain-free does not necessarily mean low-carb or carb-free.
- Grain-free does not necessarily mean high meat.
- Carbohydrates-containing ingredients are essential for the making of kibbles, regardless it is grain-free pet food or pet food with grain.
- There is no established relationship between a grain-free diet and DCM yet.
So, while you’re looking for grain-free cat food in Malaysia, consider whether grain-free cat food is better for your pet.
Indeed, it all comes down to what “grain-free” means in terms of the food and, of course, which suits the best for your pet’s condition. It is also important to monitor your pet’s intake of carbohydrates because many pet foods including the reputable ones contain far too many carbohydrates, ranging from 46% to 74%. 1
A freeze-dried raw pet food diet is a good way to reap the benefits of a truly grain-free diet, without worrying about risks that come from fillers or grains-substitute.
Learn more about GraceFull RAW Freeze-Dried Pet Food here.
1 National Research Council, National Academy of Science, “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats”, 2006 Edition, National Academies Press, Washington, DC, p 317