Everything you need to know about Gluten and why your dog must stay clear of it

by Oct 2, 2016Pet Nutrition

I have this conversation at least 3 times every week with different pet parents. Although a lot of reading material on Gluten and Gluten allergies is already available on the Internet, I thought something like this would help pet parents to learn more about their furry baby’s well-being.

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So what is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein that is found mostly in wheat but is also present in other cereal grains, including rye, barley, oats (ALSO SEE: Are Oats Safe to Eat on a Gluten Free Diet?) and buckwheat. It actually is a crude mixture of two other proteins, gliadin and glutenin. It is the gliadin part that people react negatively to. When flour is mixed with water, gluten forms a sticky cross-linked network of proteins, giving elastic properties to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. The name gluten is derived from these glue-like properties. (Gluten means “Glue” in Latin).

Grains that do not contain Gluten are rice, amaranth, millet, corn and quinoa.

Read more about Gluten in this Wikipedia article.

How is Gluten harmful for your dog?

Most dogs digest wheat and other grains just fine and have no adverse effects from having them in their diet. Gluten normally is digested by pancreatic enzymes in the small intestine. However, some dogs – like some hoomans – cannot tolerate gluten. In people, this condition is called “celiac disease.” In dogs, it is called “gluten-induced enteropathy,” “gluten intolerance” or “gluten sensitivity.”

Gluten intolerance isn’t a food allergy. It’s a physical condition in your gut. Basically, undigested gluten proteins hang out in your intestines and are treated by your body like a foreign invader, irritating your gut and flattening the microvilli along the small intestine wall. Without those microvilli, you have considerably less surface area with which to absorb the nutrients from your food. This leads sufferers to experience symptoms of malabsorption, including chronic fatigue, neurological disorders, nutrient deficiencies, anaemia, nausea, skin rashes, depression, and more.

Dogs that are sensitive to gluten develop a chronic small intestinal inflammatory disease if they consume gluten. They have intermittent or persistent diarrhea, lose weight, develop a poor hair coat, lose body condition and just generally fail to thrive.

ALSO SEE: 11 Ways Gluten And Wheat Can Damage Your Health

What are some symptoms of Gluten sensitivity?

Dogs can get eosinophilic gastroenteritis (a chronic disease that disrupts the normal function of the intestines) and it is believed that gluten is the cause. Some dogs react to gluten by itching non-stop, somewhat like the condition Dermatitis Herpetiformis (commonly called DH) that can be a symptom of gluten intolerance in humans. ALSO SEE: Your complete guide to skin problems in dawgies

Diagnosing gluten intolerance is often tricky. The symptoms are too generic and often mistaken for other allergies or medical conditions, and almost always overlooked at the first instance. The tests to confirm gluten sensitivity are expensive and not definitive. The only correct diagnosis is possible by putting the patient on a true Gluten-Free diet for a few weeks and observe. However, this is extremely difficult too since gluten is found in traces in a vast variety of food items. What’s worse is that your baby can’t complain of pain, or discomfort.

If you are a concerned pet parent, look for signs of discomfort, pain, restlessness, diarrhoea, weight-loss, lethargy and/or mood swings in your pets.

We have been feeding wheat for years, why worry now?

True. Wheat (and other grains) have been the staple diet for civilizations for thousands of years. And while the cases of Gluten sensitivity were as rare as 1 in 10,000 hoomans until some 60 years ago, the numbers are close to 1 in 100 today. The exact statistics for dawgies aren’t available, but the trends won’t be very different from hoomans.

So what changed? Why the sudden outbreak? There are many arguments made to explain the growing gluten tolerance in our generation. Some of the most common (and logical) ones are:

  1. Hybridization of grains; ALSO SEE: Is GMO Wheat Increasing Celiac and Gluten Sensitivity?
  2. Industrial milling and processing methods;
  3. Low quality diets and nutritional deficiencies resulting in increased autoimmune disorders.

All of these, paired with poor exercise levels and genetic-predisposition makes gluten intolerance the most notorious lifestyle disorders of our times. The problem worsens with growing age and lowering immunity. ALSO SEE: How to Calculate your Dawgie’s Age?

Do milk products have Gluten?

Research has identified that gluten from mother’s diet can pass into the milk during lactation.  A majority of gluten sensitive individuals do not tolerate milk or dairy based foods.  The staple diet for commercial dairy cows is grain (or by-products from grain). Whether or not glutens from feeding cows grain crosses into dairy is still in question and has not been adequately studied.  Some research shows that dairy can be very problematic to those who already have gastrointestinal inflammation.  Additionally, some research shows that processed dairy (using the enzyme microbial transglutaminase) actually triggers a gluten-like reaction in those with gluten sensitivity.

Why consider a Gluten-free diet for your pooch?

Your dog may or may not be gluten sensitive, the only way to find out is by trying a gluten-free diet for a few months and observe the differences. Even if your furry friend isn’t gluten intolerant, feeding your pet a gluten-free diet will not cause any harm.

Before our pets were domesticated, they ate mainly meat, either killed by themselves or scavenged, supplemented by berries, windfall apples, and other wild fruits and nuts they could find. No grains, definitely no grains.

Gluten-free pet nutrition is a way to bring your cat and dog companions back to the kind of natural, healthy diet that their ancestors thrived on, with the touch of luxury and love that they deserve.

DawgieBowl offers 100% natural, gluten-free and corn-free custom diets that have no synthetic preservatives or additives. Check out our meal plans for your dog now, start here.

Cover Photo Credits: The Huffington Post

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