Like humans, dogs can have sensitivities to gluten and can even suffer from celiac disease. Here's what you need to know.
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As more gluten-free food options pop up in grocery stores and on menus, some people are still wondering what gluten is. In short it is a protein found in wheat that maintains the shape of food. It is also found in rye, barley and a cross between rye and wheat called triticale.
Increased gluten-free options are a good thing, especially for people who have a gluten allergy or suffer from celiac disease. People who are celiac can’t eat gluten because they have an immune reaction when they eat gluten which can lead to serious complications.
While people have become more aware of gluten in their own diets some may be left wondering can my dog eat gluten?
Gluten is typically harmless for dogs, but just like humans, some dogs may experience discomfort from eating gluten, according to The Honest Kitchen.
Claudio Salem, Veterinarian Council at organic dog food company Paw Foods, said some dogs can suffer from celiac disease.
“In the same way that humans, there will be dogs that will be gluten sensitive, they will develop what is called a celiac disease. And for those dogs, then the benefit doesn't (outweigh) the cost,” Salem told USA TODAY.
Gluten can be found in dog food through the presence of grain, which is a popular ingredient in many pet foods because it is a low-cost way to get more protein into pet food. According to MyPlate.gov, grains are any food that are made from wheat, rice, cornmeal, oats, barley and other cereal grains.
People who suffer from celiac disease only react to gluten found in rye, barley and wheat.
According to the American Kennel Club, grains do not cause food allergies, but they can be the “target of allergies, and some foods are more allergenic than others. Those foods are specific ones, such as wheat, not general categories, such as grains.”
Like humans it is unknown what causes celiac disease in humans and dogs, the Honest Kitchen says, but the good news is most dogs do not suffer from it.
However, Salem said over time dogs who do suffer from gluten sensitivity may be unable to absorb important nutrients because of how their body responds to gluten.
“The digestive system will perceive a harm and will produce immunoglobulins, which is (a) kind of antibodies against that harm, and that will cause an inflammation of the intestine. So in the long term, what may happen is that you are not absorbing the nutrients that you actually need and not just the gluten itself,” Salem said.
It can be difficult for pet owners to know if their dog has a sensitivity to gluten. While humans can easily identify if they are experiencing discomfort from the food they eat, they are not always as quick to identify this in their pets, Salem said.
“You may go to your physician or you'll tell others and if you do that continually, you're certainly going to ask for help, so it's hard for a most empathetic owner to perceive that his dog is kind of having a mild discomfort, not digesting well,” Salem said.
Salem said dogs suffering from gluten sensitivity can also inhibit symptoms that their owners may not connect to gluten including soft stool that is becoming more persistent, diarrhea with mucus and their pets becoming lethargic.
Additionally, unlike humans, since dogs generally eat the same food every day if they are suffering from a sensitivity to gluten they will be forced to continue to eat food that is making them sick, Salem said.
“Because we do feed our dogs every day with the same food, they have no time to recover so if that has gluten, they will be receiving gluten every day, twice a day and the inflammation in the gut will just grow up, and never recover.” Salem said.
Salem said while some believe that Irish Settlers are more likely than other breeds to suffer from a gluten sensitivity, there is not enough data to know which breeds are more susceptible.
“We do have certain statistics on humans and it's believed that about one in every 133 humans will have celiac disease ... but for dogs, we don't have data," Salem said.
If you suspect your dog is sensitive to gluten, you may want to change their diet to gluten-free. Salem said since grain is a cheap source of protein for dogs, it is often found in dog food.
“Gluten is found in grains, which is a cheaper source of protein for the dog food industry, every dog food will have grain, and if it does not, the price of it will go up."
However, since the benefits of grains for dogs with a gluten sensitivity do not outweigh the harms, choosing a gluten-free diet for those dogs can be beneficial, Salem said.
“I would not blame the grains because of the gluten, but for those dogs that have celiac disease, you know, again, the benefits of eating grains are not enough to overcome the harm of eating gluten,” Salem said.
Some gluten-free dog food options include all foods by Paw Foods, dry Blue Buffalo Basics and dry Taste of the Wild.
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