It isn’t uncommon to see products that do not naturally contain gluten being labelled with “gluten-free” on their packaging.

Gluten-free coconut water and gluten-free tea are just some of the strange gluten-free products I have encountered lately. It is as if the marketing people behind these products thought I might be swayed into buying their products over a competitor’s products just because of their gluten-free label.

I guess this is just part of the latest gluten-free craze sweeping across the world at the moment.

Should We Apply the Gluten-Free Craze on Our Dogs?

We have been conditioned to believe gluten is bad for our health. Therefore, we assume that gluten must be bad for our dogs too.

According to a study by BMC Veterinary Research, the most common food allergies in dogs are beef, dairy products, chicken and wheat.

This may come as a shock to many people because if you try to get a sense of proportion about what is really bad for your dog, beef may be the furthest thing on your mind. It turns out that beef, dairy and chicken are far worse for your dog than wheat!

If your dog is suffering from cutaneous adverse food reactions (CAFRs) and you are trying to figure out the cause of it, eliminating wheat from your dog’s diet is the least likely of the top four food allergens above to be the cause of your dog’s food allergies. BMC Veterinary Research recommends eliminating beef and dairy products first because they are the most common food allergens.

It certainly does no harm if you can provide your dog with a nutritionally complete diet that is free from beef, dairy, chicken and wheat but going out of your way to be 100% gluten-free may not necessarily improve your dog’s health at all.

How Long Have Dogs Been Eating Grains?

According to the three studies below, dogs have been consuming a diet rich in grains since humans started transitioning from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to agriculture and settlement.

  1. The University of Barcelona – Dog burial as a common ritual in Neolithic populations of north-eastern Iberian Peninsula – 14 February 2019
  2. The Royal Society – Amy2B copy number variation reveals starch diet adaptations in ancient European dogs – 1 November 2016
  3. Heredity – Diet adaptation in dog reflects the spread of prehistoric agriculture – 13 July 2016

Researchers from the University of Barcelona discovered that the Neolithic communities of the north-eastern Iberian Peninsula (southwest corner of Europe divided between Spain and Portugal) fed their dogs a diet similar to humans around 3600 to 4200 years ago.

A diet rich in cereal and vegetables, controlled by humans.

The isotopic study of the remains and its comparison with humans’ and other herbivorous animals’ diet in the site shows the diet of most of these animals was similar to the diet of humans, with a high presence of cereal, such as corn, and vegetables. In two puppies and two adult dogs, nutrition was mainly vegetarian and only a few cases had a diet rich in animal protein.

Cereal is defined as any plant of the grass family yielding an edible grain, as wheat, rye, oats, rice, or corn.

What that means is humans living in that region in that particular time fed dogs whatever they were consuming, which was mostly plant-based foods and a bit of meat.

The Royal Society study looked at 13 ancient dog samples between the age of 4000 to 15000 years from today to find evidence of the prevalence of the Amy2B gene in dogs.

The Amy2B gene aids in the digestion of carbohydrates and there is evidence to suggest that some dogs started to have more copies for the Amy2B gene around 7000 years ago. This has allowed dogs to thrive on a starch-rich diet.

The last study by Heredity reported that dogs in regions with prehistoric agriculture carried more copies of the Amy2B gene.

Dogs from regions with prehistoric agriculture carry significantly more AMY2B copies (median 2nAMY2B=11, range: 2–22, n=311) than dogs from regions outside of this area (median 2nAMY2B=3, range: 1–16, n=81) and that the bimodal copy number distribution observed in the global dog population is nearly completely resolved by partitioning dogs into those originating in regions with and without prehistoric agriculture.

It is very clear that dogs evolved from their ancient wolf ancestors with an enhanced ability to digest starch. They no longer need a diet that is mostly meat-based in order to thrive. They have been thriving for the past 7000 years on a mostly plant-based diet.

Conclusion

  • Dogs cannot digest starch properly and cannot thrive on a starch-rich diet. If that were true, then dogs should have died out a long time ago when our ancient ancestors started feeding grains to dogs.
  • Dogs have DNA that is 99% like wolves, therefore, should consume a meat-based like wolves to be healthy and thrive. That may be true for dogs that existed over 7000 years ago but it is no longer necessary for dogs to eat like wolves today.
  • Dogs need grain-free dog food to be healthy and thrive. It is rare for dogs to be allergic to grains. They are more likely to be allergic to beef, dairy and chicken compared to wheat.

I hope that I have helped to dispell the myths and misconceptions above that are prevalent in our modern 21st-century society.

Take it easy. Humans have been doing this for over 7000 years and dogs are still here with us.