Is Gluten Bad for Dogs?

Karina Carbo-Johnson, MS
By Karina Carbo-Johnson, MS
Updated: 5/8/20241-2 minutes

Many people have tried gluten free or grain free diets as a way of potentially improving their health and well-being. Now, the dog owners among them are considering the potential benefits of these diets for their dog.

If you’re considering feeding a grain free or gluten free dog food, you first need to understand how dog foods that are “grain free” and “gluten free” are alike - and how they are different:
- Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. In pet food, gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. So, if you are looking for a gluten free diet, then you will need to find dog foods that do not contain wheat, barley, or rye. 
- As the name suggests, grain free dog food recipes do not contain grains, such as wheat, barley, rice, oats, and rye.

Gluten allergies are rare – both in humans and dogs. A small percentage of people have celiac disease (an immune reaction/allergy to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye) and require a gluten-free diet since the gluten proteins found in some cereal grains cause damage to the villi in the small intestine and impair their ability to effectively absorb nutrients.2 However, less than 1% of dogs have a true sensitivity to grain. In dogs, this sensitivity is called gluten-sensitive enteropathy. It is a rare inherited disease reported only in a small number of Irish Setters in the UK. It is not the same disease process as celiac disease in humans.

Unless your dog has been diagnosed with a medical condition that requires a gluten free or grain free diet, the choice to feed your dog a diet free of both is a decision based on your preferences. If you feel that this would be an option for your dog, you’ll find that there are a number of quality gluten free and grain free products available. 

It’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian if you have any questions about your dog’s nutritional needs or before you switch him to a gluten free or grain free dog food.

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