Does Grain Free Dog Food Cause Loose Stools?

Photo by Mike Mozart on Flickr

Grain-free dog food is often regarded as the holy grail of dog food, cutting out gluten and introducing more meat to your pup’s diet.

You know, since dogs are allergic to gluten and they actually need a diet that contains an abundance of raw meat and other forms of protein.

But, is it really that great? Are dogs really allergic to gluten and grain? Are there any side effects to grain-free food, like loose stools?

And, if so, how do you get around that? And, does grain-free food really contain more meat than the traditional alternative? Let’s find out.

What is grain-free dog food?

Traditional dog food includes grains like wheat, corn, barley, oats, rye, rice, and soy. Grain-free dog food excludes these carbohydrates from their recipes.

Now, Rover still needs carbs in his diet, or he won’t have enough energy. For this reason, grain-free dog foods incorporate potatoes and pea flour as alternative carb sources

How is it different from traditional dog food?

Grain-free dog food incorporates alternative carbohydrate sources in their formulations. These include potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, lentils, and quinoa. Note that grain-free doesn’t necessarily mean gluten-free. If your pup is gluten intolerant, check the label before you purchase anything. If you’re opting for mass-produced dog food (like most of us), also remember that cross-contamination often occurs in the factories. This means that your pup’s food could contain traces of ingredients that he’s sensitive to.

Some grain-free dog foods incorporate a more significant portion of meat in their formulations compared to traditional dog foods. Don’t be fooled, though. Grain-free isn’t always of superior quality and high in meat. Since grains are substituted for other carbs, some formulations may contain even less meat than traditional ones.

What are the benefits of grain-free food?

According to Dr. Kurt Venator, an expert at Purina, some dogs benefit from grain-free diets. These benefits include a healthier coat and skin since grain-free dog foods generally contain more omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids than the traditional alternative.

High-quality grain-free dog foods contain fewer fillers that dogs can’t digest. Since your pup now uses up a more significant portion of his food, he poops less and in smaller quantities. So, cleaning up after him is suddenly a far easier job. This also means less of that smelly doggy farts.

The grain in traditional dog food forms a film over your pup’s teeth, which causes that horrible doggy breath. Switching to grain-free food minimized the formation of this yucky layer, improving your pup’s breath. That said, you don’t necessarily need to switch his diet for this – giving him the correct type of chews cleans his teeth too.

When you opt for high-quality grain-free dog food, the manufacturers probably won’t use highly processed ingredients. These low-cost processed ingredients are common in cheaper traditional kibble. These processed grains have all the good energy stripped away, leaving your pup lethargic. Making the switch could improve his energy levels quite a bit.

Are there any side effects of grain-free dog food?

Most people assume that grain-free dog food is also carb-free. Don’t be fooled! Grain-free dog food often contains more carbs than the traditional alternative. When your pup has more than his fair share of this stuff, he’ll balloon quickly and end up suffering from all those ailments associated with overweight dogs. So, if your pooch is on a grain-free diet, watch his intake and stick to the recommended daily allowance. 

The added carbohydrates could also cause a swarm of the wrong bacteria in Rover’s gut, which is bad for digestive health. He could also suffer from a lack of energy because the carbohydrates in his food come in an unexpected form, and his body doesn’t know how to deal with it—poor pup.

Then, there are severe cases of DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy). In plain speak: an enlarged heart. From January to March 2019, the FDA investigated over 500 cases of DCM in dogs, of which 115 died. As you can imagine, this condition is severe and should receive proper attention.

They found that the majority of these dogs followed a grain-free diet. However, the link here isn’t straightforward – feeding your dog grain-free food won’t necessarily kill him. The strongest link was found in the ingredients used in these dog food formulations. 

The study is ongoing and super complicated, but it seems that peas, lentils, and sweet potatoes are reported more than other ingredients in DCM cases. But, that depends on your dog’s breed and the dog food brand you used. In short, they don’t quite know yet and are still unraveling the mystery that all started with a big bang! I digress. 

In short, your pup could gain unwanted weight, and he could develop an enlarged heart. These could all be linked to specific ingredients in his food, but not necessarily.

Is grain-free food healthier?

This is a tough one and potentially contentious, like asking whether going vegan or trying the keto diet is healthier. In short, it depends. Some dogs benefit from a grain-free diet, while others don’t. If you’re unsure of which route to take with your pup, chat to your vet. She’ll help you find dog food that’s well suited to your dog’s age, size, life stage, and whatever other health concerns you may have. When choosing a dog food, check that it is balanced and complete. In other words, this food should contain all the nutrients your pup needs, with no boosters or additives required. 

Some people say that their pup’s allergies are caused by the grains in their food. This is rare, however, affecting less than one percent of dogs. In fact, most allergic reactions are to the meat or protein source of the dog food. Yikes!

The benefits of grains in dog food must also be taken into account. They add nutritional value to your pup’s diet – things like B vitamins, iron, selenium, and magnesium. Then, of course, there are carbs, which are an essential energy source. Grains also provide fiber, which aids in digestion.

People often assert that grain dog food contains all sorts of junk since the manufacturers dump any low-quality ingredients they can get cheaply in there. In some cases, this is undoubtedly true. Unfortunately, this is also valid for grain-free dog foods.

What are the leading causes of loose stool in dogs?

The causes of doggy diarrhea are legion. We all know that dogs eat just about anything, which complicates this situation even further. Generally, the main causes of loose stools in dogs are eating garbage (literally), sudden changes in diet, sensitivity to certain ingredients, allergies, parasites like roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm, and poisoning. Then, there’s the time where Rover swallowed a dozen of your socks. Or, he could have some viral infection, like parvovirus or distemper, or a bacterial infection like salmonella. Loose stools could indicate illnesses like kidney or liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or even cancer. It could be that your pup is already ill and reacting badly to his medication, or he could be stressed or emotionally upset.

When your pup has diarrhea and home treatment isn’t doing the trick, it’s best to take him to the vet.

Does wet dog food cause loose stool?

If you switch from dry to wet dog food too fast, your dog might have some loose stools for a while. If you make this switch slowly, Rover would probably suffer no nasty side effects. Wet food is generally tastier than kibble (well, duh) but contains a lot of water. So, it’s generally less nutritious than kibble. Not great if you have a giant St Bernard to feed

Besides a sudden dietary switch, your pup could be allergic to wheat gluten or dairy, which makes its way into some dog foods. Since wet dog food usually contains less wheat than kibble, it might be a good option for your pup.

What foods can you feed dogs to firm up stool?

Okay, so your pup could have loose stools from grain, or wet food, or scavenging, or basically anything else that he stuffed his mouth with but wasn’t supposed to eat. Now what? Luckily, there’s a bunch of stuff that can help firm up his stools, and they’re available right there in your pantry. Grandma was right on this one too. Here are some things you could add to Fido’s regular diet to help him along:

–          Plain boiled rice

–          Pumpkin (canned or sautéed)

–          Carrots

–          Boiled skinless chicken

–          Boiled skinless potatoes

–          Cottage cheese

–          Boiled eggs

Does grain-free food cause loose stools?

If you switch your dog to new food too quickly, he could have loose stools. If you switch slowly, your pup should be fine, as long as he’s not allergic to any of the ingredients. Grain-free dog food doesn’t contain the carbs usually found in dog food, like wheat or corn. Instead, manufacturers use other carb sources, like potato, sweet potato, or peas. It also doesn’t necessarily contain more meat – there are cheaper, plant-based alternatives available.

If your dog has loose stools due to diet, the culprit is often the protein source in his food, not the grains or gluten. While some dogs benefit from grain-free diets, it could also have unwanted side effects, like sudden weight gain. Grain-free dog food is generally more nutrient-rich than the traditional alternative, so manage the portion sizes.

Before switching up your pup’s diet, talk to your vet about the right solution for your pup’s breed, size, age, and other medical considerations.