Gluten-free Pet Food: Clever or Crazy?

I never paid much attention to the thought of gluten intolerance for dogs. Even my family acquired its first pup – and struggled with getting him to take his daily Benadryl – I dismissed the idea.

People who purchase gluten-free pet food, I assumed, do so because they worry about cross-contamination and about compromising their own systems (both valid concerns) – not because the gluten might make their dogs sick.

Finally, I decided to do a little more research. I’m coming to the party a little late, but what I found out surprised me.

There are really two schools of thought when it comes to whether or not housepets should be eating gluten. On the one hand is a sizable population which points out that dogs and cats don’t eat much (if any) grain at all in the wild or when left to their own devices. Given that information, they say, it’s illogical to feed them grains as domesticated animals. At best it’s a wasteful source of cheap calories, at worst it’s damaging to their health. There’s quite a bit of information on it at The Whole Dog.

The second school of thought says that some dogs really do have a gluten intolerance. It’s been proven in Irish Setters, but it stands to reason that if one species is susceptible, others are as well. The symptoms are fairly similar to those of humans: GI problems, rashes or other skin problems, lethargy, etc. Just as with humans, they disappear on a gluten-free diet.

Probably the most thorough explanation of both schools of thought – which are not mutually exclusive, mind you – comes from Doug Symes, aka “Dogter J”. You can read his article at Housepet Magazine, or a companion piece Jefferson Adams wrote over at

Gluten-free pet food is, unsurprisingly, generally more expensive than the standard fare. And carbohydrate-free pet food is even moreso. That being said, the benefits seem hard to argue with.

I’m curious: if you have a house pet, what do you feed it? Are your dogs or cats on a gluten-free diet? If so, is it for them or for you?

9 thoughts on “Gluten-free Pet Food: Clever or Crazy?”

  1. Our friend has a dog that definitely has a wheat allergy. When he eats wheat, he gets big patchy bald spots and is terribly itchy. He gets specialty GF pet food made with deer and rice.

  2. Our house is gluten free and so our cat eats grain-free food. She doesn’t need the grains, and I don’t need to handle gluten, so that’s what works for us.

  3. My cats were gluten free before me but that’s mainly because they shouldn’t be eating grains, period. They are obligate carnivores and grains are just filler in cat food that contributes to obesity. Too many commercial brands use corn meal as one of the top three ingredients. I prefer to spend the extra money on a higher quality, grain-free food.

  4. My Lab is on a gluten free diet. I originally thought it was a wheat allergy but after buying food with barley in it, I realized she still had the symptonms. I put her on gluten free food and now she great. I agree with the previous reply stating dogs/cats are not supposed to eat grains. The g/f is 3x the price of regular dog food. So now, we are both g/f!

  5. I’m a nutritionist specializing in celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. I also have celiac and am convinced my big Alaskan Malamute has it as well. He’s been grain free for quite some time now (after almost dying). Here’s a post I did on dogs and celiac disease last year. Sorry, I don’t want to be dropping links into your comment section, but I think it’s important to get this message out. Hope you don’t mind.

    Peace, love and gluten-free pets. =)

  6. I don’t have pets, but when I care for my parent’s cats while they are on vacation, the cats eat gluten free. I simply can’t handle the “regular” cat foods, even wearing a mask and gloves I still have a reaction. Luckily, the cats all seem to love the change in diet!

  7. Hi – came over from Robin’s blog. :) My best friend is a vet who is now getting very involved in nutrition and holistic medicine (acupuncture, etc). We’ve been working to get my dog onto a diet that doesn’t bug his allergies, and I wanted to chime in. For cats, a high protein grain-free diet is a great idea. However, the grain free diets for dogs are not ideal – too much protein can be detrimental. If a food says “for all life stages” for dogs, that means it has enough protein for puppies – which is more protein than an adult (and especially a geriatric) dog should have in a meal.

    That being said, the food my allergic dog gets is gluten-free, but is not grain-free. It’s apparently good for the dogs to have some grains in their diet.

    However – some of those cheap foods use corn and corn gluten meal as cheap filler, and that is NOT good for the pups. (Obviously).

  8. My dog was gluten free before me. Turns out she is actually okay with barley and oats, but when she eats wheat she itches like crazy and scratches herself til she bleeds.

  9. Gluten has no effect on canines. Dog food companies are simply hopping on the gluten scare. Source: Decades in veterinary practice.

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