Understanding Wheat & Wheat Gluten in Pet Foods

At Van Isle Veterinary Hospital, we often hear people say – “I thought animals can’t digest gluten or Why would I feed my dog or cat wheat or grains?! They wouldn’t eat it in the wild”.

While the latter may be true, we can’t forget that our pets no longer live “in the wild” – we have domesticated them.  As humans, we also used to live “in the wild” and ate as such – but we too have become domesticated mammals. One of the most important aspects of what we all eat is digestibility – in other words – what we eat is actually utilized and digested by our bodies in a beneficial way.  Pure proteins, often advertised as being the main ingredient in wilderness-type diets, are not always easily absorbed by our domesticated pets which can cause for gastro intestinal stress such as:

Most would agree that when we have to pick up our pet’s poops or when our cats are using a litter box, the last thing we want is smelly, sticky poops! What we do want for the health of our pets, is a diet that is easy to digest and utilize the nutrients we feed them.

However, one might now ask:

What about gluten allergies or celiac disease? I mean, if we can’t digest gluten how can our pets?

This is where we need to look at what wheat and wheat gluten is and is it actually beneficial and digestible? Wheat and wheat gluten has been under examination for quite some time – mainly because of the link to celiac disease found in individuals whom must avoid gliadin – a glycoprotein found in gluten sources.  True celiac disease only affects approx. 1 in 100 people (1% of the human population) however we often hear of people who suffer from a gluten sensitivity.  This is more of a concern for those with higher risk factors such as diabetes, blood disorders or for those whom have a genetic predisposition for the condition.  In dogs, gluten-sensitivity is quite rare and is from an intolerance to gliadin but is not an allergy to gluten and consumption of wheat gluten will not cause your pet to develop the disease. Gluten-sensitivity in animals is also rare and seems to affect certain predisposed breeds such as the Irish Setter.

“Should I be worried about gluten in my pet’s food?”

In pet food, gluten is used in a dried powder form and is an excellent protein source with 99% digestibility by the small intestine.  This minimizes the delivery of undigested proteins to the large bowel which reduces indigestion, fecal odour and flatulence thus preventing toxic effects on the mucosa of the colon which helps to lubricate the passage of food. Wheat gluten is a valuable source of protein, it is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and has an amino acid profile that is complimentary to meat protein profiles allowing for nutritional precision – hence why it can be found in most veterinary exclusive diets.  You can rest assured that years of research lie behind the benefits of wheat and wheat gluten and they can be an ideal ingredient for the specific health needs of cats and dogs of all ages, shapes and sizes!

By Heidi – Van Isle Veterinary Hospital