As cat parents, we all want to choose a diet for our fur babies that will help them thrive and live their best life. A huge part of your cat's overall health stems from their diet, so choosing the right food for them is an important decision. Grain free cat food has become hugely popular, but is it really better for your cat?
Today we'll be exploring what grain free cat food is, whether grains are bad for cats and if your cat really needs a grain free diet (or if it's just a trend).
Do cats need grain free cat food?
No dilly-dallying about, let's jump right in and answer the big question on your mind. The answer to this question is ... No.
It's short and sweet, but it really is as simple as that. Cat's do not NEED a grain free diet. What's more there is no evidence to suggest it's any healthier for your cat either.
Follow on to find out why...
So, what is grain free cat food?
There's no trickery in the name, grain free cat food simply means that the recipe doesn't include any grains. There are many different grains, but the most common ones found in cat food are wheat, corn, oats, barley, and rice. Grains can be processed in many different ways, resulting in by-products like flour, starch, hulls, bran, or gluten. If a grain hasn't been processed and still contains the hull, germ, and endosperm it's considered a wholegrain.
What's the difference between grain free and gluten free cat food?
There's a common misconception that grain free and gluten free are the same thing, but we'd like to dispell that now as it's not the case. As we've just mentioned, gluten is present in some grains, but not all. These include wheat, barley, and rye, amongst others. Therefore a cat food recipe could be gluten free, but still contain grain. If you're looking for a gluten free cat food
This means that if your cat requires a gluten free diet, due to an allergy (VERY rare), they don't also need a grain free diet. You will just need to avoid the grains that do include gluten by thoroughly checking the front/back of the pack.
Are grains bad for cats?
Our meat-loving kitties are obligate carnivores. This means it's biologically essential for them to feed primarily on animal meat, as they're unable to synthesise certain amino acids. Some of these include arginine and taurine, which aren't found in vegetable proteins, only animal proteins. Therefore it's important to not just look at the analytical protein % of your cat's food, but the ingredients too, as not all proteins are equal. Some cat food naughtily contains high levels of pea protein, which can make the protein % look high, but won't provide your cat with the essential amino acids they need.
So stand with us and say No PEAS PLEASE. We never include pea protein in any of our cat food recipes.
However, some wrongly interpret this to mean they should exclusively eat animal meat. The two main arguments in favour being:
- You don't see cats in the wild (lions) eating barley or veggies - This argument is flawed for two main reasons. 1) your little lap cat isn't a lion (as much as they might disagree) 2) cats in the wild don't necessarily eat a perfect diet.
- Cats are unable to ingest carbohydrates - This is also untrue as cats 'can digest carbohydrates and absorb and utilise glucose in a manner similar to other species such as dogs. (Verbrugghe and Hesta, 2017)
Cats require nutrients, not ingredients, so vegetables and grains can still provide our kitties with important nutritional benefits.
The grain free low carb myth
Besides from its association with being more premium, grain free food is also often wrongly thought of as lower carb. To determine whether the recipe is low carbohydrate you should always check the analytical constituents of the recipe, rather than just looking at the ingredients. All ingredients contain some level of carbohydrate, so even if the recipe is grain free, it could still have a higher carbohydrate level than one that isn't.
To make conventional cat food carbohydrates are essential to bind the recipe together, particuarly for dry food. So even if the recipe says it's grain free, it will still NEED carbohydrates, but they'll just be from a different source. For example legumes or potatoes.
Can grains cause diabetes in cats?
Due to the above misconception, some also believe that grains can increase the likelihood of your cat developing feline diabetes. This is not the case as we've just explained because grains do not equate to higher carb. There's also a lack of evidence to suggest that high carbohydrate diets cause diabetes either (Laflamme, 2020).
Do grains cause obesity?
Following on the same thought process as above, it's also often believed that grains cause obesity due to having a higher calorie content from the carbohydrates. This is not only untrue as grain-inclusive recipes don't mean they are higher carbohydrate, but also because carbohydrates themselves can't be blamed for obesity. It's true that too much of anything can cause weight gain, but an increased fat intake is much more likely to result in obesity. A study even found that a low carb high fat diet resulted in increased weight gain vs. a high carb low fat diet. Primarily due to fat having double the calories per gram compared to carbohydrates. And another study of 77 different pet foods found that the calories were similar in both types of diet, so feeding grain vs no grain doesn't equate to more or less calories.
What to do if your cat has a grain intolerance
There are some rare cases when your kitty should avoid grains. Such as if your cat has been diagnosed by a vet with an intolerance to a certain grain, or several of them. Some of the symptoms to look out for if they do have an allergy include hair loss, itchiness, scabs, or intestinal issues. Our range of wet cat food recipes are naturally grain free, so check them out if you need a grain free option.
It's important to remember though that food intolerances are much much rarer than you probably think. And intolerances to grains are even rarer. It's commonly animal proteins like chicken that cause the most food allergies in cats. The only way to assess whether your cat has a food allergy is via an elimination diet, which can take over 6 months.
What are the benefits of wholegrains for cats?
Cats can enjoy a number of nutritional benefits from grains just like we do. Grains are a good source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. With fibre being particularly important if you're on a mission for the perfect poop. See more of our tips on how to achieve the perfect poop here.
We use rice in our dry cat food which is easily digestible and easy on sensitive tummies. Especially if your cat has digestive issues.
Is grain free cat food just a trend?
The term grain free (amongst others like gluten free) has become increasingly synonymous for 'better quality pet food' in recent years. This rise in popularity is in part due to the humanisation of pet food, and its imitation of human food trends. So as low carb diets became 'fashionable' amongst humans, pet parents assumed that what was 'good' for them, was also good for their pets. We are not cats, as I hope you noticed the last time you looked in a mirror, so our needs are not the same.
So let's get this all sussed, grain free is a marketing term, not a health term, and has no backing of any kind of benefits for your cat. Therefore whatever the label on your cat's food, whether it's grain free, gluten free or whether it does include grains, it has no connection to the quality or 'healthiness' of it for your cat.
How to choose which cat food is best
Every cat is different so depending on things like their breed, lifestage, and activity levels will have different dietary requirements. There are many different cat foods out there, so do lots of research and talk to your vet to find the best option for you. Avoid looking out for marketing terms like grain free or hypoallergenic cat food, and instead, look at the ingredients and analytical constituents. Look for a high % of animal protein that's nutritious and delicious, and don't forget to say no to pea protein!
We start with the gut with all our recipes, adding probiotics and slippery elm for healthy digestion, immune function, and pretty poops. Our cat food recipes are packed with responsibly sourced animal meat, minimum of 75%, and never any pea protein. We also offer recipes to suit a whole range of dietary requirements, with all our recipes being free from gluten and our wet cat food recipes being naturally grain free for those with intolerances or allergies. Plus, the majority of our treats are made in the UK, with a commitment to eco-friendly packaging that helps your kitty leave a lighter pawprint.