Can Gluten-Free Cat & Dog Food Reduce Your Celiac Disease Symptoms?

The Benefits of Eliminating Trace Gluten in the Household

Dogs eating dog food out of bowls
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If you follow the gluten-free diet and want to eliminate every trace of gluten in your house, you need to look to your pets' bowls along with your own food: dog and cat foods—especially dry foods—frequently contain whole wheat and pure wheat gluten, and many also contain the gluten grain barley.

Manufacturers use wheat gluten along with protein from corn in pet foods because those foods need to contain protein to be nutritionally complete, and wheat and corn are much less expensive than animal-based proteins from beef, poultry, or fish.

Barley, on the other hand, is added to pet food to provide fiber, plus calories from carbohydrates.

Some people choose pet foods without gluten grains (or even without any grains at all) because they believe those gluten-free or grain-free foods are best for their pets. But for people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity with pets in their households, choosing a gluten-free pet food actually can become a way to improve their own health.

Why Choose Gluten-Free Pet Foods?

When starting the gluten-free diet, you obviously first need to focus on the foods you put in your mouth, making those foods as gluten-free as possible. Many people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity begin to feel better right away simply by eliminating gluten from their diets.

However, some people don't feel better right away, and others feel better initially but then feel worse again after a while. There are several possible reasons this may occur (including reasons which have nothing to do with gluten).

But one possible reason is that those who don't feel better or who relapse happen to be more sensitive than most to trace gluten. For them, having a gluten-free kitchen and gluten-free household is important. These sensitive people also may react to airborne gluten, such as the dust from dry pet food.

At the same time, many people with pets allow those pets to stay in pretty close contact with their humans—on their laps, in their beds, and in their kitchens. Lots of people feed their pets in a corner of their kitchens (where that dust from dry food could spread), and some people even kiss their dogs on the mouth (yes, you can get glutened from kissing someone, even your dog).

You can see how feeding your pet gluten-filled dog or cat food could be a problem in this instance. Anecdotally, there are some people with celiac and gluten sensitivity who say gluten-free pet food was the final puzzle piece that allowed them to feel better. It's not clear how many people might fall into this category—researchers have never studied the issue. But it's certainly helped at least a few people with celiac and gluten sensitivity.

In addition, if you have a young child with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you definitely should consider feeding your pets gluten-free food. Toddlers and younger children tend to get into everything, and it's not that unusual to find them sharing kibble occasionally with Rover or Spot. Supplying gluten-free kibble will eliminate yet another possible source of gluten-y trouble.

Gluten-free and grain-free pet foods do have one downside: they tend to be more expensive than other dog and cat foods (mostly because they contain more expensive ingredients). If you're interested in purchasing gluten-free dog or cat food, below are lists of possible brands.

Gluten-Free Dog Foods

The following dog foods don't contain gluten ingredients:

  • Blue Buffalo: This independent pet food manufacturer makes a wide variety of dog foods, none of which contain gluten ingredients. From the company's website: "Why is it so important that there is no corn, wheat or soy in BLUE products? Corn, wheat and soy have all been identified as potential allergens for some dogs and cats." Some Blue Buffalo dog foods also are grain-free, including the company's Freedom dog food line and its Blue Wilderness products (look for the "100% Grain-Free" badge on the packaging).
  • Hill's Science Diet Grain-Free dry dog food: Many pet owners are familiar with Hill's, which sells prescription pet foods along with retail options. Note that the majority of Hill's Science diet dog foods are not gluten-free (most contain barley), so stick only with the dry food that's specifically labeled "grain-free."
  • Iams grain-free formula: This popular dog food brand makes several gluten-free and grain-free options. Either stick with the Iams Grain Free Naturals dry food, or choose your product carefully, since Iams does make some products that contain barley.
  • Purina gluten-free and grain-free dog foods: The Purina Beyond and Pro Plan lines of dog food include some gluten-free and grain-free options. Beware, though: while Beyond Ranch-Raised Lamb and Whole Barley is listed as "grain-free" on Purina's website, it clearly is not, since barley is the third ingredient. Always read the ingredients.
  • Taste of the Wild dry canine formula: This grain-free product uses sweet potatoes, peas, and regular potatoes as its source of carbohydrates instead of grains. It comes in several flavors, including bison & venison, lamb, salmon, and wildfowl.
  • Wellness Pet Food: Wellness has four lines of dog food—Core, Complete Health, Simple, and TruFood. Core, Complete Health, and TruFood products (both wet and dry foods) are gluten-free and grain-free, while some Simple dog foods contain oatmeal (while this isn't gluten-free oatmeal, I wouldn't worry about having it in your home unless you've proven to be exceptionally sensitive to oats as well as gluten grains).

Gluten-Free Cat Foods

The following cat foods don't contain gluten ingredients:

  • Blue Buffalo: Like this manufacturer's dog foods, all Blue Buffalo cat food is gluten-free, including wet and dry varieties. If grain-free cat food is important to you, look for the Blue Freedom cat food line, Blue Basics, or Blue Wilderness foods.
  • Hill's Ideal Balance: This variety of Hill's cat food comes in both wet and dry formulas. All are gluten-free. Some Ideal Balance cat foods contain brown rice and/or brewer's rice, making them gluten-free but not grain-free.
  • Instinct: Billed as "the raw brand," this manufacturer makes limited-ingredient grain-free cat foods that are free of dairy, eggs, potato, corn, wheat, soy and artificial ingredients in both dry and wet varieties. The company also makes grain-free Nature's Variety Pride by Instinct canned cat food in a variety of flavors. All are gluten-free.
  • Purina Beyond Natural grain-free formulas: Unlike the better-known Purina Cat Chow (which contains ground whole wheat), Purina's Beyond Natural cat food line does not contain wheat, corn, or soy. However, you'll need to stick with the grain-free flavors, since the others contain barley.
  • Wellness Pet Food: For cats, stick with Wellness Core products, which are gluten-free and grain-free. Note that Wellness also offers a Complete Health line of cat foods—for those, most of the dry foods include barley as a main ingredient, although the canned foods do not include gluten ingredients.
  • Weruva: This company makes cat food only in cans and pouches, so it will all be "wet." All varieties are gluten-free and grain-free, and include recipes like "Paw Lickin' Chickin" and "Meow Luau" that may please both cats and their humans.

How to Find Gluten-Free Pet Foods

You should be aware when shopping for gluten-free pet foods that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's rules on gluten-free labeling don't apply to these products (those rules apply only to food products aimed at humans, not humans' best friends).

For example, a dog or cat food product might be labeled "gluten-free," but that could mean the food is free of the ingredient corn gluten (corn gluten is more commonly used than wheat gluten, but despite the confusing name doesn't actually contain the gluten protein that makes people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity sick). In this case, a product labeled "gluten-free" still could contain whole barley or even whole wheat grains. It might also contain barley malt, another gluten-containing ingredient. Yes, this would be inaccurate labeling, but remember: no one's policing these labels, and it does happen sometimes.

Obviously, a pet food that contains whole wheat, whole barley, or barley malt isn't "gluten-free" by FDA standards, and wouldn't suit someone who's trying to maintain a gluten-free household. So shop carefully, and don't put too much stock in the catch-phrases found on the front of packages—study the ingredients on every product before purchasing.

However, you'll likely be pleased to learn that you don't need to worry too much about gluten cross-contamination—unlike with foods you yourself might eat (which you want to be as free of gluten as possible), you're highly unlikely to get glutened simply by feeding your pet a product that contains very low levels of gluten.

A Word From Verywell

Not everyone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity needs to worry about buying gluten-free pet food. Some people do just fine feeding their cats and dogs food that contains barley or wheat ingredients, just as some people do just fine sharing a kitchen with someone who prepares and eats gluten-containing foods.

But if you have pets and you continue to experience symptoms despite following a careful gluten-free diet, you might want to look to their food bowls as one possible source for your symptoms. You might ultimately find it helps you to switch your pets to a food that's gluten-free.

Source:

Kasim S. et al. Nonresponsive Celiac Disease Due to Inhaled Gluten. New England Journal of Medicine 2007; 356:2548-2549.

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