If I’m Gluten Free, Should My Dog Be, Too?

You’re fully committed to living the life: using gluten-free lip balm, asking restaurant servers to use a separate pot to boil your gluten-free pasta, scrupulously checking every ingredient list. But what about your best furry friend? If you are gluten-free, should your dog follow a similar diet and stick to gluten-free dog food?

It is possible, though uncommon, for dogs to have celiac disease (more on that later). But for humans who are very sensitive to gluten, pets that are loaded up with glutenous treats can pose a problem to their owners’ health.

According to PetMD, “Many pet owners choose to mimic their own food choices when choosing a food for their pet. With the increase in the number of people choosing to consume a grain free or gluten free diet, pet food manufacturers have recognized that similar pet diets are attractive to pet owners. The popularity of these diets has led to an increase in the number of grain free and gluten free diets available for pets.”

Exposure to Gluten From Dogs

Many people with celiac disease go to great lengths to remove traces of gluten from their home, without realizing pet food may be an irritant. Dogs are in close contact with us in bed, in the kitchen and in the car. If you feed your pet in the kitchen, your dog licks or kisses you or you are sensitive to airborne gluten, dog food with gluten could pose a problem.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Nancy Patin Falini advises, “Those who allow pets to roam freely on kitchen counters, tables, etc., may want to rethink this scenario and teach them to avoid these behaviors.”

She recommends practicing good hygiene and exercising caution when handling pet food with gluten or pets who have just eaten.

“It’s important to wash hands well, as well as nails (the food can lodge under nails) when handling gluten containing pet/animal foods,” Falini said. “It’s prudent to avoid inhaling any possible airborne food ‘dust’ that may be present. Using wet foods over dry may be a wiser option if available.”

For those with a young child with gluten sensitivity, gluten-free dog food may make even more sense. Toddlers might sample dog food from the bowl or kiss a pup on the mouth.

Nicole Sams, whose dog Pippi you may remember from our article on gluten-sniffing service dogs, said her dog is allergic to grains, but it’s safe for Pippi to sniff them out and detect whether they have gluten. Pippi enjoys a gluten-free diet just like Sams. “Salmon and sweet potato kibble is her favorite,” Sams said.

Kerri Caldwell, another dog owner with celiac disease, said she gives both her dogs a gluten-free diet.

“When I first started learning abut celiac disease, gluten-free foods and cross contamination, my dogs were the last thing on my list,” she said. “Which is dumb, because I’m in close contact with them almost 24/7. This journey has been a learning process!”

Everyone Reacts Differently

Though dog food with gluten can potentially be problematic, this is not always the case. Many people who are gluten free for health reasons feed their pets food with wheat and have no problems. If this is the case for you, don’t feel the need to change your dog’s diet. Buying gluten-free dog food can get expensive and is not needed in many cases.

It is not routine for nutritionists to recommend putting pets on a gluten-free diet, Falini said, but it is necessary to consider each person’s individual risks and sensitivity to contamination. However, if a person suffers from symptoms after switching to a gluten-free diet for yourself, one possible consideration is that pet food may be a contributor.

Ultimately, the diet owners feed their pets is a personal choice. No matter what pups eat, Falini recommends consistent hand washing, not preparing or serving dog food near gluten-free human food, keeping can openers clean and storing dog food separately from human food in the kitchen.

“Treat dog food and related supplies clean and separate as you would for a shared household of humans eating both gluten free and gluten,” Falini said.

Dog Foods That Are Gluten Free

Amazon offers an array of gluten-free dog food options that may be a good fit for you and your dog. These brands include Taste of the Wild, Rachael Ray Nutrish, Diamond Pet Foods, Blue Buffalo and Hill’s Ideal Balance.

Make sure to read the ingredients to check for components that may contain gluten, especially wheat and barley, “since regulations for animal food are lacking in this area,” Falini said.

What About Other Pets? 

Little boy feeding fishFalini said one of her patients wasn’t responding well to a gluten-free diet because of her fish food.

“She was feeding her goldfish with food containing wheat without washing her hands,” Falini said. “She would then run out the door, drinking her coffee while driving to work to play piano. This resulted in continued symptoms and elevated antibodies.”

Whether you have guinea pigs, fish, hedgehogs or cats, it is wise to consider gluten-free pet foods “unless meticulous housekeeping is maintained to prevent the potential for inadvertent ingestion when toddlers and young children share the home with pets,” Falini said. She pointed out that cat litter and other animal supplies can also be a source of gluten.

Celiac Disease in Dogs

True celiac disease is rare in dogs, with the exception of Irish Setters, which can have a congenital disease that causes gluten intolerance, and in some cases Samoyeds and Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers. However, even if a dog doesn’t have the true disease, gluten can be a problematic ingredient.

Dogs who are sensitive to glutenous grains may exhibit diarrhea or constipation, vomiting, repetitive chewing the feet, dry and flaky skin, hair loss, bumps, rashes, constant scratching and chronic ear infections, according to The Honest Kitchen. Additionally, they state that other health problems that could be related to grain sensitivity include arthritis, epilepsy, abnormal behavior, allergic and inflammatory reactions and increased susceptibility to infection.

These symptoms can be indicative of other issues outside of a grain intolerance, so check with your vet before changing your dog’s diet if you suspect they may have a sensitivity or allergy. Blood tests, saliva tests and an elimination diet can be ways of confirming why your dog is experiencing these symptoms.

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