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Gluten-Free Cat Foods Overview

Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff
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You've heard about people "going gluten-free." What about pets? Would your pet benefit from a gluten-free diet? Today's marketplace offers many tasty, nutritionally complete gluten-free pet foods specially formulated for optimal nutritional benefit and support of your pet's overall health.

"Gluten" in pet food describes the protein portion of grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is naturally absent from rice, corn, potatoes, millet, quinoa, and most varieties of oats. Gluten provides an excellent source of protein for animals not sensitive to it.

"Gluten-free" does not always mean "grain-free"

Although a pet food may be labeled as gluten-free, it may still contain grains like rice, corn, oats, millet, and quinoa, since these grains naturally contain no gluten. If you wish to feed your cat absolutely no grain, choose a completely grain-free cat food.

Why go gluten-free?

Despite widespread belief to the contrary, most cats can easily digest grains, including grains that contain gluten. A small number of cats, however, may react negatively to gluten and exhibit gastrointestinal, skin, and/or ear problems. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity/intolerance may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic dry and flaky skin
  • Skin redness, bumps, or rashes
  • Constant scratching
  • Hair loss
  • Chronic ear infections

Cats regularly exhibiting these symptoms may benefit from a gluten-free diet. It is important, however, to remember that these same symptoms may result from many other causes; work closely with your veterinarian to obtain a proper diagnosis before assuming gluten is the culprit.

Visit your veterinarian for proper diagnosis

Your veterinarian will evaluate your cat's condition and perform specific tests to help make a diagnosis. If your veterinarian suspects true gluten sensitivity, he or she will recommend an elimination diet/food trial. First, you'll switch your cat to a gluten-free food. If feeding this food results in little or no symptom improvement, you'll then switch to a grain-free food. If your cat is truly gluten- or grain-intolerant, this dietary switch should help him feel much better. Be sure to select a food appropriate for your cat's age/life stage and involve your veterinarian throughout the process.

Outstanding options for gluten-free feeding

A large variety of dry, canned, and commercial raw foods simplifies gluten-free feeding like never before. Choose from many styles and recipes for delectable, gluten-free dining:

Transition to gluten-free gradually

Remember to consult your veterinarian before making any major changes to your pet's diet. Introduce the new gluten-free food slowly. Mix 10% of the new food with 90% of the old food on the first day, then increase the quantity of the new food by 10% while simultaneously decreasing the quantity of the old food by 10% each day over the first 10 days. If your cat is older, sick, or finicky, extend the transition time to 3-4 weeks. If your cat experiences loose stools or an upset stomach, you've likely transitioned to the new food too quickly; simply slow your transition until digestive upsets resolve.

Whether your cat is experiencing unpleasant gastrointestinal, skin, or ear symptoms, or you simply wish to take his diet in a new direction, gluten-free foods can offer great textures, flavors, and important nutritional benefits.

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