As any dog owner can attest, the modern pet food market is practically bubbling over with choice.
At least that’s the way it seems. Producers certainly do a wonderful job of making it feel like they’re offering consumers an abundance of choices, with “Limited Ingredient Diets,” “High Protein Diets,” and, of course, “Grain-Free Diets” being just a few of the more popular varietals on offer.
In recent years, the term “grain-free” has enjoyed a particularly good run. Industry analyses suggest that it already is one of the most popular segments of the pet food market and that its popularity is continuing to grow. It seems clear that the term “grain-free” has become, in many circles, an indicator of premium quality and healthfulness.
But what does it actually mean for a pet food to be “grain-free”? Are there any real, demonstrable health benefits to these products? And, if so, which brands do the best job of providing those benefits?
I’ll save the time-pressed among you some suspense. The short answers are “less than you think,” “not necessarily,” and “Ketona, and to a lesser extent a few of the others listed below.”
Now, for those looking to understand the conceptual framework behind these answers (or extend lunch hour by a few minutes), a bit of elaboration.
What Does “Grain-Free” Really Mean?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials is the body that, for all intents and purposes, regulates the majority of what can and cannot be printed on a pet food label. And AAFCO considers the following ingredients to be “grain products”: barley, corn, grain sorghum, oats, wheat, rice, and rye. So, naturally, any “grain-free” pet food cannot contain any of those ingredients.
Now, if you know a bit about how pet food is manufactured, you might think this list would pose a problem or two for manufacturers intent on making “grain-free” dry kibble products. For one, these commodity crops are all among the cheapest sources of calories known to man—and that’s not exactly good news for a profit-minded manufacturer.