3 Health Benefits of Grain Free Cat Food – Based on Science

Last Updated on: November 23, 2020

There are so many different types of cat food out there, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which one is going to suit your cat best.

Grain free cat food is becoming more popular, and you’ve probably seen plenty of options on the shelves of your local pet food store.

Grain free cat food doesn’t contain corn, wheat, barley, rice, or oats. While it’s a great option for some cats, it won’t benefit others all that much.

So, what exactly are the health benefits of feeding your cat a grain free diet? Is this a switch that will benefit your cat?

There’s a great deal of information out there, but some of this is based on our perceptions of what’s beneficial, rather than any actual scientific evidence.

So, let’s take a look! We’ve backed up our information with recent scientific studies.

cat face divider 2

1. Grain free cat food is great for cats with allergies

cat eating
Image: Pexels
Many cats suffer from allergies. Signs that your cat might have a food allergy include:
  • Excessive grooming
  • Inflamed skin
  • Bald patches and hair loss
  • Scabs or open sores
  • Itchiness

Corn can be the cause of allergies in cats, but it’s not the culprit as frequently as you might think. The most common ingredients associated with food allergies in cats are beef, dairy, and fish! So, while cats definitely can suffer from an allergy to grains such as corn, you might need to look closely at the other ingredients as well.

If your cat does suffer from an allergy to corn or another grain, then removing this from their diet is the best way to ease their symptoms.

Choosing a grain free and limited ingredient diet is the safest way to eliminate certain ingredients and see if your cat’s symptoms improve. Given what we know about beef, dairy, and fish allergies, then turkey-based food is recommended as your safest option.


2. They’re usually high in protein

fluffy grey cat with food
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock

Our cat friends are what’s known as “obligate carnivores,” meaning they need to eat a diet that’s based on a high percentage of animal protein. Making sure our cats eat a diet that’s high in protein is the best way to mimic their natural diet.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that cat food for adult cats should have a minimum of 26% protein, and for kittens, it’s higher, at 30% minimum.

Grain free cat food is usually higher in protein than their counterparts, but it’s always worth checking the label! If a cat food states that it provides “complete and balanced nutrition for adult cats” or “complete and balanced nutrition for kittens,” then you know it contains the minimum percentages of each nutrient, including protein, as recommended by the AFFCO for that particular life stage.

As a guide, look for a portion of cat food with two or two and a half times the amount of protein compared to fat, and the balance should be about right.


3. Grain free cat food usually contains fewer carbohydrates

cat looking up from food dish
Image Credit: fantom_rd, Shutterstock

Grains contain carbohydrates, so in theory at least, grain free cat food should be lower in carbs. Too much carbohydrate in your cat’s food can lead to obesity and diabetes.

Even though cats are obligate carnivores, they can digest cooked carbohydrates, so a small amount of these in their food isn’t a problem. That said, the key word there is small! As well as being linked to diabetes and obesity, excessive carbohydrates can lead to diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence. These are all good reasons to keep those carbs low!

Any dry cat food, even grain free, will contain some carbohydrates, as the starch is an important component of the manufacturing process used to create kibble.

Studies have found that grain free cat food will often have a lower carbohydrate content than cat food containing grain, but there is an overlap where some grain free options contain just as much, if not more, carbohydrates than grain free versions. So, if your main reason for choosing a grain free diet is to keep the carbohydrate content of your cat’s food low, it’s vital to check the label!

Remember that carbohydrates in cat food can also come in the form of sweet potatoes, chickpeas, lentils, peas, tapioca, and potatoes. So if you’re selecting a grain free cat food in the hope that it’s also lower in carbohydrates, make sure you check that it also contains minimal amounts of the above ingredients. The carbohydrate content will be listed as fiber on the nutritional information section of the label.

Canned grain free cat food is likely to contain lower carbohydrates than dry kibble.

yarn ball divider

Disadvantages

If your cat does have an allergy, it can sometimes be caused by environmental irritations and not just the food they eat. So, you’ll need to investigate exactly what is causing your cat’s allergies before making any dietary changes. As grain is not often the culprit of a food allergy, in any case, switching to a grain free diet won’t necessarily help improve their symptoms.

As we’ve discovered, some grain free cat food can contain just as many carbohydrates as brands with grain in them, so it’s vital to do your research rather than just choose a box on the basis that it says “grain free.”

Grain free cat food can contain additional fats to compensate for the fact that some of them contain fewer carbohydrates. So, if you’re switching to a grain free, low carb food in the hope of controlling your cat’s obesity, then make sure you check the fat content too!

Switching to a grain free cat food might not always be the best diet choice for your cat, so bear this in mind before you make your decision.

3 cat face divider

Bottom line

Choosing a grain free diet for your cat is definitely the right option in some cases. But as with anything, it’s not going to be the right choice for all cats.

If your cat has a proven allergy to corn or another grain, then it makes total sense to eliminate this from their diet. Equally, if you’re trying to reduce the number of carbohydrates in your cat’s diet to control their obesity or diabetes, then carefully selecting a grain free food that’s also low in carbohydrates is a great option, as long as it’s low in fat too!

As we’ve discovered, grain free and low carbohydrate don’t always go hand in hand, so make sure you read the label and choose a brand with a low carbohydrate content.

If you’re unsure, your veterinarian will always be able to advise you of the best dietary choices for your cat. Make sure you also make a gradual transition to the new food, to reduce the chance of your cat having an upset tummy.

Choosing a new cat food can be a minefield, especially if you’re opting to go grain free at the same time. You can check out our reviews of some of the best grain free cat foods here.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed finding out more about the main health benefits of choosing a grain free diet for your cat. Have you successfully made the switch to a grain free food for your cat?


Featured image credit: ANURAK PONGPATIMET, shutterstock