Halo’s philosophy on grains for dogs and cats

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Dr Donna Spector

What grains does Halo use?  Are certain grains better than others?

Halo uses only the whole grains of oats and barley in their natural cat and dog foods.  Whole grains are preferential to refined grains (e.g. white rice) because they provide a rich source of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, oils and proteins.  When a grain is refined by the removal of the bran and germ, the remaining grain is mostly carbohydrate and lacks the majority of other nutrients.  Refined grains are cheaper and thus are commonly used in the pet food industry, however, are not nearly as healthy as whole grains.  Whole grains are found in Halo canine dry and canned formulas and the feline dry formulas (with the exception of the Grain-Free Hearty Chicken Formula).  Halo feline canned formulas are also grain-free. 

Are "grain-free" diets always low in carbohydrates or "carbohydrate-free"?

Many owners assume incorrectly that "grain-free" means "carbohydrate-free".  A grain-free diet is simply one that does not contain any cereal grains (either whole or refined grains).  Grain-free diets may actually be quite high in carbohydrates as carbohydrates are not only found in grains.  They are also found in a number of other vegetables and foodstuffs. 

Carbohydrates are classified as either simple or complex.  The simple carbohydrates (also called simple sugars) supply the body with a quick jolt of glucose for energy.  The more complex fiber-rich carbohydrates are not broken down to glucose for energy, but instead play an important role in gastrointestinal health by supporting digestion and absorption and helping the body eliminate toxins and waste products. 

Halo’s feline dry Hearty Chicken Recipe and all the canned foods are grain-free formulas, however, they do contain fiber-rich complex carbohydrates in the form of vegetables.  Halo always avoids simple carbohydrates which spike blood sugar and only uses vegetables and whole grains as a source of complex carbohydrates.   

What are "grain-free" diets and are they better than pet foods with grains?

A grain-free diet is simply one that does not contain any cereal grains (either whole or refined grains). 

Refined grains (e.g. white rice) should be avoided in pet food.  These grains are over-processed and have lost most of their nutritional value.  These same grains often lead to blood sugar spikes and hormonal signals that have long-term detrimental effects on metabolism.  Many feel the use of excess amounts of refined grains have contributed to the pet obesity epidemic in the United States. 

Pets may also have food allergies to cheaper grains used commonly, such as wheat and corn, and these grain sources are best avoided.  Gluten sensitivity or intolerance (also called celiac disease) is exceedingly rare in dogs and cats, so gluten-free diets are rarely necessary in pets. 

Most pets do not require a completely "grain-free" diet.  Grains should not be the primary ingredient in a pet’s food, but the inclusion of alternative whole grains (like oats and barley) provides a nutritionally rich source of fiber which is beneficial for digestive health without the detrimental effects on metabolism and weight gain. 

My veterinarian says cats shouldn’t eat carbohydrates and should be on grain-free foods.  Why does Halo have grains in their cat food? 

Low carbohydrate foods are best suited to the natural biology of cats as carnivores.  Cats reach optimal health levels and can avoid many food-related problems (such as obesity, diabetes, etc) by eating high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods.   

Protein, not carbohydrates, should comprise the majority of every cat’s diet, however, many cats appear to benefit from a small amount of carbohydrates in their diet.  It is important to remember biology and evolution when it comes to cat nutrition.  When cats hunted for their food, they were exposed to whole grains and carbohydrates within the digestive system of their prey.  The domesticated indoor cat appears to benefit from the digestive health that complex carbohydrates (in the form of fiber-rich vegetables or whole grains) provide.  Carbohydrates as simple sugars should always be avoided.  Only these complex carbohydrates (that are not broken down to sugar) should be used in cat foods to impart digestive benefits.

If you are seeking a grain-free food, Halo’s offers a Grain-Free Hearty Chicken dry food and all of the canned formulas are grain-free. 

Are Halo foods gluten-free?

Gluten is a protein found in many grass-related grains, most notably in wheat, barley and rye and is problematic in the small percentage of people who have gluten-intolerance (celiac disease).  In individuals affected by this condition, gluten causes the intestine to become severely inflamed and there is interference with nutrient absorption.  Affected patients have syndromes of chronic maldigestion and diarrhea.  The only treatment is a diet completely free of ingredients derived from gluten containing grains. 

This condition is exceedingly rare in dogs and cats and providing gluten-free foods offer no other health benefit to pets.  All Halo natural dog food products (canned and dry) and the dry natural cat food (with the exception of the Grain-Free dry formula) contain gluten in the form of barley and/or oats. 

Halo does make several gluten-free products including: Spot’s Stew canned cat food formulas; Grain-Free Hearty Chicken feline dry food, Liv-a-Littles Protein Treats; Liv-a-Littles Healthsome Vegetarian with Peanut n’ Pumpkin and Well-Being treats for dogs; and Liv-a-Littles Healthsome treats for cats.

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