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Creature Comforts

More dog and cat owners are tossing out conventional kibble and feeding their pets against the grain

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A few years ago, Melissa McLean Jory’s dog Fairbanks was so sick that he couldn’t even lift his head off the ground. After he was diagnosed with autoimmune conditions and severe intestinal problems, Melissa, a nutritionist who has celiac disease, became convinced that Fairbanks had gluten intolerance as well. She shifted him to a completely grain-free diet, and Fairbanks regained his weight and health fairly quickly. Now, if Melissa gives him a dog biscuit that contains gluten, her dog immediately experiences problems such as gastrointestinal issues, skin rashes, and reduced energy. “I believe without the dietary changes, Fairbanks wouldn’t be here today,” she says.

When Destiny Stone, a former writer for, went gluten free in 2009, she realized that she didn’t want to accidentally be exposed to gluten by her pets-or from washing their food dishes. After thinking about a series of pet-related articles she read in the Journal of Gluten Sensitivity, she switched her animals to gluten-free, grain-free pet food. Since then, her dog that suffered from recurring eye infections hasn’t had a single one, and all of her pets have experienced improved health.

Melissa and Destiny are just two of the many people who are trying gluten-free diets for their pets. Some people purchase gluten-free pet food because they worry about cross-contamination and compromising their own immune systems. Others avoid gluten to play it safe: Tainted gluten was implicated in the sickness and deaths of thousands of pets in 2007. Many other animal lovers are looking for solutions to their pets’ health problems and figure that a diet change is the most basic place to start.

Celiac disease has been definitively diagnosed in one breed of dog, the Irish setter. Gluten sensitivity that isn’t celiac disease is prevalent in other breeds, as evidenced by gastrointestinal problems, rashes, lack of energy, and other symptoms that often disappear when dogs and cats are placed on gluten-free diets.

Thought for Food

Gluten is only one of many foods that can provoke health problems in cats and dogs, says John Symes, DVM, known as “Dogtor J.” After researching the subject for more than a decade, Symes has concluded that both dogs and cats can benefit from a diet free of gluten, cow’s milk, soy, and corn-filler ingredients found in many commercial pet foods.

According to Symes, these sticky substances act like glue in the intestine, causing malabsorption of nutrients, which leads to countless health problems. When these ingredients are eliminated from pets’ diets, “medical miracles” can often occur. Allergies abate, intestinal problems clear up, older pets become more active, and epileptic seizures often completely stop.

Symes recommends pet foods that are free of gluten, milk, soy, and corn, including Canidae dog foods, Felidae cat foods, AvoDerm Natural dog and cat formulas, and certain varieties of Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance. Be aware, however, that different formulas contain different ingredients-and formulas and ingredients sometimes change-so read labels carefully and make sure that any food you buy is free of those “big 4” allergens.

Grass-Fed Burgers with Savory Parsley Sauce

Makes 4 burgers

If most of the food you make for yourself is too spicy for your pets, try these simple burgers.

2 Tbs. organic extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbs. red wine vinegar

3 Tbs. + 5 tsp. finely chopped fresh organic parsley

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

½ tsp. herbes de Provence

12 oz. organic, grass-fed ground beef or buffalo

  1. Mix olive oil, vinegar, 3 Tbs. parsley, garlic, and herbs in small bowl. Salt to taste, and set aside.
  2. Combine meat and remaining parsley in medium bowl, shape into four patties, and place on lightly oiled broiling pan. Broil burgers to desired doneness, medium-rare to medium preferred, being careful not to overcook.
  3. For pets: Cut plain burger into scraps, and serve. For you and your family: Spoon sauce over each burger, and serve with or without gluten-free buns.


* Recipe reprinted from the Going Against the Grain Group, 2011.