Gluten — Beware This Inferior Dog Food Protein Impostor


Hey, nobody likes an impostor. Am I right?

Dog Food Protein Impostor

Yet you may have already come face-to-face with this unexpected trickster and not even known it.

You see, in the world of dog food, protein truly is the Holy Grail.

Dogs crave it for survival. And companies market it for profit.

All things considered, the higher the protein content of a dog food, the greater its perceived value.

It’s Not Just the Amount
of Protein That Counts

But the amount of protein only tells half the story. It’s a protein’s digestibility and its biological value that matter more.

And that’s the problem.

You see, protein can come from just about anywhere — even from non-nutritious sources like leather, hair, feathers, chicken beaks.

Or that mysterious meat substitute — gluten.

Basically, gluten is what’s left over from certain grains — like wheat, barley, rye and other wheat-type cereal grains — that’s had all its starchy carbohydrate (the good stuff) washed out of it.

The rubbery protein residue that’s left is the gluten.

Think of gluten as a sort of plant-based protein concentrate and meat substitute.

Now, although corn gluten meal is the most common form of this AAFCO recognized phrase found on a dog food ingredients list, this item isn’t technically a true gluten.

Yet because it’s more commonly known by its colloquial name, corn gluten meal is still considered (on this website) to be similar enough in its protein-boosting capacity to true glutens to be red-flagged as such on every dog food ingredients list we publish.

The Two Most Common Problems
with Gluten Ingredients

In any case, here are the two most important things to know about gluten ingredients…

1. Glutens are less nutritionally complete than meat based proteins. They’re low in some of the ten essential amino acids dogs need to sustain life

2. Glutens can raise the protein reported on a food label. So, manufacturers frequently add them to a recipe to make a product look better than it really is

The Bottom Line

Whenever you discover gluten on a dog food ingredients list, you should always question the true meat content of the product.

  • “SnoopyShoes” Hello Shawna
    Can please recommend me a Good Gluten free dog food. I was thinking about (Rachel rays dog food) but I see it has, corn gluten meal in it, and I don’t know if that’s good or Bad.
    please help me!

  • Nik Frost

    Why is the claim that lower amino acids content in the Gluten protein means that it’s lower quality? Where is the reference/evidence that explains the bioavailability of protein and its effects on the body?

  • Pat_Creighton

    Corn gluten meal is very close in composition to the amino acid content of meats, so this article is deceptive. In reality, the much higher amount of leucine in corn gluten meal results in a higher muscle over fat ratio when the body is storing the protein. I haven’t yet checked your link to corn gluten meal, but more should be showing on this blog?

  • Crazy4cats

    Thank you. I value your opinion 🙂

  • Shawna

    I want to read the dogaware page and I already found some additional interesting, in my opinion, data on NAG and emailed it to myself for later reading. I’m leaving work in about 1/2 hour as I have family visiting but will get back to you soon.

  • Crazy4cats

    On dogaware, it states that it is good for repairing the intestinal lining? Do you like the Thorne products better than Vetri Science?

  • Shawna

    Thorne Research appears to be a really good brand.

    I get the reason behind all the other ingredients in both products except the NAG. I wonder why they would use it as it could interfere with an elimination diet? Unless maybe it is recommended if the elimination diet isn’t successful.. Even then it appears to only be useful for binding with certain lectins. Unless, like mannose, it is also used to eliminate certain harmful bacteria?? Interesting!!! Thanks for the info. I need to pursue this more when I have some free time. Thanks again!! 🙂

  • Crazy4cats

    I believe NAG is in two of the supplements I rotate in my dogs’ food. One is Vetri Pro BD and the other Gastriplex. It is supposed to help with loose stools and digestion also!

  • Shawna

    It’s amazing what has changed in the last 10 to 20 years!!!

    Sorry, I put NAS but should be NAG. I’m glad you were able to use it. I only even learned about it a year and half to two years ago and then I had to special order it in. NOBODY had it, including the health food stores.

    I love Bob’s Red Mill products!!

    That is weird about the bladder issue and the rice!! It is wonderful that you were able to find a natural solution!!! If you ever figure out why it worked please do let us know.. I’m intrigued!! 🙂

    I tried grapefruit and apple pectin with Audrey but her BUN went up. It took a bit of digging but I found research that the fermentable fiber in pectins ferment in the small intestine and create more ammonia which the liver then converts to urea (BUN). I’ve only found two sources stating this but considering Audrey’s reaction I would use pectins in kd with caution.

    Garlic has the fermentable fibers inulin and FOS. I give it to Audrey off and on but I use it modestly. Since anemia is an issue in some kd it would be important to confirm anemia is not a concern before using garlic.

    Burdock root is also a great source of inulin and FOS. It is considered the blood cleanser of the herb world. I used to by the actual root at Whole Foods and use a grater to grate it into her food. She grew tired of the taste though.

    After trial and error I ended up settling on a human product – the Fiber35 Diet Sprinkle Fiber which is acacia fiber. I’ve been using Garden of Life Primal Defense probiotic since I got her and Sprinkle Fiber for about six years with excellent results.

    The pup in your avatar picture is adorable!!!

  • Boagie’s mom here again~

    Hi Shawna,

    You are absolutely correct. Barley does have gluten. 11 years ago, our vet recommended Barley over Oats because barley had a lower blood sugar spike than oats. The fermentable fiber. At the time we were told pure protein would be hard for a dog battling kidney disease. BooBoo was quite ill at the time. We were told to put him down at 6 months of age. I did include supplements and NAS was one of the supplement ingredients. Our vet was concerned about blood sugar also and it was a delicate balancing act. Of course, we did not know 11 years ago what we know now about such things. We moved to adding no grains a few years ago. However, our youngest pup Boagie seems to do better when we add just a pinch of steamed brown rice or Cream of Brown Rice from Bob’s Red Mill. He has trouble holding his bladder (we think the vet who neutered him did a bad job, he was neutered when we rescued him) and we noticed he does better with the spoonful added. I cannot explain it. I enjoyed your insightful information. I would be very interested in other sources of fermentable fiber if you can share those. Thanks for your help. 🙂

  • Shawna

    Hi Boagie’s mom 🙂

    Great post but I have one minor concern. You mention the importance of gluten free but feed barley. Barley is a gluten grain. Although the individual prolamin protein in the gluten matrix of barley (called hordein) is different than that found in wheat (called gliadin), it is similar enough that in those sensitive to wheat, barley is also an issue. The “gluten” grains are wheat, barley, rye and spelt. Oats are not a gluten grain but are easily contaminated with gluten and those sensitive should only consume oats that are guaranteed to be gluten free.

    Gluten grains, like barley, can also contribute to the symptoms of arthritis and in some can even cause arthritis. They cause this damage by binding with glucosamine. There is actually a supplement called NAS (n-acetyl glucosamine) that can be taken with gluten containing meals that helps prevent the damage from gluten. The gluten binds with the NAS in the digestive tract instead of the glucosamine at the joint.

    ALL grains have an anti-nutrient called phytate. Phytates bind with minerals like phosphorus, calcium and zinc, in the gut preventing them from being utilized by the body. Feeding grains long term, without supplementing with additional minerals to compensate what is bound up, can eventually lead to mineral deficiencies.

    It is also not at all important, or even advisable, to supplement raw diets with grains in order to help the kidneys. The dog in my avatar has had kidney disease since birth (symptoms noticed at six weeks of age but not officially diagnosed till one year of age). She has been raw fed since coming to us. I feed Nature’s Variety, Primal, Darwins etc as well as premixes with meat I purchase. She will be eight years old next week.

    Barley does have fermentable fiber and fermentable fiber is good for dogs that already have kidney disease, but there are other sources of fermentable fiber that don’t come with the added consequences of barley/gluten.

  • Boagie’s mommy here – Our pups eat nothing but Nature’s Variety Raw Frozen Duck, Rabbit , Bison or Chicken. We add a small amount (2 tablespoons) of gluten free brown rice or barley (lightly steamed), so as to keep the kidneys happy. We also include whole food supplements. Our dogs always titer high and are the whitest bichons I have seen. They are very healthy and happy, aside from some congenital arthritis in one. Gluten is not good for dogs, period. If you see no negative reactions today, get ready for a high possibility of disease as they age because gluten causes inflammation and inflammation is at the root of all disease. Cancer, diabetes, cushings, heart failure and the list goes on and on.
    Boagie and his brother BooBoo are currently conducting a taste test of other Nature’s Variety products. You can see their results on Boagie’s FB Community page “Boagie’s Backyard”, if you have any interest in learning more about them. I do not have any affiliation with Nature’s Variety, just a well earned respect for their products, as I watched my boys go from a plethora of serious health issues (due to being abused pups we rescued) to pups with blossoming health and finally to pups with vibrant health. NV has earned not only my respect but also my loyalty. No one particular company or product is ever 100% perfect. Someone can always pick something apart. But the constant is the fact that gluten is not good for dogs or people as it causes inflammation and inflammation hurts in many ways. ~Boagie’s mommy, a 13 year veteran dog mommy~

  • Abdou Motrani

    thanks for this great infos

  • Pattyvaughn

    I would say that in small quantities, if your dog has no food intolerances, it shouldn’t be an issue. If your dog has any kind of intestinal issues, that is one ingredient I would avoid completely.

  • Pam c

    I was just wondering if someone could elaborate on dogs consuming wheat glutens. I looked up the “Starmark” toys. So far I’ve only gotten my dog the green treat ball. BUT the other toys such as the Bento ball and the Fireplug have/can use treats that contain wheat gluten as the main ingredient. Is wheat gluten bad in small quantities? Should I avoid these toys?

  • Cheryl Hoffarth

    Corn Gluten Meal…actually has no “Gluten” in it.

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Corn gluten meal (often simply called CGM) is a byproduct of corn
    (maize) processing that has historically been used as an animal feed
    (take note that the expression gluten here is inexact; there is no true
    gluten in corn, but simply corn proteins. The expression “corn gluten”
    is colloquial jargon that describes corn proteins that are neither
    gliadin nor glutenin. Only wheat, barley, rye and oat contain true
    gluten which is formed by the interaction of gliadin and glutenin

  • Maria

    Mike, if a dog is allergic to corn, would they also be allergic to corn gluten?

  • Pingback: What's Really In That Cheap Dog Food l Ingredients That Cause Allergies And Health Problems()

  • you should definitely get him off grains, feed a grain free and try a duck formula also test his or her thyroid

  • Thanks for the help, Does anybody have an opinion about
    Pinnacle food?

  • Pingback: Infinia/Exclusive dog food()

  • Pingback: Corn Truth « frustrations of a celiac()

  • Pingback: Gluten… Beware This Inferior Dog Food Protein Impostor « lulufightscancer()

  • Efloyd105

    Gluten free has made a big difference not just with digestion issues but overall health, skin and coat.

  • Jonathan

    The chicken one hasn’t changed and the duck formula has actually added duck meal instead of just fresh duck, which was a step in the right direction. I, personally, think that the bison and venison could still be 3-star and the chicken, duck, lamb, and fish could be 3 1/2 star. Of course, I am basing my opinion on efficacy and you do not, so you may see it as the changed formulas are 2 1/2 while the rest stay at 3. I don’t know. I think the product line will still remain at 3 stars. But we shall see!

  • Hi Jonathan… That’s unfortunate. I’ve added NB LID back on my update list and I’ll check it out soon. If you’re right and they’ve reduced the meat on all of them, it looks like LID may need to be called “LMD” (Limited Meat Diet). It could be a while due to my current work load. But I’ll get to it as soon as I can. Thanks for the tip.

  • Jonathan

    Hey Mike, speaking of “meat impostors”, Natural Balance has, unfortunately, changed the ingredients of the Bison and Venison LID’s and further reduced the meat content. Here’s the current Bison…

    Sweet Potatoes, Bison, Potato Protein, Pea Protein, Canola Oil (preserved with natural mixed tocopherols), Dicalcium Phosphate, Potato Fiber, Natural Flavor, Vitamins, Minerals, etc

    Crude Protein 20.0% minimum
    Crude Fat 10.0% minimum
    Crude Fiber 4.0% maximum
    Moisture 10.0% maximum

    They added pea protein and it exclaims this on the bag like it’s some sort of benefit. It’s still great at what it does (being an LID), but the Bison and the Venison formulas, unfortunately, appear to be even more meat-deficient then they use to be.

  • carroll

    This is a response to Sergio…there is a wonderful book that was published in 2007 after the Menu foods recall called “Pet Food Nation”. The author is Joan Weiskopf. She is an M.S Veterinary Clinical Nutritionist and although I only started reading it last night, it may be very helpful for your project.


  • Hi Larry… Dogs can be allergic to a food. But dog food is only the third leading cause of canine allergies (behind fleas and atopic non-contact allergies). So, don’t automatically assume food is the cause. In any case, if you still suspect a food ingredient, you may want to try one of the limited ingredient diets (Natural Balance L.I.D. and Wellness Simple Food Solutions) to help you try to narrow down the allergen (suspected cause). You may also benefit from reading an article I wrote last year called, “Dangerous Canine Diseases Linked to Grains in Dog Food“. Hope this helps.

  • larry

    mike,,i have a min schauser with allergies ha.s had steriod shots,two weeks ago and four weeks prior.shot not helping this time.have been feeding him Pedigree dry food.after reading all about corn and wheat glutens , Iam bewildered,what should I feed him.How about canned.

  • Hi Sergio… There is an abundance of information on gluten. I’d start with Wikipedia on the topic. At the end of the article you’ll see a list of foornotes to in-depth articles and research. Good luck on your project. Hope this helps.

  • Sergio Araya

    hi mike, i have to do a university´s homework about this topic, can you give me some references where i can find more about the gluthen?