Grain-free cat food in Australia: A review 
This article is written by our in-house veterinarian,.
With so many different types of cat food available, and with such a huge quantity of conflicting information on the internet, finding the best food for your kitty can be tough.
Many cat parents are particularly curious about grain free cat food. Previously a niche market, grain free pet food is undoubtedly on the rise in terms of popularity. There are now dozens of brands producing grain free options in response to overwhelming customer response.
But which are the best grain free cat diets on the Australian market? What does 'grain free' actually mean? And are there benefits?
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1. What Are The Best Grain Free Cat Diets in Australia?
Brands that sell grain-free cat food in the Australian market include Ivory Coat, Black Hawk, Meals for Meows, Vetalogica, Healthy Everyday Pets, Feline Natural, Ziwi, Canidae, Taste of the Wild, Applaws, Artemis, Holistic Select, Orijen, and Pro Plan. These brands may produce grain free food in the form of dry kibble, freeze-dried formulations, or wet canned food. They may also produce other varieties that do contain grains.
To help make things easy for you, we have listed all premium grain free cat diets on the Australian market in our comparison table below. Our review looks at the first five ingredients of the best selling formula, how many varieties are available from the brand, and whether the food is made locally. To view prices, simply click on the brand's image.
*First 5 ingredients of the pictured diet are listed. Individual formulas from the same brand vary.
**Only grain free formulas are listed. Each brand may produce other varieties that contain grains. Only varieties sold on Pet Circle are listed.
2. What is 'grain free'?
Put simply, a grain free diet is a diet free from all grains, including wheat, corn, rice, oats and barley.
Is 'grain free' the same as 'gluten free'? No. Gluten refers to the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. These are all classified as grains. However other grains exist which do not contain gluten, such as rice. Therefore, grain free food is always gluten free, but gluten free food may still contain some types of grains.
Fun fact: true coeliac disease (gluten allergy) is almost unheard of in dogs and cats, with the exception of Irish setters.
3. Why did the grain free pet movement start?
Manufacterers started making grain free pet food in response to an increased demand from pet owners. But what caused pet owners start seeking grain free pet food?
Firstly, there was an increase in demand due to the over-diagnosis of grain allergies in cats. Perhaps this was related to the increases in knowledge surrounding human coeliac disease and gluten-free trends, or perhaps it was due to advances in veterinary diagnostic technology. Regardless of what spurred the movement, more and more people started suspecting grain allergies in their cats.
The truth is that food allergies in cats may caused by grains such as wheat. But this is unlikely. In cats, the most common causes of itchy skin is fleas. Actual food allergies are estimated to be responsible for only 1% of skin disease. And in the cases of true food allergies, the most common causes of food adverse reactions are actually to beef, dairy products, and fish.
Food sensitivities often improve from a diet change - however this is often not due to a food allergy, but rather factors such as increased digestibility of the new diet, fat, or fiber content.
The second reason why grain free food became popular is because of the belief that grains are a useless 'filler' ingredient in pet food. The excessive amount of grains found in cheaper "supermarket brands" is often disproportionate to the actual nutritional requirements for your cat. This surplus of grains in budget brands goes undigested and is excreted as fecal matter.
The belief follows, therefore, that grain free food must contain 'fewer fillers' and 'more meat'.
Now, it's true that some grain-free pet food does contain high levels of meat - for example, Feline Natural and Ziwi boast meat content levels over 90% in their recipes. However, many grain free diets contain similar meat:carbohydrate ratios as grain-containing foods, using alternative carbohydrate sources in place of grains such as potatoes, peas, tapioca, sweet potato, or chick peas. Potatoes and tapioca in particular actually have a lower nutritive value than grains, with less protein and more sugar than corn or oats.
4. Is there a benefit to going grain free?
If your cat suffers from a true grain allergy, then grain free food is undoubtedly the best choice for them. Much the same as a lactose intolerent person avoiding milk, a grain free diet is required if your cat is allergic.
If your kitty is not allergic to grains, there's no significant benefit from feeding a premium grain-free diet over any other premium grain-containing food.
However, many (if not most) grain free diets are premium quality, with highly digestible protein sources and a high meat recipe. This sets them miles above cheaper supermarket-sold diets. So the benefit of many grain-free diets may lie in the quality of the food and its digestibility, rather than the simple lack of grains.
The Benefits of Premium Grain-Free Food
When swapping from a poor quality diet onto a premium grain free formula, the following benefits are the most commonly reported:
- Improved skin quality with less itching
- Shinier coat
- Smaller stools with less odour
- Improvement in digestive issues
- Stronger immune system
- Increase in energy and valour
Ultimately, when choosing a diet for your cat - grain free or grain inclusive - it's imperative to look foremost at the nutritional value and quality of the food. Unless your cat has a grain allergy, the inclusion of grains doesn't matter as much as the quality and digestibility of a diet.
Whichever diet you choose for your kitty, always ensure it is nutritionally balanced to provide your cat with the essential proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals it requires.
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