Can pets be a source of any risks for coeliacs?


On occasions, we do receive queries regarding pets, or more correctly, whether pet may be the source of any risks for coeliacs; we therefore are reproducing some of the more commonly raised questions and answers from the Australian Coeliac magazine on the subject:

Q. Can my dog get coeliac disease? And is gluten free dog food better for my pet?

A. There are certain genes required for us to be susceptible to coeliac disease. These genes are human genes, and animals don’t have them, therefore animals can’t have coeliac disease.

However, a veterinarian tells me that there’s emerging evidence about the susceptibility of our pets to a variety of dietary intolerances and allergies. If you have concerns about your pet’s health, consult your veterinarian regarding the need for a special diet.

Q. Is there a risk of ingesting gluten when I handle gluten containing pet food?

A. Handling dog or cat biscuits or other pet food that contains gluten poses no risk to those with coeliac disease, because gluten can’t be absorbed through the skin (it must be ingested to prompt an immune response).

Some small pets, for example rabbits, chickens or guinea pigs, may be fed a grain-based hay or pellet that includes a gluten grain. There’s a possibility of dust from these feeds entering the nasal passages or mouth, but it’s extremely unlikely that a notable amount of gluten would be ingested this way.

Always wash your hands after feeding pets – not only as a good general hygiene habit, but also to completely remove any residue from dog biscuits or rabbit pellets. And we do discourage sharing your pooch’s dog biscuits (especially if they contain gluten)!

Q. Do I need to avoid eating meat or products from animals that were fed gluten?

A. No. All fresh and unprocessed meats (including beef, chicken, pork etc.), eggs, milk and milk products such as cheese are naturally gluten free. Even if the producing animal was fed wheat or barley grain, the animal’s digestive process ensures that gluten is not incorporated into their flesh, tissues or by-products.

You might see some brands of eggs labelled ‘gluten free.’ While this claim is true, the implication that other eggs (those not labelled ‘gluten free’) might not be gluten free is misleading.

If meat is marinated or crumbed, you will need to double-check the ingredients. Likewise, for processed deli meats, make sure no gluten containing ingredients are present.

Q. Are there gluten detector dogs; that is, can dogs really sniff out gluten?

A. We’re not sure. But there are reports of dogs being trained to let their owner know when they detect gluten (or other allergens) in a food product or meal. Similar to using dogs for drug detection or biosecurity, the premise of ‘gluten detection’ relies on their keen sense of smell.

While most humans depend on sight to see the world, dogs interpret the world through their nose. Dogs have two different air passages – one for breathing and one for smelling. The passage through which dogs smell air contains highly specialised olfactory receptor cells, responsible for receiving smells. A dog’s powerful nose contains about 225-300 million smell receptors compared to just five million in a human nose. Dogs can also remember all the different smells they’ve encountered throughout their life as their brains have an olfactory cortex that is 40 times larger than humans.

While it’s a lovely thought, we don’t yet have definitive evidence that dogs can be trained to detect gluten. Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure my dog would help himself to any meal I placed in front of him to sniff – gluten containing or not!