Corn gluten meal is a by-product of processed corn (corn syrup and sweeteners) and is used by the pet industry as an inexpensive protein source and kibble binder for pet foods. Despite its name, “corn gluten meal” has no true gluten, but simply corn proteins. The expression “corn gluten” is colloquial jargon that describes corn proteins. Only wheat, barley, rye and oat contain true gluten. Yet, because corn gluten meal is considered by many to be similar enough in its protein-boosting capacity to true glutens it is red-flagged as such.
All things considered, the higher the protein content of a dog’s food, the greater its perceived value. However, the amount of protein only tells half the story. It’s a protein’s digestibility and its nutritional value that matter most.
Corn gluten meal is a plant-based protein concentrate acting as a meat substitute that binds the kibble together. Protein can come from just about anywhere, even from non-nutritious sources like leather, hair, feathers, and chicken beaks. Whenever you discover gluten on a dog food ingredients list, you should always question the true meat content of the product.
Due to its high concentration, feeding food with corn gluten meal can cause the animal severe allergies to corn over an extended period of time.
Corn is one of the most common food allergens for dogs and cats. If your pet is allergic to corn, feeding a food with corn gluten meal can cause digestive problems, such as stomach upset, vomiting and/or diarrhea, nutritional deficiencies, weight loss, and even more serious problems like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Corn allergies can also manifest as skin and coat issues, such as hair loss, severe itching and scratching, scabs and sores, and secondary infections such as staph or yeast pyoderma.
Cats Don’t Digest Corn Very Well
Although cats can eat corn, they get very little nutritional value from it. Even though corn gluten meal does have protein, it’s not the kind of protein that cats can digest very well. Cats have to eat twice as much corn to get the same amount of protein that they would from meat or egg protein.
Even if your cat eats enough corn gluten meal to get the protein she needs, she probably won’t be able to use very much of it. Corn takes several hours to digest, even for people. But cats have a shorter digestive track typical of carnivores, so food has to be broken down quickly before it’s gone. Unfortunately, your feline friend will spend a lot of energy trying to digest the corn before she leaves it for you in the litter box.
Aside from being a poorer-quality protein source, corn gluten meal poses some health risks for your cat. In the wild, a cat’s diet would only be 1 or 2 percent carbohydrates. Dry food containing corn gluten meal ranges from 35 to 50 percent carbohydrates. Since cats can’t really break down carbohydrates or use them for energy the same way people do, excess carbohydrates can lead to obesity and diabetes.
The Most Common Problems with Feeding Corn Gluten Meal
- Feeding corn gluten meal can cause your dog or cat to develop severe allergies to corn over an extended amount of time. This can manifest as severe GI and skin problems.
- Corn gluten meal is less nutritionally complete than meat-based proteins. It is much lower in some of the ten essential amino acids dogs need to sustain life than is meat or egg-based protein.
- Corn gluten meal can raise the protein reported on a food label. So, manufacturers frequently add it to a formula to make a product look better than it really is.