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Are Grains Good For Dogs? Your Dogs Health Guide

By
 Ashly 
on 
May 16, 2021

Grains (wheat, barley, oats, corn, and rice) are a controversial topic, as there are many conflicting opinions about whether they are healthy for people and pets.

Some believe they are an essential part of a complete diet for dogs, while others believe they are a health hazard and should be avoided. In this article, we will explore the many claims that grains should be avoided and whether they are really good for our dogs.

Your Dogs Health Guide

Grains For Dogs: Is It Good For Dogs?

Unless your dog has a grain allergy, grains are not harmful. Dr. Venator explains that, “there’s a myth out there not supported by veterinary medicine that grains cause allergies.

That is not the case. The reality is that true food allergies are extremely low in dogs and cats, and the offending substances usually are not grains.” In fact, grains are a good source of sub nutrients and are beneficial for most dogs.

That means the chance of your dog having a grain allergy is small. Less than 1% of dogs are sensitive to grains and need to avoid consuming them in their food, while 99% of dogs are able to reap the nutritional benefits dog food with grain has.  

Even though grain allergies are rare in dogs, you may feel more comfortable feeding grain-free food.

This is a personal decision for every owner to make. There are some considerations you can take into account as you decide what to feed your dog.

Grains Benefits For Dogs

Dr. Venator says, “Grains are actually an excellent nutrient source.” Grains are packed with nutrients and provide carbohydrate, fat, and antioxidants. That means, the grains in dog food can support healthy, skin, and hair, plus support healthy immune systems and more.

Also, there are many different kinds of grain: wheat, barley, corn etc. Each has its own combination of nutrients, and many are easily digested by dogs. Dog foods containing grain balance the grain’s nutrients with nutrients provided by other ingredients to create a nutritionally complete dog food.

Does Grains Causes Allergies For Dogs?

What about the claim that grains cause food allergies? Grains don’t cause allergies.

They can, however, be the target of allergies, and some foods are more allergenic than others. Those foods are specific ones, such as wheat, not general categories, such as grains.
 

The top five allergy-provoking ingredients for dogs are (in order):

  • beef
  • dairy
  • wheat
  • chicken
  • egg

Some dogs can have an allergy to storage mites. Several studies have found that dry dog food that has been opened and stored in non-sealed containers for six weeks often (but not always) grows storage mites. The studies did not differentiate between grain-free foods and those containing grain.

One study concluded that these mites can be prevented by storing food in cool, dry environments, in sealed containers, and for not more than a month.

They also concluded that while dogs can be allergic to storage mites, more are allergic to household dust mites.

Will The Grains Make The Dogs Fat?

This idea probably came about from the Atkins low-carb diet popular with humans. But grain-free does not mean carbohydrate-free.

Grain-free foods contain about the same amount of carbohydrates as foods containing grains. In actuality, wheat gluten contains more than 80 percent protein, is 99 percent digestible, and has an amino acid profile similar to meat proteins. Corn, when prepared properly, is actually an excellent source of highly digestible carbohydrate, essential fatty acids, and fiber, and can be an especially crucial ingredient in diets for dogs with medical conditions requiring reduced fat or protein.

Is It A Waste Of Money Buying Grain? Free Diets For Dogs

If you’re feeding them for one of the above reasons, and your dog was otherwise doing well on a grain-based diet, probably yes.

If your dog prefers a grain-free diet, is doing well on it, and you can afford it, then go for it. But if your dog is doing fine on a non–grain free diet, and your wallet is hurting, stow the guilt and buy the grains!
 

If your dog has signs of allergies, this type of food might be worth a try, but so might switching to non-beef or non-chicken foods.

If your dog has signs of food intolerance such as repeated diarrhea, a food change might be a good idea, but getting him checked by a veterinarian is an even better option.

Science Opinion About Grains For Dogs

With the grain-free pet food market making up nearly 30% of the foods in the US market and racking up $2.2 billion in sales, this trendy diet has become a common household name among dog parents who want the best for their pups. We decided to dive in to the research behind grain-free diets for dogs: Can dogs digest and thrive on grains? Are dogs allergic to grains? Are all grains unhealthy for dogs?

For starters, one of the biggest misconceptions among dog lovers is the idea that dogs are obligate carnivores. According to a study by the University of Maine, "The dog is a subspecies of the grey wolf as Canis lupus familiaris, and classified in the order as Carnivora.

Despite public belief, the dog is in fact not a true carnivore; the dog is an indifferent omnivore...This means that dogs have carnivorous traits with sharp teeth and meat drive, but also have the omnivore digestive traits with an ability to break down carbohydrate feeds."

Through evolution, dogs gained the ability to digest and utilize starch 28 time more effectively than wolves through the AMY2B gene. 

"Some dogs do benefit from grain-free diets, but definitely not to the magnitude the pet food industry would lead you to believe"

-Dr. Donna Solomon, a veterinarian in Chicago

With the grain-free pet food market making up nearly 30% of the foods in the US market and racking up $2.2 billion in sales, this trendy diet has become a common household name among dog parents who want the best for their pups.

We decided to dive in to the research behind grain-free diets for dogs: Can dogs digest and thrive on grains? Are dogs allergic to grains? Are all grains unhealthy for dogs?  

For starters, one of the biggest misconceptions among dog lovers is the idea that dogs are obligate carnivores. According to a study by the University of Maine, "The dog is a subspecies of the grey wolf as Canis lupus familiaris, and classified in the order as Carnivora.

Despite public belief, the dog is in fact not a true carnivore; the dog is an indifferent omnivore...This means that dogs have carnivorous traits with sharp teeth and meat drive, but also have the omnivore digestive traits with an ability to break down carbohydrate feeds."

Through evolution, dogs gained the ability to digest and utilize starch 28 time more effectively than wolves through the AMY2B gene. 

Dr. Solomon continues, "Is it true that dogs are not designed to eat grains? No, dogs can digest grains. Your pet dog is not genetically equivalent to the ancient wolf that he arose from.

The precise timing and location of this transformation is unknown but it is speculated to have occurred over tens of thousands of years ago...

10 key genes have been identified that demonstrate our domesticated dogs’ increased ability to digest starch and fat relative to his ancient predecessor, the wolf."

That same research above out of the University of Maine found that feeding a grain-free diet can be harmful to dogs when coupled with a high-protein diet.

"Feeding a dog a high protein diet that is high in fat causes long term effects, such as harm to the kidneys due to being over worked and not being able to flush out enough urea in the system...Labels that read ‘grain-free’ are more harmful to the dog and should not be given unless required for other specific needs."

"What surprises many pet owners is that grains are actually uncommon causes of food allergies – most pets are allergic to animal proteins!"

The Tufts clinical nutrition team states that the occasional pet may be allergic to a specific grain, but that this is less common than an allergy to an animal protein. 

Even if your dog does react to one particular grain like wheat, an entirely grain-free diet is likely not appropriate.

"Unfortunately, this information doesn’t prevent hundreds of companies from advertising their grain-free diets as being good for pets with allergies," say the experts at Tufts.

Best Food For Your Dogs

Choosing the best food for your dog can be a challenge. There are many foods available for dogs--some are recipes that are balanced with grains and animal sourced protein, others that are grain-free.

When you’re in the pet food aisle, you will see many selections that contain grain or that are grain-free, but not all choices are created equal. One way to choose a good food is to use a dog food selector. 

The tool helps filter the many types of foods by ingredient—to make the shopping experience more straightforward. Another way to decide is to evaluate the nutrition content located on each bag. Whether the food is grain-free or not, looking at labels can indicate if it is appropriate for your dog. When studying labels, Dr. Venator advises to be on the lookout for foods that are:

Formulated as complete and balanced:

Together all ingredients should provide the recommended levels of protein, fat and essential nutrients in the appropriate ratios and concentrations.

Meets AAFCO guidelines:

The Association of American Feed Control Officials provides standards for animal food products.

Take Note: Not All Grain-Free Foods are Created Equal

“Grain-free” doesn’t mean low-carbohydrates or all meat.

“Grain-free” has become a label that we tend to associate with “healthy” or “high quality.” Dog food that’s free of grains can be a healthy choice for your dog, but Dr. Patton says that “grain-free” can be a somewhat deceptive term:

“When the grains are taken out of these foods, they’re just replaced with other ingredients—peas, lentils, sweet potatoes—which means they’ll often have more carbohydrates than foods that aren’t grain-free. So, the problem with ‘grain-free’ foods with these ingredients isn’t just about the risk of DCM, it’s about excess soluble carbohydrates.”

These excess soluble carbohydrates can lead to several problems in dogs. While your dog needs carbohydrates to produce energy, too many of them can contribute to obesity, the wrong bacteria in the gut, and a lack of energy. So, if a dog food is labeled “grain-free” but the grains are replaced with other ingredients, it’s not necessarily a healthier option for your dog.

Difference Of Low Quality Fillers To Whole Grains

The fact is that whole grains can contribute valuable nutrients to canine diets, including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fiber.

True grain allergies are relatively rare for dogs. It has been proven that whole grains can actually contribute to a lowered risk of chronic diseases for people. They may have benefits for pets as well, but more research is needed in this area.

The problem with grain often comes in when it is of the wrong quality and quantity.

Much of the mass-produced dog kibble on the market today is packed full of highly processed grain, which means that dogs may miss out on some of the powerful nutraceutical properties and beneficial phytonutrients that are naturally present in high-quality whole grains such as brown rice, oats, and teff.

Choosing the right source of grain is extremely important, and savvy pet parents should make sure that all of the ingredients in their dog’s food are included for their nutritional value rather than for simple convenience, as is often the case with kibble.

Are Grains Good For Dogs?

Are grains good for dogs?  This is a common question for dog owners who are making the switch to more natural foods for their dogs.  Grains have always been viewed as an excellent source of calories and nutrition for humans, but can they be good for dogs?  Some dog owners report good results with adding grains to their dog's diet, while others have less favourable results.  The debate will continue as long as dog owners continue to experiment with their dog's diets, and research is always being conducted to test the effects of grains on dogs in both the short and long term.

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Ashly

Hey yaa! Im Ashly and I love pets. Growing up in a house with 2 dogs, a cat, a parrot and many furry rodents; it was natural for me to have a profound affection for them. I created GenerallyPets.com to create useful guides and articles on looking after your furry friends. The advice given on this site is our views and expertise, please consult a VET prior to testing anything. Hope my site helps you :)

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