Should Dogs Have Grain in Their Diet?

Published: 2/12/21

Companies market grain-free kibble as a solution for dogs with allergies and coat problems, but is it really healthy? New evidence suggests that grain-free dog food might actually be worse for dogs than grain-containing foods. Should your dog have grain in its diet? Let’s find out.

What are grains?

According to the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council, grains are “the edible seeds of specific grasses belonging to the Poaceae (also known as Gramineae) family.” Grains are typically ground for use in breads and cereals and are also a common ingredient in dog food. Grains are high in fiber and generally recognized as good for the digestive system since they aid in the passage of stool and feed healthy gut bacteria.

How does regular dog food differ from grain-free food?

Grain-free dog food is just what it sounds like: wet or dry food that’s formulated without grains. Grain-free dog food is not to be confused with gluten-free or carb-free diets. Rather than grains, the carbohydrates in grain-free dog food come from potatoes, carrots, peas, and other root veggies or beans. Grain-free dog food is free of:

  • Barley

  • Brown rice

  • Corn

  • Oats

  • Rye

  • Sorghum

  • Soy

  • Wheat

Grain allergies in canines

Occasionally, dogs can develop allergies to grains and require a grain-free kibble. However, a true allergy to grains is rare. An allergy can develop at any time, even if dogs have been eating grains their whole life.

Vets usually diagnose food allergies by process of elimination. Vets will usually switch their furry patients to hypoallergenic dog food for a few weeks to rule out other causes. If the symptoms resolve, they will begin trying different dog foods to find the root cause. Contrary to popular belief, grains aren’t the number one food allergy in canines — it’s meat. But still, grain-free and gluten-free foods are often the first foods prescribed.

Symptoms of food allergies in dogs:

  • Fur loss

  • Scratching

  • Irritated or swollen paw pads

  • Dry, irritated skin

  • Hairless patches or sparse fur

  • Excessive licking

  • Ear infections or irritation

  • Rashes

Grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy

Recent studies have revealed a frightening link between grain-free diets and degeneration of the heart muscle. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) usually comes on rapidly and is characterized by trouble breathing, faintness, and often, sudden death. In the abovementioned study, 90% of the 1,000+ dogs with DCM were on grain-free kibble — a staggering statistic, to say the least. Most of the dogs in the study were breeds at low risk for DCM, which is as unusual as it is concerning.

The veterinary community generally agreed that grain-free foods were safe until recently, when the FDA announcement came out. Investigations on this matter are still ongoing.

Should dogs have grain in their diet?

Dogs have evolved over millennia to be able to digest grains. Unlike their wolf ancestors, dogs are omnivores, meaning they can eat plant matter as well as meat.

While dogs don’t need grains to get the glucose they need to survive, they need at least some form of glucose in their diet. Starchy vegetables and legumes provide this glucose in grain-free foods, whereas wheat, rice, and other grains provide this glucose in grain foods. Grains offer dogs both fiber and prebiotics to keep their digestive system running smoothly. 

Obviously, you shouldn’t feed your grain-allergic dog food containing grains, but remember, only a licensed veterinarian can diagnose this condition. We don’t recommend switching a healthy dog to a grain-free diet without first consulting with a veterinarian.

Conclusion

Ultimately, what you feed your dog is up to you, but now that you know the facts, you can make an educated decision for your pooch. Still unsure about what dog food is best for your fur-baby? Click here to live chat with a vet today.

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