There has been a lot of controversy regarding whether or not grains should be included in dog food. Before discussing the pros and cons of both types we need to define what each are. Cereal grains, which many commercial dog foods have as their base, can include rice, barley, oats, corn, wheat, and rye. You may also be seeing foods that now include ancient grains. Ancient grains are those that have undergone less breeding and have remained relatively unchanged over the last several centuries. These can include grains like sorghum, millet, quinoa and amaranth. Grain free foods do not use grains and instead use carbohydrates such as potatoes, lentils, tapioca or legumes.
Considering our dogs are carnivores and their ancestral diet only contained the pre-digested plant material in the stomach of their prey, why would we put grain in dog food? All kibble requires a carbohydrate in order to stick together. Grains meet this requirement quite well. Kibble is a convenient way to feed our pets as our lives get increasingly busier. Grains are also a plentiful and inexpensive ingredient which lowers the cost of the food to the consumer.
Lower quality foods will use feed quality grain, not human quality, in particular corn. They do this because it is a much cheaper ingredient. It fills the bag and fills the dog’s tummy. While some plant material provides protein, it is not the same quality as protein found in meat. Many also think that grains can cause allergies and gastro-intestinal issues such as:
Skin irritations & rashes
Scratching, licking and biting to relieve itching
Chronic ear infections
Anal gland issues
Similar to people who suffer celiac disease, removing grain from some dog’s diets can help relieve these symptoms. In addition, grains can also be contaminated by mycotoxins which are the waste by-products of mold.
Does this mean that grain free is better? Not necessarily. Grain free foods tend to be higher in price because they often contain higher levels of meat ingredients. Meat is a higher quality ingredient and comes at a much higher price. Having more meat does not necessarily mean they have fewer carbohydrates. Carbohydrates (or starch) in food convert to sugars in the system. This can lead to other issues like weight gain, obesity and diabetes.
What you as the pet parent need to do when deciding whether to feed grain or grain free is to look at the ingredient panel. The first five or six ingredients are the most important ingredients in the bag. Look for a named meat as the first ingredient. It’s even better if the second ingredient is a meat. Avoid by-products and corn, wheat or soy.
You should also consider the carbohydrate percentage of the food. And surprise, it’s not listed in the guaranteed analysis on the side of the bag. It’s easy to calculate. Start with 100% and subtract protein, fat, moisture and ash percentages. If ash is not listed, assume 6%. What is left is the carb percentage. The lower the carb percentage, the better. If you need help, come in and we are happy to answer your questions and help you make a decision that is right for you and your pet.