What's Up With That: Dog Nutrition and Grain

Here is another controversial topic for you. Should we feed grain to our dogs? Many dog food products have grain as the main ingredient.

There are experts who believe that feeding your dog grain leads to allergies, bad teeth, and even cancer. Some veterinarians blame grain-based dog foods for diabetes, obesity, digestive problems, urinary tract problems and other disorders.

These trends have been addressed by some dog food manufacturers, so now you will find low -grain, grain-free, low-carb, or carb-free dog food products.

Some experts, on the other hand, believe that there is nothing wrong with including quality grain in a dog diet and that their digestive system has adapted to their digestion.

So who is right?

My question is why are we discussing this in the first place? Do dogs need grain in their diet? How much carbohydrates, whether from grain or other sources does your dog need?

The answer is none, zero, nil. According to the American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), there are 36 nutrients essential for dogs. These include proteins, fat, vitamins, and minerals. They do not include any carbohydrates. There are no carbohydrates essential to a dog diet. AAFCO guidelines are the standard for commercial dog food production. And yet most dog food products are loaded with carbohydrates.

If dogs don't need any carbohydrates, why are we having discussions whether grain is bad for dogs or not? Is there any other reason to include them in the diet other than a  low cost?

Yes, grain contains other nutrients besides carbohydrates. For example, grain also contains some protein. But plant protein is inferior and hard to digest.

Carbohydrates are a source of energy. But under normal circumstances, a dog would get his energy from fat. Fat is the natural source of energy to a dog.

Whole grain is also a good source of fiber. Fiber is important for your dog's health. But vegetables contain fiber also.

I didn't find any proof that grain provides any nutrients that are not available from other sources, such as meat, bones or vegetables.

How much grain would there be in a wild canine diet--assuming they are hunting their own food and not scavenging our trash?

So why are we having this conversation? I am still waiting for somebody to explain this to me.

Related articles:
Know Your Dog's Enemies: Overweight
A Word on Diet 
AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles Published in 2008


  1. Um, because grains are cheap to produce, tend to have much less environmental impact than meat and because many dogs don't actually have any problems digesting carbohydrate rich foods?

    Dogs don't *need* grains, but if we limited dog ownership to only those who can afford premium meat-based diets, then many excellent owners would not have dogs (and the pool of potential homes for unwanted dogs would be tiny).

    I'm not convinced by the concept of 'wild canine diet'. Dogs have evolved to scavenge human rubbish and animal droppings: that's what their niche is. Dogs aren't proud predators, obligate carnivores: they are opportunistic scavengers, designed to make the best use of whatever food source comes along. They've been eating our leftover grains for as long as we've been burning our porridge.

    I do actually feed my dogs a meat rich, grainfree diet, because I am a lucky well off privileged dog owner, but my choice does have welfare implications for animals of other species, it is expensive, and it involves the use of a lot more petrol and water than if I fed less meat.

    In short, I agree with your conclusion, but I don't think it's a no-brainer.

  2. Dear Victoria

    Thank you for reading and commenting.

    I by no means think it's a no-brainer, that's why I posed it as a question.

    Considering many experts highlighting the impact grains have on dogs' health, I think it is definitely a question to be asked.

    Yes, it is cheap. Meat based food doesn't have to be overly expensive if feeding parts normally not used for human consumption, such as heart, tongue and other parts that don't make it onto dinner table.

    The topic is open to discussion. I threw the question out as a result of profound differences between expert opinions.


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