“Grain” seems to be the five-letter “dirty” word of the dog food world. Mention that you feed your dog some grains, and you may be ostracized from certain forums or Facebook groups. The fact is that every dog is an individual, and no one diet is suitable for an entire species. Are grains in dog food problematic for some dogs? Absolutely. Do others do well on diets that contain some grains? You bet.
Let’s take a closer look at grains and dogs so you can make your own decision regarding what’s best for your canine companion.
First: What are grains?
Grains are the seeds of grasses, called cereal crops, cultivated as food. They are complex carbohydrates made up of starch (long chains of sugar molecules) and fiber. During digestion, the enzyme amylase breaks down starches into simple sugars, such as glucose, for use by the body as energy. Fiber in whole grains is indigestible but provides certain health benefits. Some grains contain gluten, a controversial plant-based protein, while other grains are gluten free.
The most common are:
- Oats (be sure they are labeled “certified gluten free,” as gluten can creep in during processing)
A separate category called “pseudo-grains” includes the seeds of broad-leaf, bushy shrubs or plants rather than grasses.
Wild rice is not really rice but actually an aquatic grass. Grains can be either “whole” or “refined.”
Whole grains have the entire seed left intact, including:
- Bran. The seed’s hard fiber-rich outer layer, or shell. Rich in B vitamins and trace minerals.
- Germ. The seed’s core, or embryo. Contains vitamin E, B vitamins, antioxidants, plant-based fats.
- Endosperm. The biggest part of the seed. Contains starchy carbohydrates and some protein.
Refined grains have had the seed’s bran and germ removed, leaving behind only the starchy endosperm. Refined grains are less nutritious than whole grains and raise blood sugar faster. Brown rice is a whole grain, while white rice is refined.
Can dogs digest grains?
Yes, dogs can digest grains. Although dogs do not produce salivary amylase, they do produce pancreatic amylase, enabling them to digest starches. The latest DNA research shows that most modern dog breeds are traced back to European dogs of about 7,000 years ago. This is the same time that agricultural societies arose, and dogs would have eaten scraps from the farmers’ crops,…