Do dogs eat grains?

It seems that by pandering to the concerns of human beings, commercial dog food manufacturers in America may have opened a veritable can of worms. Not everyone believes dogs should be fed grains. The USA has apparently witnessed a massive increase in diet-related heart disease in dogs. Specifically dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). At first glance it appears to be connected to grain-free dog food. Grain-free dog food produced for those people who don’t believe dogs should be fed grains. So the question is, do dogs eat grains?

Put another way, should dogs be eating grains or not? Do they need them and should we be feeding them? And is there more to this story than meets the eye?

The rise of canine DCM

The possible link between this otherwise-unexplained increase in DCM and grain-free dog food has seen the American Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announce a list of a large number of dog food brands under investigation.

The solution to the mystery of why this is affecting dogs in the USA and not the UK might specifically relate to the difference between American and EU pet food regulations. It might also be nothing more than a storm in a tea-cup. Because it could even be that actually, this reported increase in DCM has nothing to do with grains (or the lack of them) at all!

Grain-free Diet Plan

A specially formulated, grain-free diet plan for anyone wishing to feed their dog a grain-free diet

Regional staples

The Aztecs were known to greatly value their dogs. To the point they were regularly known to go without food themselves in order that their canine companions didn’t go hungry. According to 15th century Spanish explorers, the indigenous people of Mexico fed their dogs on maize. Better known as corn to those of us in the UK. This was supplemented with fruits, vegetables and a little meat. Since maize was the staple food of the Aztecs it became the staple food of their dogs. Meat played only a minor part in the diets of both man and dog. Largely of course because it was a rare resource in a traditionally agricultural region.

On the other side of the world in Southeast Asia, the rice-farming communities of the likes of Vietnam and the Philippines have traditionally fed their dogs rice. Once again, as seems perfectly logical, man and beast survive and thrive on that region’s staple food.

In non-agrarian (non-agricultural) regions of the world such as the Arctic Circle, where the staple food of the human populace is meat, quite naturally, meat is the staple food of man’s best friend. So in all three cases, particularly where the poor or ordinary members of society are concerned, both they and their dogs traditionally eat the same thing. They eat the most commonly and readily available (or staple) food.

Gene adaptation

It has been scientifically established that dogs from primarily agrarian regions have a gene adaptation which allows them to benefit from a starch-rich diet. Okay, it’s not known at what point this gene adaptation took place. It’s suspected that it took place over time. And that it coincided with man’s increasing domestication of the land for agriculture in various parts of the world. And since most breeds of dog are now established worldwide rather than limited to their region or country of origin, those gene adaptations have likely taken place in all dogs. Irrespective of where they’re bred today.

Grain-free is fine

So it would appear that man’s best friend has adapted to benefit from starchy foods such as grains. It would therefore seem logical that removing such foods could remove beneficial nutrients from the dog’s diet. It would therefore make sense to introduce some equally beneficial nutrients into the diet to counter the effect. Otherwise a nutrient deficiency could take place.

Without going into detail, therein lies the likely problem with the American dog food industry. Especially with regard to the increase in diet-related heart disease witnessed in dogs being fed one of the new grain-free commercial diets.

Put another way, it’s not necessarily the grains or the lack of them that are the problem. It’s not a question of do dogs eat grains. It’s what those grains are being replaced with that’s the issue. In other words, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a grain-free diet. It just needs to be properly formulated. And you won’t find a healthy, properly formulated grain-free diet in a bag!

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