The grain-free diet
For some, it’s a matter of personal philosophy. For others it’s because their dog suffers a genuine intolerance to grain. And in the case of some people it’s because they’ve been misinformed on the subject. Whatever the reason, an increasing number of pet parents today are choosing to feed their dog grain-free dog food.
In point of fact, grain intolerance in dogs is exceptionally rare. Most dogs actually benefit from a small amount of grain in their diet. Particularly rice. Unlike wheat, rice is gluten-free. Providing it’s good quality, it’s unlikely to have been treated with harmful pesticides. And, importantly for many, it has not been genetically modified as has much of the wheat we eat today.
Yes, over time, some dogs, and indeed humans, can develop an intolerance to complex carbohydrates such as grains. In just the same way they can develop an intolerance to any other food group. More common by far though is a developed intolerance to protein. That despite what avaricious commercial pet food companies might tell you as justification for charging considerably more for grain-free dog food than conventional kibble.
Dogs not grain intolerant by design
Dogs are not genetically programmed to be grain intolerant. Indeed, some studies have proven that feeding a diet free of grain can actually be detrimental to canine health.
The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for example has discovered a correlation between grain-free dog food and an alarmingly large and otherwise unexplainable increase in canine dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease).
It would appear that the more manufacturers ‘tinker’ with food either to cut costs or to pander to current trends, the more problems they create. And that is happening in both the human and the dog populations!
Independent research actually shows that beef, dairy products and chicken are the top three allergy producing ingredients. And the commercial pet food companies have a large part to play in that as well by once again using cheap ingredients.
In other words, what produces allergies is not grains, beef or poultry, but cheap, poor quality grains, beef and poultry. And the quantities of the cheapest of those being used as we’ll see below!
Cheapness breeds popularity
One of the most popular choices of carbohydrate in commercial dog food is rice. Rice is an excellent, slow release, energy-giving carbohydrate. A good source of fibre and a time-honoured staple for dogs with upset tummies.
Providing it is of human grade quality, and providing it does not replace meat as the primary source of protein, rice is a highly beneficial grain for dogs. The problem today is that so many large commercial dog food manufacturers have created allergies in our dogs by an over-reliance on rice as a filler in their largely unhealthy, mass produced dog food. So the problem relates not only to the quality of the grain that’s being used, but the quantity as well. These two factors are the major contributors to today’s increasingly widespread grain intolerance. Not the grain itself.
Importantly, it is not grain per se that some dogs are allergic to, it’s cheap grain. Cheap grain that’s almost certainly been genetically modified and that will most definitely have been liberally treated with pesticides to maximise both yield and profit.
Also, while some dogs might be allergic to, say, cheap rice, it does not necessarily mean they are allergic to other grains such as wheat and corn.
Dogs are ominivores
Dogs are not carnivores. They are what some would call ‘indifferent ominivores’. That means that while they might prefer meat, they are perfectly happy eating both meat and plant-based food. And, importantly, they now have genes and a digestive system designed to benefit from both. Courtesy of fifteen thousand years of evolution since their parting of the ways from the grey wolf by man’s domestication of the species. In other words, dogs have evolved to be able to eat and benefit from more or less the same ingredients as human beings. All because of their co-habitation with man.
Dogs always ate grains
And then there’s the evergreen argument that dogs were not designed to eat grains. Which is of course simply not correct. The grey wolf from which all dogs ultimately descend, was of course a carnivore. But that does not mean wolves did not eat plant-based materials. In the main, they would have feasted on herbivores. In particular the stomach contents of those large and small plant-eating mammals. These would have included grains, which would have been a highly-prized delicacy to the wolf.
The wolf would also have eaten plants and berries. In exactly the same way that today’s domesticated dogs will choose on occasion to eat the odd piece of basil or a handful of fresh blackberries. Or occasionally snack on blades of fresh young wheatgrass. I know mine do. All three!
And then of course those early domesticated dogs would have shared the food of those who domesticated them. For example, we know from 15th century Spanish explorers that the ancient Aztecs fed their domesticated dogs on maize, the most commonly grown and staple food crop of the Aztecs. By inference, it stands to reason that a dog domesticated in Asia would have been fed a lot of rice, the most widely eaten staple food for a large part of Asia’s population, once again, because that was the food eaten by those who domesticated local dogs. Likewise a dog domesticated in a wheat growing area of the world would have been fed a lot of wheat because that is what its domesticators would have eaten.
So don’t automatically dismiss grains as unnecessary or harmful to your dog. Unless your dog does indeed prove to be grain intolerant, grains actually have a lot going for them!