In this article, we’ll explore the misconception of grains as a filler ingredient in dog foods and discuss the popular trend of grain-free dog foods amongst dog owners.
What are grains?
Grains are plant seeds that are higher in carbohydrates such as wheat, corn, barley, oats and rice. Seeds that are higher in oil are usually not classified as grains, with examples like sunflower seeds, canola, flaxseeds. Other seeds like soy are higher in protein and not classed as grains.
Grains are bad - myth or fact?
There is a popular trend amongst dog owners to feed their dog grain-free foods, with a common belief that carbohydrates are bad for their dog’s health as dogs are carnivores. This is certainly a myth. For centuries, carnivorous animals also eat non-meat products considering they will eat the stomach contents of their prey. As a matter of fact, domestic dogs have evolved alongside humans to eat a similar diet which includes vegetables and grains.
Another popular belief is that grains are “filler” ingredients and do not provide any nutritional benefit. A filler ingredient is something that is added just to reduce cost and bulk out a product. However, this is untrue as grains in dog food serve as a helpful ingredient to ensure that diets are nutritionally complete. In fact, many grain-free alternatives like tapioca fit the “filler” category more closely as they are often just starch, without the nutritional value of grains like rice (high in antioxidants, B vitamins, and manganese) or barley (high in magnesium, selenium, and manganese).
What about grain-free dog food?
Grain-free dog food doesn’t mean it is carbohydrate-free, nor does it always contain a higher amount of “meat” content. The misconception was derived from the Atkins and ketogenic diets for humans which reinforces the belief that grains or carbohydrates are bad. It is true that carbohydrates are moderately calorie-dense, but most mammals require glucose (a simple carbohydrate) for brain function.
Furthermore, grain-free dog food still contains carbohydrates, the only difference is the carbohydrates are from non-grain sources like tapioca, peas, lentils, potato, and soy. Some of these options are actually less digestible or nutritionally dense than grain. For example, rice is actually a great ingredient as it is very digestible with highly bioavailable nutrition.
There is a concern that some of the alternative ingredients in grain-free dog foods (like peas, lentils, other legume seeds) may be contributing to the development of heart disease in dogs. This is a relatively new emergence of cases reported and as a result, the FDA has not got sufficient data to confirm the causal relationship between grain-free products and heart diseases in dogs. However, due to these concerns and the lack of evidence regarding benefits with grain-free food, at this stage the vet recommendation is not to feed grain-free unless your dog does have a specific sensitivity to a grain product.
If you want to compare the best dog food options for dogs with grain allergies, check out Pawsitive Plan to compare across 28 different dog food brands and personalise a meal plan for your fur babies.