Dog Food Wonkery: Grains
November 6, 2011
There are various arguments against the inclusion of grain in the canine diet. One is that grains cause allergies in dogs. This article offers the perspective that the incidence of grain allergies in dogs is extremely low. Another common argument against feeding grains is that the dog has no dietary requirement for carbohydrates and would not encounter grains (except for very small amounts in the stomachs of prey animals) in the wild. This is true but also raises more complex issues. For example, dogs were likely domesticated partly because they could adapt to the diet of humans (omnivores) and thrive off humans’ “table scraps”. Over time, the domesticated dog evolved differently from wild canids and, even though the genetic differences may be small, I think it’s a legitimate question as to whether we should model our pets’ diets after their wild counterparts. In other words, I am not feeding a wolf, I’m feeding a domesticated dog who evolved separately and with slight genetic variations from wolves. So why should I strive to feed my dog the same type of food a wolf eats? Further, every dog is an individual and the specific needs of the individual obviously outweigh any textbook definitions of “natural diet”. If your dog can not tolerate X as part of his diet, that’s the end of the discussion on X for your dog’s diet.
A further complicating issue for many pet owners who are concerned, for environmental, ethical and/or economic reasons, with minimizing the amount of animal products they purchase, is whether non-animal food sources, such as grains, can be safely fed to dogs. That is, can some (or all, in the case of those feeding vegan diets) of the animal-based food sources in the dog diet be replaced with non-animal ingredients which can be digested and utilized by the pet?
In looking at these questions, I think it’s important to remember the basics: Grains=Carbohydrates=Energy. (Note: The issue of grains as a source of protein for dogs is beyond the scope of this short post.) Energy is required by all living things. Dogs can get energy from more than one food source:
If the dog’s energy requirement is not supplied by a carbohydrate or fat source, the energy deficit will be met by the metabolism of protein. Although the dog does not have a specific dietary carbohydrate requirement, carbohydrates are usually its principal source of calories.
Of the grains I currently feed to my dogs, rice is by far the most common. Cooked rice is highly digestible and well utilized by dogs (although historically with my dogs, white rice is well digested whereas brown rice is not). I want to feed the amount of animal products necessary for my dogs to thrive and I want to make use of non-animal ingredients which they are capable of utilizing for the remainder of the diet. Rice works well for my purposes.
Do you include grains in your dog’s diet? Why or why not? For those who do include grains, what type do you use and what percentage of the total diet do grains represent?