This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 Issue of Vohne Liche Kennels’ American Working Dog Magazine.
Why the Push for Grain Free
Over the last decade there’s been a big push on grain free pet foods. Some say they’re healthier as dogs wouldn’t eat grain in the wild. Others say they’re better because grains cause allergies. The truth is that neither of those positions is very accurate and there are good reasons grains have been in dog food for many decades.
Dog Food and Starch
Basically, every commercial dry dog food kibble has some kind of carbohydrate source in it which provides starch and fiber. Traditionally those starches were primarily provided by grains. In the grain free diets, they simply replaced the starch from the grains with starch from other plant and vegetable matter like peas or carrots. Are these better sources for your dog? They may be marginally better but often they aren’t. They just look better on the label. From a digestibility standpoint, rice is a better source of starch and digestible fiber than almost all the trendy new fruit and vegetable ingredients.
Eating Grain in the Wild
While it’s true that dogs much prefer to eat meat and fat, they will consume plant matter such as grains and can survive on them. They convert protein from plant matter much less efficiently than animal protein but can break down the carbohydrates into simpler starches and burn the calories. A hungry dog in the wild would be just as likely to eat corn as peas or carrots although none of them should represent the bulk of a canine diet.
Grains as Allergens
While recent consumer perceptions have turned a negative eye to grains as a common source of allergies in their dogs, this is very rarely the case. In fact, your dog is much more likely to develop an allergy to meat and dairy products than to any grain. In addition, the most common grain sources linked to allergies are wheat, soy and corn, and these are often not included in the better premium dog foods. It’s a very rare dog that shows any sort of allergic reaction to grains like rice or sorghum.
Grain Free is a People Thing
The reality is that the push for grain free has been primarily driven by people’s desire to feed their dog as more of a family member than a dog. Dog food companies simply responded to consumer demand despite the fact that there’s no compelling nutritional benefit to a grain free diet. At the end of the day, a high quality, nutritionally balanced food should contain good sources of carbohydrates and certain grains are some of the best sources you can buy.