Saturday, May 25, 2024

Is Grain Free Dog Food Good For Dogs

Health Benefits Of Grains

Grain Free Dog Food Risks Update

Adding some healthy whole grains into your dogs diet can actually have some health benefits.

In particular, grains are high in fiber, which is necessary to regulate your dogs digestive system.

This is not only for your dogs comfort, but also for their well-being, as a well regulated digestive system works to remove toxins from the body.

The soluble fiber found in grains also helps control cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels and enhance the absorption of nutrients.

And grains contain some vital nutrients that dogs need. They are rich in B vitamins, which nourish the metabolism and help dogs regulate their energy use, as well as iron, which transports oxygen to the muscles, magnesium, which ensures muscle strength, and selenium, which helps fight premature aging.

Grains are generally lower in calories than animal-based proteins, so grains also help reduce the calorie content of dog foods, while still leaving your dog feeling full and satisfied.

As already discussed, grains can help ensure that your dogs diet is properly balanced and that they arent getting too much protein.

An excess of protein can lead to issues such as kidney disease, intestinal bowel disease, and pancreatitis.

The Health Risks Of Grain

Although dog parents have good intentions when feeding their dogs a grain-free diet, it may actually be harmful. The FDA has alerted pet owners that there may be a link between grain-free diets and a diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy , says Emily Wilson, DVM, a veterinarian with Fuzzy, a pet telehealth company.;

DCM is a disease of the heart muscle, which can cause the heart to become enlarged, which hinders its ability to pump blood properly.

History Of Taurine In Pet Foods

A few decades ago, pet food manufacturers started extruding pet foods. Extrusion is a process of high heat and pressure. It gives kibble its kibble form and stops it from crumbling. A large amount of carbohydrate is normally needed for food to be extruded.;

And carbohydrate is virtually devoid of taurine.;

Back in the 70s, cats started developing serious eye and heart diseases. By the late 80s, pet food regulators identified a lack of taurine in the carbohydrate-rich foods as the cause.;

Taurine is an amino acid thats necessary for the development and function of the heart and muscle cells. It also plays an important role in eye, brain and immune function.

So in the 80s, taurine became the 11th essential amino acid for cats.

Unlike cats, dogs can manufacture their own taurine from other amino acids. So pet food makers dont consider taurine to be an essential amino acid for dogs.;

But recently, the FDA discovered that some large breeds, including Great Danes, Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers and Irish Wolfhounds, cant manufacture enough taurine when fed a diet thats low in animal protein.;

They developed the same heart disease, cardiomyopathy, that was killing cats.;

Although cardiomyopathy can happen in any breed of dog, these particular dogs had their heart disease partially reversed by adding taurine to the diet.;

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The Health Benefits Of Grain

Wilson says that there isn’t substantial scientific evidence regarding the benefits of feeding your dog a grain-free diet.;

The main benefit of grain-free dog food would be if your dog has a direct allergy related to grains. Then, your vet may recommend a grain-free diet.

However, Wilson says grain allergies are very rare, and it’s more common for food allergies in dogs to be linked to the protein source rather than the grain source.;

“Very few pet owners ever really needed to avoid grain-containing diets for medical reasons, but there was a perception that grain was somehow a nutritional ‘villain’ and eliminating it completely was the next big thing,” says Greenstein.

A Look At The Ingredients

Freshpet Healthy & Natural Food for Small Dogs/Breeds ...

The following chart shows that these cases may have something to do with common ingredients in grain-free dog food. The findings show high instances of cases reported in foods with ingredients such as peas, lentils, and sweet potatoes.

Image courtesy of FDA

And, to complicate the situation even more, some brands were reported more frequently than others, and some dog breeds also had more cases reported than others.

Image courtesy of FDA

With so many unknowns, its hard to pin down the exact cause of or contributor to these cases. But, as Dr. Patton shares, we should consider how these foods impact our dogs health, and we shouldnt limit our concerns to the risk of DCM. There are other problems that can result from some dog foods that have been labeled grain-free.

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Nutro Max Adult Natural Beef Meal & Rice Recipe

Another affordable option, this beef recipe actually starts with chicken meal as its first ingredient, and then added chicken fat. Beef is actually the sixth ingredient on the list, and then we also see lamb meal. The result is a high protein recipe, but to characterize it as a beef recipe seems ingenious.

For carbohydrates, we see whole grain sorghum, brewers rice, whole grain oatmeal, and whole brown rice. These are all nutritional and digestible, but despite there being quite a bit of it in the recipe, it is still pretty low in fiber, so some dogs may struggle with the high protein content.

The recipe uses a good quality nutrient pack with nothing artificial, which means that you can happily feed it to your dog, even if it isnt really a beef recipe.


  • Low in fiber
  • Disingenuous marketing

This kibble from Nutro Max is an affordable dry dog food that is very high in the animal-based protein that should be at the center of every dogs diet.

Treating Food Allergies In Dogs

The only effective way to treat a food allergy in dogs is to change their diet.

While grain-free foods are often touted as good for food allergies, science tells us that protein sources are more likely to be the culprit. According to a study published in 2016, the top three most common causes of food allergies in dogs are beef, dairy, and chicken.

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Can Puppies Eat Grain Free Dog Food

As puppies have lots of growing to do, feeding them the right diet is vital for their development. The most important thing is that your puppy gets all the nutrients they need to grow into a healthy dog. Puppies can eat grain free dog food, so long as it contains the right balance of nutrients. Further, puppies who show signs of intolerances from eating traditional dog food may benefit from a change to a grain-free diet.

Diamond Naturals Light Formula

Why is grain-free food bad for dogs? (Dogs food guide)

Finally, another affordable option, Diamond Naturals manages to keep prices down by including more affordable grains than expensive meats, which means it is at the high range of what you would want in terms of protein and carbohydrate balance.

The recipe starts with lamb meal as its first ingredient, with the protein in the recipe is topped up with chicken fat. We then see a range of healthy grains including whole grain brown rice, oatmeal, cracked pearled barley, and grain sorghum among other things. These are all healthy whole grains that are good for your dog to eat, but there is just a little bit too much of it in the recipe.

The nutrient pack for this recipe is comprehensive, and it also uses a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, including spinach cranberries, papaya, and coconut, as natural sources of many of the vitamins and minerals that dogs need. The recipe also contains a healthy dose of probiotics to aid digestion.


  • Animal meal as first ingredient
  • High in carbohydrates

If you are looking for a quality kibble to complement a high-protein wet food diet, then Diamond Naturals contains a good amount of the right kinds of grains.

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Is There Any Situation In Which A Dog Would Need A Grain

It is rare that a dog would require a grain-free diet for medical reasons. The top two dietary allergens in dogs are beef and dairy products, with wheat coming in third. Additionally, in the case that a grain sensitivity does exist, it is unlikely that a dog will be triggered by all types of grain. If you suspect that your dog has a dietary allergy, have a chat with your veterinarian. Dietary allergies will require veterinary intervention for diagnosis and treatment.

Understand The Pros And Cons Of Grain

When grain-free dog food swarmed the pet nutrition market, it quickly rose to popularity. Whether due to pet parents assuming it was a healthy dog food choice or our focus on eating gluten and grain-free or something else, the fad took off.

During its rise to popularity, pet parents may not have had all the information they needed to choose wisely. But, with the somewhat recent FDA investigation into grain-free dog food and its potential link to canine dilated cardiomyopathy , pet parents started asking more questions.

Based on the data collected and analyzed, the FDA believes the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex issue that may involve multiple factors. And the ingredients substituted for grains, including lentils, potatoes, and peas, may hold the answers to unlocking the problem.

While the debate about grain-free dog food continues, its smart to understand healthy balanced nutrition. And then decide whether grains should or shouldnt be a part of your dogs diet.

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Whats The Cause For Concern

Over the past couple of years, veterinary cardiologists noticed an increase in the number of dogs they saw who had dilated cardiomyopathy , a heart condition that decreases the hearts ability to pump blood. There are some dog breeds that are more likely to develop DCM, but the cardiologists were diagnosing the condition in breeds without a known genetic predisposition, so the Federal Drug Administration began an investigation.

Whats The Difference Between Gluten

Is Grain Free Dog Food Good For Your Dog?

One misconception is that grain-free means the same thing as gluten-free. Some grains wheat, barley and rye do indeed contain gluten and if your dog has a wheat intolerance, which as weve discussed is one of the more common food intolerances, opting for a gluten-free dog food will help you avoid this.

Dogs requiring a gluten-free diet dont need a grain-free diet. There are grains which dont contain gluten and offer various benefits for your dog. Its always best to check the full ingredient list on the back of pack, rather than simply shopping by labels such as gluten-free or grain-free to ensure that the food delivers on the nutrition that your dog needs.

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Should You Switch Your Dog To Or From A Grain

Your veterinarian should be consulted regarding the best dietary choices for your dog.

There have not been any recommendations issued by the FDA advising whether you should or should not feed your dog a grain-free diet, as their study is ongoing.

The most important consideration in choosing a dog food is that it provides complete and balanced nutrition.

If you are thinking of switching your dog to a grain-free diet, discuss the risks and benefits of feeding a grain-free diet with your veterinarian first.

If your dog is already on a grain-free diet, and you want to know if you should switch to a dog food that has grains, ask your veterinarian what the best dog food option would be for your particular dog.

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Adult Chicken And Brown Rice Recipe

Blue Buffalo is one of the most trusted dog food brands on the market, and this recipe reminds us why.

It starts with deboned chicken as its first ingredient, topping up the protein content of the recipe with chicken meal as its second ingredient, and also added chicken fat. No animal by-products are used by this company.

For grains, we see brown rice, barley and oatmeal, all of which are recognizable ingredients that we would be happy to see on our own plates. This is a good indication that they are the right kinds of grain to be feeding our canine friends. The balance of grains to proteins in this recipe result in a high-protein recipe that is ideal for dogs.

The nutrient pack is again very comprehensive and includes added probiotics to aid digestion. The only red flags here really are again a relatively high amount of added salt and the price tag. Not as expensive as the previous food, but still pretty heavy on the wallet.


  • Expensive
  • Added salt

This is a great quality dog food from a trusted brand, and it has the ideal balance of protein and carbohydrates for dogs to thrive.

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Uses/benefits Of Grain Free Dog Food

We know that, when given correctly cooked grain as a food ingredient, intolerance in dogs is relatively uncommon but when it does occur, it can be distressing for the dog and the owner. So an increasing number of dog owners are not taking any chances and are going straight to grain free. Many of our customers report that the grain free foods are even more palatable than our rice-based foods, so are especially good for fussy eaters. There are many;benefits of going grain free;for your dog, meaning theyll be full of energy and shining with health from toe to tail.

What Does The Latest Research Tell Us About Grain

Pet Nutritionist Explains Grain Free vs Grain Inclusive Pet Foods | Which is Better?

So far, we havent established the exact cause of what appears to be diet-related DCM, but the latest research is pointing to the possibility of grain-free diets as a factor. Studies have shown that many dogs given a diagnosis of DCM will often have an improvement in cardiac function, with a diet switch to a grain-inclusive food.

Grain-free foods often include a relatively high proportion of peas, lentils, legumes and/or potatoes to balance the diet. Whether these ingredients or the lack of grain is the cause is yet to be established.

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The Evolution Of ‘puppy Dog Eyes’

Generally when dogs develop a food allergy, its to a protein, Gelzer said. So, veterinarians will often switch to a food with a different protein source to treat the problem.

One of the big problems with DCM is that dogs dont show symptoms of the disease lethargy, exercise intolerance, shortness of breath until theyre very sick, Gelzer said.

She points to the example of clients who came in with a very sick dog that was diagnosed with DCM. The family had a second dog that seemed healthy, but because both were eating a grain-free dog food, Gelzer suggested bringing in the second dog to be checked.

What we dont know is if used in these diets in place of grains are causing the problem. Its also possible that could be some kind of toxin.

When we evaluated that dog, it also had decreased heart function, but it was still subclinical, she said. The dog didnt look abnormal because it was at an early stage.

What Can I Do To Satisfy My Picky Eater

One way to enhance your dogs appetite is to add tasty toppers to her food. Mixing a few tablespoons of a quality canned food to your dogs kibble can help.

Fresh, raw or cooked chicken or beef can also get your dog to drool over their meals again. Eggs are another popular appetizer scrambled or boiled with no salt, oil or seasonings, of course.

Toppers can safely make up about 10-20% of your dogs diet. Youll need to be mindful of added calories and nutrients.

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Homemade Dog Food Sources

  • Meats: chicken, turkey, beef, bison, pork, lamb, venison
  • Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, zucchini, summer squash, spinach, kale, collard greens, chard, thawed frozen peas
  • Complex carbohydrates: brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, lentils, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, winter squash

Recommended Serving Amounts

  • 2 pounds of food per day for a 100-pound dog
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of food per day for a 50-pound dog
  • 1/2 to 3/4 pound of food per day for a 25-pound dog
  • 5 to 6 1/2 ounces of food per day for a 10-pound dog

This information is not intended to replace professional medical advice. Every dog’s dietary needs are different. Please consult with your veterinarian and use personal judgment when applying this information to your own dog’s diet.

Is One Grain Better Than Another

Naturediet Feel Good Grain Free Dog Food

Each grain has its own unique nutritional profile, says Adolphe, and its important to work with your veterinarian to find the food ingredients that work best for your dog.

No one diet works for every single pet, she explains. Its great to have lots of different options.

No matter which grain you choose, both doctors agreed that whole grains, which contain all parts of the plant, are best.

I like the complexity of whole grains, says Wynn. Theyre as unprocessed as you can get.

Scan your dog foods ingredient list for items like whole oats or whole wheat. If you see soy mill run, wheat middlings, and/or wheat mill run, youre dealing with a brand that uses grain fractions.

These contain only part of the plant. Theyre not necessarily bad, Wynn says, theyre just incomplete.

Many conventional nutritionists will tell you theres no advantage to whole grains compared to grain fractions, as long as you understand what the ingredients are, she says. But I prefer whole grains; thats a bias.

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Blue Buffalo Life Protection


Blue Buffalo Small Breed Adult is one of 23 dry recipes included in our review of the Blue Buffalo Life Protection product line.

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, oatmeal, barley
  • Type: Grain-inclusive
  • Other recipes: Puppy, healthy weight, toy breed, large breed, fish recipe and more
  • Price: $$
  • See all 23 available recipes

This Blue Buffalo Life Protection formula gets the bulk of its animal protein from both fresh chicken and chicken meal. Dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 29% protein, 17% fat and 46% estimated carbs with a fat-to-protein ratio of about 58%.

A reasonably priced, grain-inclusive kibble, available in multiple flavor options perfect for rotational feeding. Highly recommended.

Sample buyer reviewIt is really nice to see the popularity of this food grow. To me, it seems a heightening of general awareness and concern regarding dog nutrition. I like that the grains in this are brown rice and oats as they seem to be most digestible. What I am also keen on is the fish meal and supplemental super foods. This particular formula was instrumental,in part, to my continuing exploration of dog foods. When I saw it shelved at a local grocery near inferior foods I was encouraged that more dogs may be living better.

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