Veterinary Mythbusters: "grains are not good for pets"
Grains on the Brain
Unless you live under a rock or on a remote planetary moon, you’ve probably heard about the controversy about grains in pet foods (I’m sure you’ve heard about it in human foods, too, but I’ll leave that discussion for the human nutritionists). In fact, a great deal of marketing and commercials for pet food revolves around the issue. So, if grains really are so bad for our pets, why do some food companies still use them? Let’s read on…
Are grains really bad for dogs and cats?
Not necessarily. Although dogs and cats are primarily carnivores, countless studies have shown that they both digest grains and can utilize nutrition from them (ex: essential amino acids, anti-inflammatory fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals). While some of these nutrients may not be required in a dog or cat’s diet, there are several studies to show they can be beneficial for many animals.
Aren’t grains just “filler”?
Again, not necessarily. While some companies may use grains as a “filler” ingredient, others use them in specific amounts for their nutritional value. In these cases, where and how the pet food company sources its ingredients would be the most important factor. Just as there are meats that are higher quality than others, certain grains (and to some extent, how they’re prepared) are higher quality when compared to others.
Aren’t grains just carbs? Don’t carbs make dogs/cats fat?
While it’s true grains are a source of carbohydrates, they are also a source for other nutrients. Many grains serve as a complex carbohydrate, which is generally better for blood sugar regulation. It is important to note that just because a diet is grain free, does NOT mean it is carbohydrate free. In fact, many grain free diets contain carbohydrate sources that may have a higher caloric content and fewer nutrients than grains. Therefore, it is important to monitor your pet’s weight to avoid Fido or Fifi packing on some unwanted fluff.
What about allergies?
This is an ongoing area of study in veterinary medicine. While some dogs and cats can develop sensitivity to certain grains, it is by no means the most common culprit of food allergies. The vast majority of dogs and cats with true food allergies are almost always allergic to a protein source (ex: chicken, beef, etc.). For this reason I would never advise a client that feeding a grain free diet will improve allergies (it may help in some cases, but definitely not all!). However, since every animal is an individual, if a pet’s allergies improve after switching to a grain free diet, then I’m all for continuing it! Just make sure we’re not packing on any extra pounds in the process. ;)
At the end of the day, if your pet enjoys a grain free diet and is in good body condition, I don’t see any harm in continuing to feed it. But keep in mind, pet foods that contain grains are every bit as nutritional – in some cases, more so. Go grains!