A few years ago, Chareva was in a grocery store looking for a decent canned dog food. She pulled one can after another off the shelf, read the ingredients, and put back the ones that contained wheat and other grains.
A representative for one of the dog-food companies happened to be standing nearby. He asked why she put most of the cans back on the shelf. When she explained that we don’t feed our dogs grains, the representative replied, “But dogs need grains for energy.”
Yes, he said that.
As more and more people are giving up grains and finding their health improves as a result, we’re seeing a backlash from what I call The Save The Grains Campaign. Every so often, they manage to place media articles describing all the horrible things that will happen to you if you stop eating grains – see this post for an example.
Yup. They’re worried people are cutting back on grains. Apparently they’re also worried people are shunning grains in pet foods as well. Someone recently sent me an article titled 5 Reasons Why Grain Free Diet May Not Be Right for Your Dog. Let’s take a look:
In my vet practice, the question about grain free diet for dogs is one of the most common I hear from pet owners. In short, grain free dog food is quite controversial with canine experts that follow an evidence-based approach, but it’s a little more complicated than simple “good or bad.” Overall, there are a few reasons why it may not be the best choice for your pooch.
Ahh, a vet wrote the article. Credentials established. On to the reasons.
1. Food Fraud: It may not actually be “grain free”
Well, that’s convincing. You don’t want to choose a grain-free diet for your dog because the grain-free food might actually contain grains. Makes sense. If I found out foods labeled sugar-free actually contain sugar, I’d of course give up and stop attempting to avoid sugar.
The vet goes on to explain that some “grain free” dog foods contain yeast or rice. Okay, fine. I’ll skip those as well, no matter what the label says.
2. It’s Not Necessarily Healthier for Dogs
First, let’s start with a simple fact: there is no scientific evidence suggesting that grain free diet for dogs is a better option for every pet. In fact, the research that has been done on these diets found somewhat opposite results. A 2014 study concludes:
“Labels that read ‘grain-free’ are more harmful to the dog and should not be given unless required for other specific needs.”
Really? Dogs are harmed by grain-free foods? I scanned that “study.” It’s a college thesis, not an actual study with doggie control groups, and the “harm” mentioned is simply speculation that a high-protein diet is bad for canine kidneys – just like the speculation that a high-protein diet will harm human kidneys. The paper proves zip.
3. Dogs are Not Wolves
Many makers of products included in the grain free diet for dogs promote their foods by claiming that your dog’s ancestral DNA is common with the wolf …. This comparison is flawed in that dogs are a different species from wolves and have evolved alongside humans for thousands of years.
Yes, that’s true. Dogs have gotten used to eating people food to a large extent. So, uh … how has eating grains worked out for the health of people? Do you know anyone who used to be fat and sick, then became lean and healthy and attributed the difference to finally adding grains to his diet? I don’t. But I know plenty of people whose health improved after they ditched the grains.
Eating people food hasn’t worked out so well for modern pets, by the way. A recent article from NBC News, in fact, explains that cats and dogs are developing diabetes at previously unheard-of rates:
“There is no question from what I know that is published in the literature that obesity is on the rise, No. 1, and No. 2, diabetes is on the rise right along with it,” says veterinarian Robin Downing, hospital director of Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo.
And what’s the cure for a fat, diabetic cat?
A change to a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet — nicknamed the “Catkins” diet — can promote weight loss and make diabetes more manageable in cats, often sending them into remission so that they no longer require insulin injections. At the Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Colorado, three out of every four diabetic cats have their disease controlled through diet alone, says Downing.
What, you mean a high-protein diet doesn’t destroy a cat’s kidneys?
Anyway, back to the vet’s reasons you might not want your pooch to go grain-free:
4. The Majority of Dogs Can Easily Digest Grains
As dogs have evolved alongside people, their digestive tracts can efficiently digest grain-based calories.
My digestive tract can efficiently digest sugar, too. That doesn’t mean it’s not harmful and certainly doesn’t mean there’s any reason for me to eat the stuff.
5. The High Cost of Grain-Free
If nothing else, the last thing to mention about grain free diet for dogs is their expensive price tag. As you have probably already noted, whether cheap brands or those among the top rated dog foods, the grain free diet for dogs typically commands a higher cost than their grain-containing counterparts.
Uh … uh … yeah, okay. Meat costs more than grains. That doesn’t mean, in any way, shape, or form, that a grain-free diet is bad for your dog. If you can afford to feed your dog meat, feed your dog meat.
That’s what we do. Chareva sometimes adds half a sweet potato to our dogs’ dinners, but the vast majority of their calories come from raw meat and eggs. As for that line about dogs need grains for energy, let me tell you a little story.
Coco and Misha, our two Rottweilers, are seven years old now. The lifespan for Rottweilers is listed as 8 to 10 years, so they’re old for the breed.
Yet somehow, these old dogs occasionally manage to dig under, or jump over, or push aside the fencing that’s supposed to keep them near the house. Then they go off on a great night-time adventure. More than once, Chareva and I have ended up driving around the area at midnight, hoping to find them. Once we were convinced something bad had happened to them, because they still weren’t home by noon the next day … and then around 2:30 PM, they came trotting back onto the property.
A few weeks ago, it happened again: Chareva went to check on them before bed, and they were nowhere to be found. We drove around the area, shining a flashlight into yards and wooded areas. No luck. We went home. Then a woman called to say our dogs were hanging around by her house – she’d persuaded Misha to sit still long enough to read the phone number on the collar.
So we hopped back in the van and drove to where the woman lived. In the meantime, Coco had run off, so we put Misha in the van and hoped Coco would find her way home. She did. Both dogs smelled like skunk, so they apparently did some critter-chasing during their adventure.
In the photo below, X marks where our house is, and Y marks where the woman who called us lives.
That’s a looong way to go tromping through the woods, chasing skunks and other critters. But that photo doesn’t capture the size of the hill they had to climb to reach the woman’s house. This photo does:
Coco had to make that trip both ways, of course, since she didn’t wait around for us to arrive in the van.
I’d say our two old dogs are pretty energetic, wouldn’t you? Good thing we don’t feed them those energy-enhancing grains … if we did, the next person to call and say she’s got our dogs could be living in Kentucky.
Dogs don’t need grains. Neither do humans.