The Great Grain Debate

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Contributed to GoFetch by: Dr. Jennifer Adolphe, PhD, RD Senior Nutritionist, Petcurean

There’s a lot of discussion about grains vs. proteins in pet food these days. Over the years, many pet food companies have driven the message that meat proteins are the most important, and that grains are just unnecessary filler.

While it’s true that protein is important to the health of your dog or cat, grains can still play an important role in a healthy diet. Here’s why:

Grains are a great source of carbohydrates, just like they are for humans. Carbohydrates are what our bodies burn for energy and they can be simple or complex in form.

Simple carbohydrates, like processed sugars, should be avoided because they do not provide essential nutrients – watch for these in dog treats in particular.

However whole grain oats, barley and rye are made up of complex carbohydrates that provide many essential nutrients and are absorbed more slowly than simple carbohydrates to help keep your pet feeling full.  Whole grain oats and barley also contain a special type of fibre called beta-glucan, which has been shown to provide health benefits by helping to control blood sugar and prevent obesity.


healthy grain diet
Dog/Image: Roxanna Froese, In the River Valley


While a gluten free diet needs to be followed by humans with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, most dogs and cats do not suffer this intolerance. If your pet does have food sensitivities and you have determined it is associated with a specific grain, it doesn’t mean you should eliminate all carbs from their food.  Instead, you could consider alternative sources of complex carbohydrates, like peas, lentils and sweet potatoes. These alternatives also provide additional fibre, vitamins, nutrients and minerals – all of which our pets need to stay healthy.

If you do decide to eliminate grains from your pet’s food entirely, it’s important to think about what is replacing them – it’s often higher levels of proteins and fat which may not be tolerated by some pets.

If you do go grain free, you can keep your pets healthier by choosing a food that replaces grains with other healthy carbohydrate sources, like the ones noted above.  But before making the switch, do your research and talk to your vet about what’s best for your pet.

Oh, and for all you history buffs:  it’s worth noting that genetic research indicates that adapting to a diet with carbohydrates was an important step in the domestication of dogs from wild animals. Interesting little fact, isn’t it!

Dr. Jennifer Adolphe



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