The Truth About Grains in Pet Food

February 3, 2014

When it comes to pet food, there are good grains and not so good grains.  As a pet owner, you need to know the difference.

Do dogs or cats really need any grains added to their diets?  Both species are primarily carnivores.  In the wild, the only food they are likely to consume would be the prey they catch.  But said prey, such as rabbits, squirrels, or birds, may eat a diet of grains.  So a wild dog or cat would probably be including some kinds of grain in their meals.

Grains are high in carbohydrates with little protein.  Grains add calories, which translate to weight gain and health concerns in time.

Looking first at carbohydrates,  there are simple carbs and complex carbs.  Simple carbohydrates foster energy, and complex carbs promote gastrointestinal help.  Both have a purpose.  While they are found in abundance in grains, carbohydrates are also present in certain vegetables.  Simple carbs may provide energy, but the empty calories aren’t worth it.

Grains can present problems for our pets with allergies.  Corn is used in place of meat in many lower-priced pet foods, acting as a protein.  Yet many dogs and cats are allergic to corn.  Look on the ingredients list for corn, corn meal, or corn gluten meal.  Manufacturers use several forms of this grain to save money.  Signs of allergies in dogs and cats from corn products include chronic itching, loss of fur, red and/or infected ears and yeast infections in the ears.

When our Gator was a puppy, he suffered from chronic ear problems….the same red, itchy ears and yeast infections.  Those problems never cleared up until we changed his diet to one without corn.  The veterinarian we used at that time didn’t suggest that as a possibility.  A friend told us that corn might be the culprit.  Since that time, Gator has never suffered another ear problem.

A grain-free diet gave Gator his shiny fur coat Gator Showing Off His Shiny Coat

Over the years, our big dog struggled with skin rashes and loss of fur, and we went from one pet food to another trying to find the solution.  Some upset his stomach after a few weeks.  He now eats a totally grain-free diet that works well for him, and he sports a gorgeous, shiny silver/brown coat.

According to, another problem with feeding grains to pets is that insects can be found in cheap, low-quality grains.

“Grain infestations are so common that damage done by insects after crops are harvested is sometimes greater than the damage done during the growing season itself…That’s how the carcasses of dead grain insects can so easily end up in commercial dog food.  These common dog food pollutants should be considered prime suspects in any attempt to prevent canine allergies.”

The article goes on to say that when you mix low-quality feed grain with moisture and then store them together, you get mites. Lots of mites!  And these can be in your pet’s food if it is a low-quality product containing grain.

Atopic dermatitis is a real problem for dogs and mites in pet food grains could be one cause.  White rice is another troublesome grain for pets.  Diabetes is on the rise in dogs and cats, and feeding them a diet high in white rice is not healthy and can contribute to high blood glucose.

I guess you can tell at this point that I advocate grain-free dog and cat food.  The improvement in my own dog’s health made a believer out of me!  If you are going to include grains in your pet’s diet, consider a healthier variety.  Barley is one such option.  Just be sure the barley is the type containing higher protein and is intended for human use, rather than the lower-quality barley that is high in maltose and used mainly for brewing beer.  How do you know?  Ask the manufacturer.  But there are no guarantees you’ll get the answer you want.  Barley doesn’t provide much in the way of nutrients and is high in unnecessary carbohydrates, but it does provide fiber for digestion.

Perhaps a food with oats as a filler would better suit your pet.  Oats are a healthier choice.  They are full of nutrients, protein and fiber and are known to be low in glucose.  Instead of purchasing dog food containing oats,  make your own oatmeal and share some with your pets.  It’s good for both of you.

Pets don’t require a grain-free diet, but grains shouldn’t take up too much space in the food.  That means it should be found far down on the ingredients list.  If you do want to include grains, stick to healthy options such as oats or barley or whole brown rice and avoid the cheaper grains like corn, wheat or refined rice.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: