Is Grain Really Bad for My Dog?

As our pets live longer and as more emphasis is placed on their nutrition, we are seeing increasing numbers of pet owners that are concerned about the food their dogs eat.  Also, as many Americans are efforting to improve their own nutrition, we have seen many marketing campaigns by dog food companies that employ advertising tactics that appeal to many humans.


Some owners automatically assume grain-free diets are better because these diets are many times touted as “natural” and are less likely to cause allergies.  To date, there has been no definitive proof that grain in dog foods causes allergies.  Because many people have digestive and other problems associated with grains, many pet owners erroneously think that may be the case with their pets.


  • Whole grains are not fillers in pet food but provide vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.  Some grains even provide protein, which in some cases may be easier to digest than meat proteins.  Reports indicate >90% of dogs and cats can utilize and digest grain nutrients normally found in pet foods.
  • Grain-free pet foods still have carbohydrates, but they are derived from other sources (i.e. sweet potatoes).  Carbohydrates are important sources of energy.  Sources of carbohydrates other than grain are not necessarily better, may not be as digestible as grain, may have less fiber and nutrients than grain, and may lead to GI upset.
  • Documented evidence shows it is extremely rare to see grain causing food allergies.  Rather, food allergies result from a dog food’s protein source and/or many human foods owners feed their dogs (i.e. chicken, beef, dairy, etc.).
  • Gluten allergies are rare in dogs.  Only one inbred family of Irish Setters is known to have exhibited abnormal GI signs following the ingestion of gluten.


Many clients ask us what is the best dog food we can recommend.  There is not one best brand or type for all pets because our pets are all individuals just as people are.  Tailoring your pet’s nutritional needs is something we can assist with however,  Our goal is to recommend a food that maintains a healthy weight, supports a strong immune system, and promotes optimum digestion.  Many excellent food choices are commercially available, but eliminating grain from your pet’s diet is not needed.


Please be sure to ask for any diet recommendations when visiting us at Independence Veterinary Clinic.


Dr. Bart Bryan


Source: Veterinary Team Brief, March 2017.  Grain-free Pet Foods: Fact vs Fiction.  Kara M. Burns, MS, Med, LVT, VTS (Nutrition)

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