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Are grains safe for your dog?
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Are grains safe for your dog?

While dogs do not have a dietary requirement for carbs, feeding a grain-free diet may not be the best way to go too. Pay close attention to the ingredients, say experts

You might have heard people say, “My dog descended from wolves and should be fed like one.” While the first part of that statement is true, the second part is not. Unlike cats, who are obligate carnivores, dogs are omnivores and can eat plant matter as well as meat. But the question arises, are grains safe for your dog? 

Do dogs need grains in their diet?

Grains are an important part of your dog’s diet as they fulfill your pet’s carbohydrate and fiber needs. Lee Georgina, canine nutritionist and founder of Georgina’s Kitchen, Bangalore, says, “Soluble and insoluble fibers found in whole plant foods can add value to your canine companion’s meals. When provided in smaller quantities, they help prevent many health conditions.”

While talking about the right amount of grains for dogs, he explains, “One needs to consider the breed and their physical activity levels. Apart from that, it largely depends on their physiological condition, age, sex and health. For example, the average two-year-old Indian mongrel with normal physiology can be fed 150-350 grams of grains per day,” shares Dr N Khalander, veterinary assistant surgeon, government of Tamil Nadu.

Are carbs bad for dogs?

“In dogs, the highly acidic stomachs, the absence of salivary amylase and gut flora that is not equipped to handle plant matter are supportive indicators that dogs should not consume high amounts of carbohydrates,” explains Georgina. She adds that dogs can make their carbs from protein and fats through a process called gluconeogenesis. 

While dogs need limited amounts of carbs in their diet and can do without it, feeding a completely carb-free diet could get complicated. Moreover, veterinarians stress that not all carbs are bad for dogs. 

Fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains, which have lower glycemic index (GI) are preferred to high-GI ingredients like refined grains. However, nutritionists warn that commercially available wet and dry food can include high quantities of plant matter, commonly known as fillers, to lower the cost of dog food. Pet parents should check the carbohydrate content and ingredient list carefully before choosing food for their pets, say experts.

Can dogs have a grain allergy?

Food allergies, which account for approximately 10 percent of all allergies in dogs, can develop at any time. While dogs are generally allergic to certain types of protein — like chicken — in their diet, some can be sensitive to grains and gluten. “Wheat can be an allergen for certain dogs,” shares Dr Khalander. “You can put your dog on a feeding trial for a week to see if their body reacts adversely to a grain. In case of symptoms of an upset stomach, including regurgitation of food, puking or diarrhea, it’s best to avoid the grain they are allergic to,” he adds.

Further, while some dogs react well to as much as 30–50% of low-GI carbohydrates in their diets, age-related decline may be a cause for concern. “Issues like arthritis, cancer, obesity, diabetes, kidney, liver and heart issues may be seen in dogs fed a diet rich in grains,” says Georgina. “They could display allergy-like symptoms, as a result of which vets prescribe medication. However, a change in their diet is the simple fix,” she adds. She also shares that redness in the skin, a rough coat, excessive itching, constant discharge from the ears, paw licking, coat discoloration, leaky gut, and vomiting are common side effects of an inappropriate diet. 

Grain-free dog food: To feed or not to feed

As people ponder on the potential consequences of feeding grains to their dogs, some might consider making the shift to grain-free dog food. However, experts highlight that it might comprise other plant-based fillers such as soy, potato or tapioca starch to lower the cost of production. In such cases, dog food can have up to 60% carbohydrates while remaining grain-free. 

Hence, nutritionists advise paying close attention to the ingredient list — if the first ingredient listed is plant matter, say rice or corn, the food is carb-heavy and does not provide optimal nutrition to your canine companion.

Pet-friendly nutrition: Choose these grains

Dr Khalander suggests that grains such as rice, corn, ragi, wheat, barley, oats and millets can be included in your dog’s diet. “It is best to include local or regionally available grains in your dog’s meal. However, do note that how they digest each grain may vary,” he explains. 

“As compared to plant fillers like corn and soy present in commercially available dog food, quinoa and oats are safer for your pets,” says Georgina. Experts share that such grains ensure that the canine diet has appropriate quantities of fiber while providing key nutrients and antioxidants necessary for their well-being.

Takeaways

  • Dogs need limited quantities of carbohydrates in their diet as they can make their carbs from protein and fats by gluconeogenesis.
  • Grains like rice, wheat, corn, barley, oats, millets and ragi can be included in your dog’s diet
  • Some dogs can be allergic to specific grains. Putting your dog on a feeding trial can help identify any allergies.
  • Feeding your canine companion a diet rich in carbohydrates could lead to issues such as obesity, arthritis and diabetes as they age. While such dogs present with allergy-like symptoms, a simple change in the diet could fix the issue.

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