Grain free dog food, is it always necessary for dogs? 


Is it really healthy to remove grains from your dog's diet?


In short, there is no blanket answer that fits every dog.  But while sometimes a "grain free" diet is nice to have, many times a grain free dog food is the simple difference between a healthy dog and a very ill dog. 



Is Your Dog an Omnivore?


When addressing the issue of grain free diets for dogs, the question is raised whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores. Are dogs meant to eat grain or not? Why, numerous very populardog food brands contain rice, wheat, corn, and barley, to name a few grains—certainly this indicates that dogs are omnivores. You could also argue that your dog is an omnivore because he eats materials that are NOT meat.


This could include grass, fruits... miscellaneous objects? We know this, your dog will eat things that are not classified as meat, he is not a stict carnivore, however......primarily, your dog is a carnivore[1].  Grains or carbohydrate foods should not occupy a substantial percentage of his diet—and yet cereal grains comprise up to 60% of the typical commercial dog food diet.



Why Your Dog's Health Favors a Grain Free Diet


Your dog's biology is disposed to digest meat protein primarily and some simple carbohydrates like fruits and light vegetables, like a wild wolf[2] [4], and there is very little natural support in his body for breaking down or metabolizing complex fibers and grain. His body is naturally adapted to a diet that is grain free.Complex carbohydrates, or starches, are left undigested in the gut because your dog does not naturally produce the enzymes that are needed to break them down. In some cases, he will rely on fermentation to complete digestion, and for some, the material will remain in the gut. In time, this undigested food breaks down and compromises the lining of the gut, making the dog prone to allergies, leaky gut, obesity, and bowel inflammation disorders. More reasons to swtich to a diet that is grain free.Some dogs maintain great health on whole, single-grain dog foods, while many dogs do not do well with grain at all. But when there are health risks involved, why waste money on dog food with grain fillers?



Why GrainFree Dog Foods are Safer


In addition to grains being generally unnecessary and unhealthy for dogs, the cereal grainstypically contained in commercial dog foods can harbor hidden contaminants. This is because these cereal grains are the cheapest possible product, often feed grade. These grains can conceal mold or mites, to name a few, and, the storage mites they contain have been directly related to grain-related diseases in dogs.



Indications for Grain Free Dog Food


Grain free dog food is many times ideal for dogs because it offers better nutrition. When grain is absent from dog food, it leaves room for more nutritious ingredients to complete the volume—hopefully the dog food manufacturer has filled the gaps with nutritious ingredients (although we've seen not-so-great replacement ingredients for grain).When a dog is displaying signs of dog food intolerance or food allergy, it becomes absolutely necessary. Dog food allergy signs include rash, licking, biting, and vomiting. Dog food intolerance can be identified by gas, loose stool, or diarrhea. Read more about the signs here.



Grain Free Dog Food Quality Concerns


When choosing the perfect grain free dog food for your dog, It becomes important to avoid getting "hung up" on any ONE thing. For instance,"This dog food is grain free, so that means it's healthy," or other rationalizations based on minimal research.Even a so-called healthy grain free dog food can be undesirably processed and/or contain less than ideal ingredients.Either of these scenarios can make a "good" dog food, in effect, not so good. Perhaps your dog does well with a wholesome single-grain dog food such as rice, oats or millet—all consideredcereal crops (cereal grains). While we need to pay attention to the grains and fillers in a dog food, we should pay equal or more attention to the meat contained in the dog food. Where do the ingredients come from?  How is the food processed?  What are the quality controls of the manufacturer? What is the grade or quality of the ingredients.




The Problem With Processed Or Cooked Meats


With that said, while considering a grain free diet for your dog, we should also pay attention to the nutritional value of the most important dog food ingredient—meat. In the wild, the wolf will hunt, and in desperate times, he will scavenge—this is what makes him an opportunistic carnivore[2]. Once he finds a fresh kill, he drags it to the nearest campfire and cooks it up until it's well done.





Of course a wild dog would never process or cook his meat. He eats the carcass raw, the parts with the highest biological value first, and as fast as he can. Meat, raw meat specifically, is your dog's number one food of choice and his body does best when fed a primarily meat protein, and specifically, raw meat[3].



A good source for dog food reviews is



  1. Stacy LaPoint, Why Raw Diets for Cats and Dogs Make Sense.

  2. Marion Schwartz, A History of Dogs in the Early Americas (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997)3. J Anim Sci. 2007 Dec;85(12):3285-93. Epub 2007 Jul

  3. Protein quality of various raw and rendered by-product meals commonly incorporated into companion animal diets. Cramer KR, Greenwood MW, Moritz JS, Beyer RS, Parsons CM.