Grains in Dog Food
The humanization and overall consumer preference for premium pet food has led to the growth in grain free pet foods, which are marketed as being better and healthier than foods containing grains. Although dogs do not need grains for their bodies to function properly, grains are not necessarily bad ingredients and there are plenty of low quality, non-grain ingredients, like artificial colors and preservatives or added sugars, which can sabotage a dog’s health more directly than many grains.
In reality, grain free is no guarantee of quality or of being a better food; grain free is little more than a marketing slogan to catch the consumer’s eye. The key when evaluating a pet food is to look at the specific grains that are being used in a recipe and choose recipes that contain whole, unprocessed grains (barley, oats) over processed grains (e.g. glutens, meals). This week, I analyzed the ingredients in over 2,500 dog foods to find the most commonly used grains in commercially available dog food.
By far the most commonly used grain is rice. The chart has broken out 3 different types of rice, brown rice (the most common), plain rice, and brewers rice. If these three are taken together, some form of rice is in over 30% of all the dog foods. Surprisingly to me, corn and wheat are only the fourth and fifth most commonly used grains respectively. Brown rice, oats, and barley, are all more common than these two supposedly pervasive grains.
When it comes to evaluating a grain free dog food versus a non-grain-free dog food, I recommend starting by comparing the macronutrients to make sure that the food is relatively high in protein and fat and low in carbs. Shoot for a food that has around 1/3 of its calories from carbs and the rest from protein and fat. Many consumers associate grain free with low carb, but this is not the case.
If choosing a food that contains grains, make sure that the grains in the ingredient list are whole and unprocessed. Barley, oats, and quinoa are all healthy ingredients and superior to any meals or glutens (e.g. corn meal or wheat gluten). Soy, corn, wheat and plain rice are also not optimal as they are either nutritionally low value and/or not recommended for dogs.