Are grains good for dogs?
26 Jan, 2017
We hear and read a lot about whether grain is good for dogs. Many commercial dog foods include grain in the following forms:
whole grain wheat, wheat gluten, cracked pearled barley, wholegrain barley, whole grain sorghum, sorghum, rice, rice starch, brown rice, maize, maize flour, maize gluten, cereals &/or cereal by-products
You can also now purchase “grain free” varieties of manufactured dog foods.
But what is best for our dogs?
Here is my position. I don’t feed my dogs, nor do I recommend to my clients to feed grains to their dogs in the forms listed above for the following reasons.
1. Cooked – Reduced nutritional value
The grains listed above need to be cooked for dogs to digest. Heating damages nutritionally valuable compounds such as amino acids, enzymes, anti-oxidants and fatty acids so substantial amounts need to be consumed to derive adequate nutrition.
Heating can also create anti-nutritional compounds which are resistant to digestion and reduce the availability of amino acids.
2. Soluble carbohydrate – Risks of obesity and related health problems
Grains contain about 70% carbohydrate comprising mainly starch and little fibre. The end product of starch digestion is glucose. Glucose is stored in the dog’s liver and muscle in the form of glycogen. Only a limited amount of glycogen can be stored in the body and excess amounts of carbohydrates not used for energy are metabolised as fat. Excess carbohydrates in the diet can lead to obesity and related health problems.
Long term consumption of a diet high in grains may contribute to the development of diabetes. In cats particularly, long term consumption of a high carbohydrate diet, particularly rice based, is hypothesized as a cause for obesity which predisposes the animal to developing diabetes by increasing the animal’s demand for insulin secretion.
As enzymes in the grain are destroyed when cooked, the dog’s pancreas must produce enzymes to digest dietary carbohydrates. This activity has the potential to overwork the pancreas leading to health problems associated with the digestive system.
3. Mineral imbalances – Risk of mineral deficiency
Grain contains high levels of phosphorous which is excreted through the dog’s urinary system. With long term feeding, kidney problems in adult dogs may arise. For cats with kidney problems, diets containing high amounts of phosphorus are contraindicated.
Excessive phosphorous in the diet inhibits calcium absorption. In growing animals particularly, an appropriate balance of dietary calcium and phosphorus is required to prevent skeletal abnormalities. The recommended ratio of calcium to phosphorus ratio for growing dogs is 1-2: 1.
An inappropriate balance of calcium and phosphorus also affects the absorption of minerals such as zinc and magnesium which can lead to the development of symptoms of mineral deficiencies in animals of any age.
Finally, grains contain phosphorus compounds called “phytates”. This compound binds minerals such as calcium, zinc, chromium and selenium making them nutritionally unavailable to the dog’s body.
4. Poor quality protein
The protein in grain is poor quality compared to animal protein and not easily digested. Protein from animal sources is rated as 93 – 100% digestible while grains and cereals are rated at 73 – 92% digestibility.
Grain is also deficient in the essential amino acid lysine which is required for protein and carnitine synthesis in the body. Carnitine is needed to transport long chain fatty acids into the mitochondria for oxidation and energy production.
Without a good source of protein, dogs may lose weight and show signs of lethargy, compromised immune function and problems with digestion. In young dogs, growth problems may also be seen.
So for these reasons I don’t feed or recommend cooked grains, but I do recommend including grains in dogs’ diets.
Sprouted grain is a healthy way of feeding animals grain. It is not cooked so the nutrients are preserved and you can do it at home, so you know it is fresh and chemical free (based on where you bought the grain).
When grain is sprouted, its protein composition changes and offers higher biological value, higher polyunsaturated fat, higher vitamin content and more biologically available mineral content than the original seed. During the sprouting process carbohydrates, fatty acids, and proteins are decomposed effectively pre-digesting the grain and making its nutrients available to the animal. Sprouts contains Vitamin A, B complex, C and E, minerals, enzymes and amino acids.
Also after the sprouting process, the protein content of the sprout (compared with the seed) increases significantly. In some grains the amino acids methionine, cysteine and lysine increase after sprouting, while in others the concentrations of arginine, ornithine and taurine are higher in the sprout.
Additionally, the concentration of fatty acids, especially linoleic acid increases in sprouts by up to 52.1% after seven days of sprouting.
When the grain has sprouted, the sprouts can be added to the animal’s food just like any vegetable.
You can purchase whole grains for sprouting in health food stores or the health food section of supermarkets. I recommend soaking the grain for a while (overnight) before sprouting on kitchen towel.
For more information on feeding dogs grains or any other nutritional advice, please contact me.
Until next time, enjoy your dogs.
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