With the grain-free pet food market making up nearly 30% of the foods in the US market and racking up $2.2 billion in sales, this trendy diet has become a common household name among dog parents who want the best for their pups. We decided to dive in to the research behind grain-free diets for dogs: Can dogs digest and thrive on grains? Are dogs allergic to grains? Are all grains unhealthy for dogs?
For starters, one of the biggest misconception among dog lovers is the idea that dogs are carnivores. According to a study by the University of Maine, "The dog is a subspecies of the grey wolf as Canis lupus familiaris, and classified in the order as Carnivora. Despite public belief, the dog is in fact not a true carnivore; the dog is an indifferent omnivore...This means that dogs have carnivorous traits with sharp teeth and meat drive, but also have the omnivore digestive traits with an ability to break down carbohydrate feeds."
Through evolution, dogs gained the ability to digest and utilize starch 28 time more effectively than wolves through the AMY2B gene.
"Some dogs do benefit from grain-free diets, but definitely not to the magnitude the pet food industry would lead you to believe."
-Dr. Donna Solomon, a veterinarian in Chicago in the Huffington Post.
Dr. Solomon continues, "Is it true that dogs are not designed to eat grains? No, dogs can digest grains. Your pet dog is not genetically equivalent to the ancient wolf that he arose from. The precise timing and location of this transformation is unknown but it is speculated to have occurred over tens of thousands of years ago...10 key genes have been identified that demonstrate our domesticated dogs’ increased ability to digest starch and fat relative to his ancient predecessor, the wolf."
That same research above out of the University of Maine found that feeding a grain-free diet can be harmful to dogs when coupled with a high-protein diet. "Feeding a dog a high protein diet that is high in fat causes long term effects, such as harm to the kidneys due to being over worked and not being able to flush out enough urea in the system...Labels that read ‘grain-free’ are more harmful to the dog and should not be given unless required for other specific needs."
The study found that some dogs can experience allergic reaction to grains, but ultimately, it is up to the pet's parents to decide what is best for their individual dog. "Grains have been used as an energy source in feed, but can sometimes act as an allergen. Pet owners should know whether a diet containing grain or a grain free diet is more helpful to the overall health of their dog. "
Overall, it's important to tailor your dog's diet to their personal needs instead of ascribing to a popular diet that is ideal for some, but not all dogs. If your pup is one of the countless of itchy, allergy-prone dogs with tummy troubles, hot spots, or other allergic reactions to food, we recommend you check out our "Allergies" page - full of dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages thriving on plant-based dog kibble with healthy grains.
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V-dog contains 100% balanced plant-based nutrition for your pup. Our products are expertly formulated, veterinarian recommended and meet/exceed all AAFCO standards. Since our formula is highly-digestible, we've seen countless itchy, allergic dogs experience complete turnarounds on our kibble. Read their stories here or learn more about v-dog on our FAQ page!