Choosing a great dog food is more confusing than ever, especially when it comes to the grain-free dog food debate. In one corner, we’ve been told that grains like corn and wheat are bad for dogs. And in the other, veterinarians say that it’s all a myth perpetuated by food manufacturers who want to sell us higher priced kibble. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? The only way to find out is to dive deeper and decide for yourself. Here are some resources to help you.
Wading Through the Great Grain-Free Dog Food Debate
The vast majority of veterinarians agree there is no hard science to back up the notion that grains are bad for dogs. They say it was pet food manufacturers who turned grains into the devil when they discovered we are willing to pay much more for a bag of kibble that seems to more closely reflect what dogs eat in the wild.
Dr. Andy Roark is one such vet. In his video, 3 Myths About Dog Food that Need to Be Busted, he touches on the subject, and discusses how corn in dog food isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be:
“Grains, like corns, however, have Omega 6 Fatty Acids which is good for skin and coat, it has fiber for digestive health and it has anti-oxidents to help with vision. I’m not saying you should feed your dog a bowl full of corn. What I am saying is that grains are not bad for most dogs, and getting a complete and balanced diet, is what really counts.” — Dr. Andy Roark
Score one for Dr. Roark! It makes sense that feeding a complete and balanced meal to dogs would lead to a healthy diet. Even a bag of corn-based kibble has other ingredients that create a well-rounded meal. We don’t eat just one kind of food, why should our dogs?
But according to The Dog Food Advisor, in his article “The Truth About Corn in Dog Food,” he explains why corn might not be bad but it’s not the best ingredient either:
“When it comes to its protein usability, corn has a measurably lower biological value.”
The problem with a corn-based kibble, he says, is that biologically-speaking, corn cannot stand up to the nutritional value of other pet food ingredients like fish meal and beef.
Looking at grains from a holistic frame of mind, Dr. Karen Bekcer doesn’t approve of grains in dog food. In her article “Don’t Fall for the ‘Grain-Free’ Trick Pulled by Some Pet Food Makers,” she discusses the problem of feeding grains to dogs and why their digestive system isn’t built for it.
“Dogs have short digestive tracts and are adapted to metabolize animal flesh and fat, not grains and simple sugars, including starch.
If the natural design of dogs precludes the need for carbs, why would we feed them carbs, including grain? If their bodies aren’t designed to use carbs, why would we feed them something their digestive tracts aren’t equipped to process?”
Dr. Becker goes on to say that even a “grain-free” food isn’t necessarily great for our dog if corn was replaced with a high carb filler like peas, lentils or potatoes. She urges us not to select grain-free food just because it says “grain-free” but to look closer at the ingredient list if we feed kibble.
What’s a Pet Parent to Do?
Let’s face it. Most of us here don’t have the medical knowledge that our veterinarians do. The best place to start discussing pet nutrition is with them. Find out what their stand is on the great grain-free dog food debate. Ask what their recommendations are for good food based on your dog’s current health and age. If you’re not in agreement, that’s perfectly OK.
Next, get a second opinion with another type of veterinarian like Dr. Becker, one who practices a blend of Eastern and Western medicine. They may give you an entirely different perspective about what to feed your dog.
When you have all the facts, balance the two sets of advice, then decide what you want to feed your dog. Helpful dog food information resources like The Dog Food Advisor are ready with the latest facts about dog food brands on store shelves, and how to find the best one for your pup.
How Do You Decide What to Feed Your Dog?
Did your vet help you pick out a food for your dog? We would love to hear more about how you decide what to feed your dog so share them in the comments below!
12 thoughts on “The Great Grain-Free Dog Food Debate, Myths and Truths”
I switched to a grain free dog food when my Maggie started having stomach issues. By this I mean she was nauseated, drooling, even had bloody stools. I took her to the vet several times and they prescribed stomach meds which didn’t really address the issue so I took it upon myself to slowly switch her to a grain free diet that also had a different protein than what she had been eating. It completely cured the problem. Maggie is gone but I keep my other 2 dogs on the same dog food though I change up the protein in it. I think what is real important is to notice if your dog is doing well on a particular food like a nice coat, less stools, any hives. I personally do not think vets get a ton of nutrition education so I think it is up to us to try and get as informed as we can.
What dog food did you change to? Did you make your own recipe? What did you use?
Glad to read this. I am in the process of changing Simon’s kibble… I’ve decided on a modified keto diet with no raw food, but foods like ground turkey , beef etc, cooked over lower temperatures. There are 2 kibbles that have caught my interest.. Keto Kibble and Ketona They are both very low in carbs.. 7%. The talk is that carbs fuel cancer so low carb is the way to go. My holistic vet reached out to both companies.. awaiting reply, At first glance,.. she liked the Ketona better because Keto Kibble had chicken meal as their first ingredient.. Ketona sent me some samples and the small amount I gave to Simon yesterday.. was accepted… Will try again today. Ketona is pricey. $100 for 24 lbs which should last me one month because I will use cooked meat as well. My onco vet wasn’t happy because Ketona has no vet nutritionist on staff, The owner , Daniel Schulof writes often.. who knows??
Penny, thank you for sharing Maggie’s grain-free transformation experience. WOW. That is a great lesson for all of us to do our homework. You are right, the average vet doesn’t get enough nutrition education in school, it’s up to them to go after it later. We hope that more and more will. For now, yeah, we must do our research and pay attention to our pet’s reaction to what they’re eating. The ol’ saying “You are what you eat” has never been truer.
Luke, I’m glad you are feeding Simon such a healthy diet. Your vet is correct in that it IS better when a company has a veterinary nutritionist on staff. It’s definitely one thing we should look for in a pet food company. Wild Earth does, and so does Just Food for Dogs. I’ll bet that their information will make your vet happy. Plus, I do believe they have a kitchen where you live. You may want to check them out instead.
My previous dog (RIP) was severely allergic to grains. His skin would turn bright pink/red and his hair would fall out. He would lie there and chew his legs until they bled. My vet at the time told me about grain-free food. I had never heard of it before. He said the dog was allergic to the wheat, corn or rice (or whatever grains were in the food I was using). I switched to grain-free and have fed all of my dogs grain-free food ever since. They’re all healthy and fine. I use the limited ingredient kind (Nature’s Recipe) as I also believe too many ingredients is not good either. The kind with blueberries gave my dogs “gas” ha ha. Thanks for listening. Just another perspective. I won’t feed my dogs food with grains and/or tons of ingredients.
Kathy thank you for sharing your pup’s story. How wonderful that your vet suggested grain-free and it WORKED! It’s like anything, what works for some may not work for others and vice versa. We noticed that Wyatt Ray does get flaky fur when we put him on a grain-based kibble, so we just feed him grain-free and problem solved.
WHEAT and wheat gluten is the real culprit among grains. Our Beagle Ellie Mae (diagnosed with IBS) would bleed in her stools and have all kinds of stomach trouble, vomiting, etc., UNLESS she was grain free, and really only the Salmon/fish meal, and potatoes and peas dog foods worked well.
Thanks for sharing Bob, glad you found a solution that works for Ellie Mae.
We had a traditional vet years ago who was willing to think outside the box. As a treatment for diabetes, he’d put animals on a raw diet. He was able to cut way back on insulin, and even discontinue it altogether in most cases. Accusing pet food manufacturers of trying to make more money on grain-free food doesn’t really address the question of whether grains are appropriate for dogs. I agree with the vet who says grains are bad. I also agree that replacing grains with potatoes, etc., is not the answer. I don’t know if this is still the case, but years ago the only nutritional training vets received was from Hills, which is why so many vets recommended Science Diet.
Our healthiest dog (RIP) was raw fed starting at 9 months of age. His coat was beautiful, teeth clean (it was real raw food, not ground, not cooked–he ate bones and all, and some organ meat). We did the prey model raw diet. There was an adjustment period, because you start cold turkey, but he did great, crunched up those bones, and had a gorgeous coat and tiny poops as a result.
Wow @Indydi, your dogs are so lucky to have you. Thanks for sharing your insight and experience, every story helps others. If you’re interested in nutrition, you may want to check out what CANWI is doing to promote healthier pet food diets.
I work at a locally owned pet store and am constantly learning about pet nutrition, I don’t fully believe grains are as bad as they have been made out to be, but I also think Dr.Karen Becker is a very smart and informed holistic Veterinarian that makes a very good point about grains (she has several you tube videos if your interested). The biggest problem I have with this article is the fact that it says to talk to your vet and then get a second opinion and the problem with that is almost every vet office I’ve ever been to sells Science Diet so that’s what they’re going to recommend and that’s probably what your second opinion is going to recommend also. In my opinion there’s much better dog foods on the market that are around the same price or less then Science Diet. The reason most vets carry Science Diet in their office is because they give veterinarian students free food while they’re in vet school which builds brand loyalty then once they open an office of their own they find out how much money they can make by selling Science Diet in there office so of course they’re going to push patients into eating Science Diet. Do your own research: read ingredient lists, look at percentages of protein, fiber, fat. Talk to people at the pet store and see what works for their pet, then start by picking a food you believe to be a good choice and see how your pet reacts. If your pet won’t eat it that’s a big problem so make sure that your buying food from a store that will at least exchange that food for another one if your dog won’t eat it or has a bad reaction to it. Make sure your dog is healthy with nice skin and coat because most problems with a food will come out in their skin and coat. Most of all be patient sometimes finding the best dog food for your dog can take time especially if your dog is picky and you can’t know if a food is “the right food” after 1 feeding.
Hi Nichole, thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts and experience. Much appreciated. We do mention Dr. Becker quite a bit in our community and while we don’t agree on everything she says, she is super helpful in many areas. Yes, many vets sell Science Diet. And yes, many vets don’t know as much about nutrition as we would like. But that is changing because there are many pet parents making nutrition decisions based on anecdotal and even harmful information out there. We recommend checking with vets first just in case there is anything going on with your pet that might be causing picky appetite etc. And if someone isn’t happy with the nutrition guidance they are getting, a visit with a board certified veterinary nutritionist is our recommendation. See Tripawds Best Nutrition Articles for more info.