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The Great Grain-Free Dog Food Debate, Myths and Truths

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

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!

5 Responses to “The Great Grain-Free Dog Food Debate, Myths and Truths”

  1. 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.

  2. 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??

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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