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While there is a lot of buzz in the dog food (and human!) world about grain-free diets, the truth is that dogs have been eating diets supplemented with grains since they were first domesticated.
We asked Leslie Brooks, DVM and veterinary advisor at Betterpet—an online resource promoting responsible pet ownership—for her insights into dog foods with grains and how they stack up nutritionally compared to grain-free and other types of dog food.
Is Dog Food With Grains Healthy For Dogs?
Just like gluten has gotten a bad rap with humans in recent years, grains have been cast in a similar light for dogs. And while it seems that some dogs can benefit from a grain-free diet, as we write in our article, Grain-Free Dog Food: Is It Always Better, and Which Brands Are Best?, there continues to be “controversy about whether dogs are omnivores or carnivores,” and thus, what optimal canine nutrition should look like.
However, according to Brooks, “Most dogs do not have any problems digesting or tolerating grains, and need adequate carbohydrates to be healthy. Grains are not inherently bad.”
So, the question is which is the right choice for your dog—a diet with grains or a grain-free diet?
If your dog struggles with a grain allergy (and many dogs do), your vet may recommend a grain-free or limited ingredient diets. “Dogs who are diagnosed with a grain allergy should avoid foods with grains because it can cause chronic inflammation in either their skin or the intestinal tract,” says Brooks.
But if you’re concerned about allergies in general, avoiding grains might not be necessary. According to Brooks, a dog’s intolerance or allergic reaction to a food often has nothing to do with the grains at all. “If a dog has a food allergy, it is usually to the protein source within the food and not the grain or carbohydrate source,” she explains.
Another issue you may run into with dog food with grains is the quality of the ingredients. Many grain-free dog foods are made using high-quality, real food ingredients, with the first ingredient often being a protein like chicken, salmon, or turkey. That can lead to a healthier dog food overall—especially when compared with some varieties of dog foods with grain, which may over-rely on starchy fillers, or use questionable ingredients, such as genetically modified corn or wheat.
But the good news? Just because you want to feed your pet food with grains doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality! There are plenty of dog foods with grains that use the same kind of high-quality ingredients that grain-free diets are known for.
Dog foods with grains may also be a healthier choice for your dog’s heart. Vets have been exploring a potential link between grain-free diets and heart disease dogs—and while more research needs to be done, it’s definitely something to keep in mind when choosing dog food for your pet.
So, in a nutshell, is dog food with grains a healthy option for your pet? The answer is probably—as long as you look for options that use high-quality ingredients that pack in optimal pet nutrition.
What Should Consumers Look for When Shopping for Dog Food With Grains?
When reading dog food labels, the grains you’re most likely to see include corn, rice, oats, barley, wheat, rye, and sorghum. “These are the standard grains in dog foods,” says Brooks. “They are all fine for dogs to eat and are a good source of fiber as well.”
If you want to add an extra dose of nutrition, look for dog foods with whole grains (such as whole wheat and brown rice that haven’t been overly milled and stripped of their nutritional properties). “Whole grains…are particularly good as they are a source of energy, protein, vitamin E and linoleic acid,” says Brooks.
Brooks also highly recommends looking for the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) nutritional adequacy statement on the label, which establishes the minimum nutritional requirements for dogs, and not to purchase any dog food product without one.
For more general guidelines about what to look for on the dog food label, see our article, Decoding Dog Food: Your Guide to What You’re Really Feeding Your Pet.
Best Dog Food With Grains for 2020
Want to get some high-quality grains into your pet’s diet? Here are some of our picks for the best for 2020.
If you’re looking for a nutrient-dense dry food option, you’re definitely going to want to check out this option from Whole Earth Farms. Made from high-quality protein sources (including chicken and fish) and healthy whole grains, this dry dog food is packed with vitamins and nutrients and free from artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, and by-products.Shop on Amazon
Rice is a healthy grain for humans—and it’s also a healthy grain for dogs. This dry food from Blue Buffalo pairs rice with a variety of high-quality whole food ingredients (including blueberries, peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, and flax seed) to deliver a healthy dose of nutrition to your dog.Shop on Amazon
In addition to healthy grains like barley and oats, the Complete Healthy formulation from pet food brand Wellness is made from high-quality, natural ingredients and packed with vitamins and nutrients to support your dog’s overall health and wellness, including essential fatty acids (for skin and coat health), pre- and probiotics (for digestive health), and vitamins A and E (to support immune function).Shop on Amazon
Made with organic whole grains and a variety of high-quality protein sources (including free-range chicken, ranch-raised beef, and cage-free turkey), this dehydrated dog food from The Honest Kitchen is free from by-products, preservatives, and GMO ingredients. This all-natural dog brand is also committed to producing the highest-quality dog foods on the market—and meet the FDA standards to label their food “human-grade.”Shop on Amazon
If your dog prefers wet food, this chicken stew from Halo—which is formulated with whole chicken and high-quality grains, including oats and barley—could be a great option.Shop on Amazon
Made with a healthy blend of grains (including quinoa) and packed with nutrients (including omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids), this dry food from Merrick comes in a variety of protein flavors (including chicken, beef, and lamb) that are sure to suit any pup.Shop on Amazon
If you want to take a walk on the wild side with your dog food flavors, this dry food from Taste of the Wild combines an blend of ancient grains (including chia seed, sorghum, millet, and quinoa) with high-quality bison and venison proteins.Shop on Amazon
Made from a combination of nutrient dense whole foods (including kelp, spinach, blueberry, and cranberry) and high-quality protein, this dry food from Nature’s Logic uses the healthy grain millet in place of corn or wheat.Shop on Amazon
A bowl of oatmeal is a healthy way to start the day for humans—and this dry dog food gives that same health boost to your dog, with a formula that blends healthy oats with real deboned lamb.Shop on Amazon
Before Giving Your Pet Dog Food With Grains, Make Sure to Talk to Your Vet
We’ve introduced a lot of great food options in this article, but make sure to talk to your vet before introducing any new food to your pet.
Because your veterinarian understands the full scope of your dog’s dietary needs and health history, they can give you personalized advice on the most nutritious, healthy food options for your pup.
For more information about specific dog diets and the wide variety of dog food and treats available, check out one of the articles below.