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The Big Grain Blog Series: Should Dogs Eat Wholegrains?

The Big Grain Blog Series: Should Dogs Eat Wholegrains?

by Emily Boardman BSc. (Hons)

The Big Grain Burns Blog Series: Should Dogs Eat Wholegrains?

What’s up with grains? Why are so many people buying grain free dog food?  Emily, Nutritional Advisor and mum to rescue-dog Moose, gives us the answers in the first of our All About Grains Blog Series.

Can Dogs Eat Wholegrains?

The simple answer is yes! Veterinary surgeon and Burns Pet Nutrition founder John Burns has understood the benefits of wholegrains for dogs since Day One. 30 years ago he started his healthy dog food business with Burns Original Chicken & Brown Rice, and the recipe has hardly changed to this day. This diet, along with additions to the range, such as Sensitive Chicken & Wholegrain Maize, or more recently, our Grain Free Range containing Buckwheat (a pseudo-grain), have helped to maintain or improve the health of hundreds of thousands of dogs.

Grain Free Dog Food

Recently, rice and other wholegrains have been getting more and more bad press, not only in dog food but in human health as well, but despite what the latest fad diet might say, the brain loves carbohydrates! Your body can learn to use fat if it must, but your brain really runs on glucose, the sugars that make up carbs. A healthy brain is key to a healthy body.


Grains and Carbohydrates for Dogs

Carbohydrates are utilized by the body the same way regardless of source, and different sources of carbohydrates also bring nutrients such as fibre, fatty acids and amino acids. Some accuse grains of being ‘fillers,’ but that suggests an ingredient that offers no nutritional benefit. Wholegrains are a great source of carbohydrates, which are essential for growth and are a crucial source of energy for most cells of the body, regardless of age.


So, Are Grains Good for Dogs or Bad for Dogs?

You cannot categorise any individual ingredient or ingredient group such as grains into “good” or “bad”. The most important aspect is how the ingredients create a full and complete nutritional profile when put together.

The current human gluten-free fad paints gluten as an evil ingredient itself, rather than acknowledging that it is just that about 10% of people have a gluten intolerance, and it’s similar for dogs with grains. There are many claims that “grains cause food allergies” but that is a red flag as a food can’t cause allergies! They can be the target of allergies, and some foods are more allergenic than others, but these foods are specific such as wheat, not categories of foods such as grains. Meat ingredients are a much more common culprit of food allergies in dogs!

 Ancient Grains and Dogs

Many of the new diet trends that condemn feeding dogs grains or any high levels of carbohydrates base their claims on the idea that dogs have evolved from wolves, and therefore should eat the diet that wolves would eat in the wild. Whilst it is true that dogs did evolve from wolves, you only have to look at your lazy pug, curled up on the sofa in your centrally heated home with his meals given to him twice a day to see that there have been some changes along the way!


Domesticated Dogs VS Wolves

A study published in Nature in 2013 analysed both wolf and dog DNA and found that a key factor in the domestication of the dog was their ability to easily digest carbohydrates and starch in food. Researchers found that domestic dogs have many more copies of the gene for ‘amylase’ (the pancreatic enzyme that digests starch/carbohydrate) than wolves do. A more recent study in 2018 also found that the microbes in the guts of dogs are strikingly like ours, sharing some of the same species.

The researchers in this study noted that dogs were domesticated in the early history of modern humans and have shared our food resources the entire time, which is likely why our digestive systems are so similar. In particular our adoption of agricultural based living conditions would have largely changed the food sources for dogs and triggered this evolutionary change from carnivore to omnivore. Domestication has led to drastic changes in the proportions of plant food to animal food that they will have been consuming.


In other words, dogs can, and should, eat grains.


The Burns Grains Series

Over the coming months we will be looking into all of the wonderful, nutrient-rich wholegrains we use across our range. From Rice and Oats to Maize and Buckwheat, and delving into the history and benefits of each, to show you why we put our faith in them for the health of our own dogs and yours.

by Emily Boardman BSc. (Hons)

I studied Applied Medical Sciences at Swansea University and have a keen interest in veterinary science and hope to be able to do more research in the future. No two days are the same at Burns and not only does this job allow me to continuously learn about animal nutrition but also means I get to talk about dogs all day!