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Unpacking the Controversy: Are Grains Bad for Dogs?

To grain or not to grain, that is the question for many confused pet parents these days. Grain-free diets are now under fire, and dog owners are left to wonder why and whether it's because dogs actually need grains in their diets.

The short answer is that dogs do NOT need grains in their diet. Grain-free commercial pet foods seem to be a problem due to their high legume content rather than their lack of grains. Let's take a closer look at grains and their relationship with dog food.


The Debate: Is Grain Bad for Dogs, or Are Grains Good for Dogs?

When the FDA released its Grain-Free Diet Alert back in 2019, it sent shockwaves through the dog-owning community. Information got misinterpreted, fear-mongering reached an all-time high, and scary news headlines proliferated. Dog owners ran to their vets sick with worry that they were harming their pups by feeding them food they thought was healthy but was now reportedly a danger to their lives.

Turns out the sky wasn't falling for all dog parents feeding a grain-free diet. You see, the FDA's inconclusive investigation has focused on a link between certain grain-free foods and DCM—dilated cardiomyopathy, which is the clinical term for an "enlarged heart." (DCM can cause arrhythmias and even sudden death.)

"We are investigating a potential dietary link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and dogs eating certain pet foods containing legumes like peas or lentils, other legume seeds (pulses), or potatoes as main ingredients," the FDA states on their official site. It’s not the “grain-free” part that is the potential problem, but rather the species-inappropriate ingredients these grain-free brands use in such large quantities.

Raw Food

Understanding the Distinction: Grains for Dogs vs. Grain-Free Dog Food

The thing is, a lot of healthful pet food brands (including reputable raw companies) were erroneously lumped into this "danger" category by misinformed "experts" who saw all grain-free foods as harmful. There was no distinction made between naturally grain-free foods (e.g., raw) and those that are modified to be grain-free, the kind the FDA is focusing its research on. The effects of this confusion and fear reverberate through the pet food industry today and, unfortunately, it's left many well-meaning pet parents stumped and scared.

The Question: Is Grain-Free Dog Food Bad?

Remember: Not all grain-free foods are created equal. Many grain-free formulas replace grains with other species-inappropriate ingredients, like corn, potato, legumes, seeds, and lentils, instead of replacing those grains with animal protein. Dogs are ill-equipped to handle these kinds of ingredients in such large quantities.

While healthy and naturally grain-free raw food brands, like We Feed Raw, don't contain any of these ingredients, many pet parents are still spooked enough to wonder if they should be adding grains to their dogs' bowls. The very short answer is no.

Dog looking up

Clarifying Misconceptions: Do Dogs Need Grains in Their Diet?

According to Dr. Richard Patton, PhD animal nutritionist, "Dogs don't need grain of any kind. They do require small amounts of soluble carbohydrate, which can be found in meat in the form of muscle glycogen."

Grains are not an ancestral food for dogs. High-quality animal tissue, not grains, is their optimal source of nutrition. Grains break down into sugars, and excess starch and sugar promote illness: Obesity, diabetes, skin problems, allergies, and more. Dogs will benefit most from low-carb diets, and grains are high in carbs.

While the DCM investigation is ongoing, it remains a complicated matter. To date, the FDA hasn't deemed any grain-free products unsafe, but the Pet Food Institute continues to study the link between nonhereditary DCM and diet (particularly those containing high proportions of legumes and pulses).

Dog w Bowl of WFR & Egg 4X5

Answering the Big Question: What is the Best Food for Dogs?

Ultimately, the best diet for your dog is the one that mimics their ancestral diet—a naturally grain-free diet made up of high-quality animal protein, fat, and edible bone. This is the most biologically appropriate diet for our canines and one they've been thriving on for millennia. So let's feed them what they were designed to eat. Let's feed raw.

Take our quiz now to find out how much it would cost to get your pup started on We Feed Raw.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Is grain bad for dogs?

Grain is not necessarily bad for dogs, but it is not a natural part of their diet. Grains break down into sugars, which may promote illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, and skin problems. Importantly, dogs can live healthily on a diet devoid of grains.

Do dogs need grains?

Dogs do not need grains in their diet. High-quality animal protein, fat, and edible bone, mimicking their ancestral diet, provide the most complete nutrition for dogs.

Brown Rice

What are some appropriate grains for dogs if I choose to include them?

If you choose to include grains in your dog's diet, it's advisable to use healthier options such as brown rice, quinoa, and oats. However, remember that these should not replace animal proteins in your dog's diet.

Is grain-free food bad for dogs?

Grain-free food is not inherently bad for dogs. The issue arises when grain-free diets replace grains with large quantities of species-inappropriate ingredients, like peas, lentils, and potatoes. These ingredients, when ingested in large quantities, can be problematic for dogs.

Grains for dogs

Are grains good for dogs?

While they are not harmful, grains are not a necessary part of a dog's diet—they do not provide any unique health benefits that dogs can't get from a high-quality, meat-based diet.

Is grain good for dogs?

Grain is not harmful to dogs, but neither is it essential. Some dogs might tolerate grains better than others, but they all will thrive on a diet primarily composed of animal-based proteins.

Dog Eating

What grains are good for dogs?

If you decide to include grains in your dog's diet, options like brown rice, oats, and quinoa are preferable. Nonetheless, these grains should not substitute the primary component of their diet, which is animal-based proteins.

Is grain-free dog food bad?

Not all grain-free dog foods are bad. The potential problem lies not in the lack of grains, but in the replacement of grains with inappropriate ingredients like peas, lentils, and potatoes in large quantities.

Dog biting on to a metal food bowl

Do dogs need grains in their diet?

Dogs do not require grains in their diet. Their dietary necessity is centered on animal protein, fats, and edible bones, which aligns with their ancestral diet.

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