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More About Grains
by Russell Swift, DVM: To Feed or Not To Feed...Grains.

At the recent American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association Conference, I discovered that I am not the only one questioning the use of grains in commercial and home-prepared pet foods. Grains, such as oats, wheat, rice barley, etc., are composed mostly of complex carbohydrates. They also contain some protein, fiber, B-vitamins and trace minerals. However, they are NOT part of the natural diet of wild dogs and cats. In the true natural setting, grains hardly exist at all. Wild grains are much smaller than our hybridized domestic varieties. This means that even a mouse or other prey animal is not going to find much of its nutrition from grains. Therefore, the argument that "dogs and cats eat animals that have grains in their digestive tracts" doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Prey animals that live near farms or other "civilized" areas are likely to have access to grains. This is not a truly wild diet.

What other clues do we have that grains are not necessary for carnivores?

1) Dogs and cats do not have dietary requirements for complex carbohydrates.

2) Grains must be cooked or sprouted and thoroughly chewed to be digested. Carnivores do not chew much at all.

3) The other nutrients in grains are readily available from other dietary ingredients. For example, B-vitamins are found in organ meats and trace> minerals come from bones and vegetables. (Unfortunately, modern farming has stripped many trace minerals from produce and supplementation is usually best.)

Why have grains become so "ingrained" in pet feeding? To the best of my knowledge grains were mainly introduced by the pet food industry. The high carbohydrate content provides CHEAP calories. In addition, grains assist in binding ingredients. We have become so used to feeding grains to dogs and cats that most of us get nervous when we decide not to use them. I know people who have been "grain-free" feeding and doing very well. My own cat is one example.

What are the negative effects? I believe that carnivores cannot maintain long-term production of the quantity of amylase enzyme necessary to properly digest and utilize the carbohydrates. In addition, the proteins in grains are less digestive than animal proteins. As a result, the immune system becomes irritated and weakened by the invasion of foreign, non-nutritive protein and carbohydrate particles. Allergies and other chronic immune problems may develop. The pet's pancreas will do its best to keep up with the demand for amylase. What does this pancreatic stress do over a long time? I don't know, but it cannot be good. I suspect that dental calculus may be another problem promoted by grain consumption.

Actual quotes from Veterinary School books...

"Some question exists regarding the need of dogs and cats for dietary carbohydrate." - Small Animal Clinical Nutrition III (1990), published by Mark Morris Assoc.

"There is no known minimum dietary carbohydrate requirement for either the dog or cat. Based on investigations in the dog and with other species it is likely that dogs and cats can be maintained without carbohydrates if the diet supplies enough fat or protein from which the metabolic requirement for glucose is derived." - The Waltham Book of Dog & Cat Nutrition (1988), edited by Dr. A. T. B. Edney

"Provided the diet contains sufficient glucose precursors (amino acids and glycerol), the glucogenic capacity of the liver and kidneys is usually sufficient to meet the metabolic need of growing animals for glucose without the inclusion of carbohydrate in the diet." - Nutrient Requirements of Dogs (1985), published by the National Research Council

Some other thoughts on grains -

Grains, first of all, are NOT a species-specific food. The things they tend to graze on are not oatmeal or polenta or white rice, but grasses and green twigs and berries and flowers and the like. Also, the amount of grains present in a prey's stomach (let's use a rabbit as an example) is very small - the stomach is small and the prey also doesn't go grazing in a grain field - they eat berries and twigs and roots and flowers and grasses, etc. I have fed whole rats to my cats before, and the ONLY part they leave (and they leave it every time) is the stomach. So who's to say the cat or dog would even eat the stomach all of the time? Now, we all know that no animal in the history of the world has ever cooked a thing in its life, and to feed grains we typically cook them, right? Another bad thing, since cooking isn't natural. Prey away from "civilized" areas would have little to no exposure to our modern grains. Wild grains are much more like grasses than the grains of today.

Looking at the chemical structure of grains, it is clear that they are made up mostly of simple and complex carbohydrates - that is, they break down to sugars like sucrose or glucose in the body. We have all been warned of the feeding of sugars, even natural sugars, in the risk of cancers and heart disease. Grains breakdown to sugars. Mucus is made up of carbohydrates (70%) with about 20% protein and some lipids (fat). Now when you feed a food rich in carbohydrates, more mucus is produced. This isn't a bad thing you say? Well, mucus in the body is a good thing, within reason. If your body has more mucus than it actually needs or uses, then absorption of nutrients in the gut is reduced, parasites have more food (intestinal worms typically eat mucus), and more mucus is present in the respiratory tract, which can be annoying especially if you or your animal has a cold or some other respiratory distress (try not eating any grains while you are sick and amaze yourself by how fast the excess mucus clears up). Dogs and cats also have no dietary requirement for carbohydrates (like mentioned above in the quotes) because they can manufacture their own body energy form proteins and fats - something that humans can't do as well or as fast. They also don't have the teeth for grinding up grains - if whole grains were eaten they would be excreted whole too. Look in a horse's or cow's mouth - those are plant eating teeth. Are your dog's or cat's teeth even remotely similar? Plus cows and horses have huge cheek muscles and the bones to support those muscles - look at the cheeks of them as opposed to the cheeks of dogs or cats. Dogs and cats have excellent jaw muscles for catching, bringing down and devouring prey with little to no chewing. They also have no salivary amylase - the enzyme that herbivores and omnivores have to start breaking down the grains from the moment they enter the mouth.

Many pets with allergies have allergies to one or more grain (typically corn and the legume soybean). Allergies like this result because the immune system, which has sensors and lymph patches (Peyer's Patches) in the gut, gets irritated at the constant bombardment of something it sees as foreign. We all probably know about animals that are also allergic to over cooked meat (such as beef-based kibble, etc.). The immune system sees things like kibble as foreign materials.

Another good reason not to feed grains,a friend, Reina Pennington pointed out...grains, which are seed heads of grasses and other plants, are seasonal - definitely not around all year long! Plus, they wouldn't be around in large quantities, and the animals that originated from the areas where these seed heads are found are herbivores, not carnivores! The carnivores who lived there ate the herbivores, not the grains.

If you are feeding grains for fiber from time to time, try using them whole and uncooked (i.e. more natural). Dogs (and cats or all carnivores for that matter) don't have the intestines for needing fiber - basically no microbial action attacks the food in the large intestine because it is so small and short and the rate of passage is so fast.

FYI I have been made aware of an increasing amount of people who have had success in curing (yes, curing) their dog's urinary incontinence through diet. If they are on kibble, they try raw feeding meat and bones. Many people have been able to decrease or stop completely the unnatural and potentially harmful drugs used to control this.

If they are already feeding raw, the minute they eliminate the grains, the dogs regain their urinary control. Just totally eliminating grains in dry kibble has had a healing effects on pets.

These are all concepts taken from various veterinary school textbooks as well as a nutritional physiology class.

Dr Jeannie and The Whole Dog personally feel that unless something is very good for our dogs - why feed it? And grains are not needed, digestable or good for our carnivorous pets!

Further reading -
Dogs are Carnivores
Grains? In Commercial Pet Food? Why???