February 22, 2024

Is it healthy for dogs to eat grains? | Health

If there is one issue that has gripped dog lovers in recent years, it is that of grains in dog food, especially the ingredients that make up kibble.

The accusations are numerous: the grains are said to cause bloating, obesity, diabetes with gluten intolerance and are full of mycotoxins (toxins produced by microscopic fungi). It only took a few years for the makers of dry dog ​​food to adapt to these fears, and many now claim to have eliminated grains from their formulas, while the benefits of gluten-free foods are widely touted.

But are grains really harmful to our dogs? The concept of grains conceals a number of terms that are often confusing to consumers, including carbohydrates, gluten and mycotoxins.

A grain is a herbaceous plant grown primarily for the nutritional value of its grains. These usually come from the Poaceae family, better known as grasses. The best known and most cultivated in the world are wheat, corn, rice and barley.

On average, a wheat grain contains 70% starch, a complex carbohydrate. Gluten refers to a group of proteins found in the seeds of grains from the Poaceae group.

Accusation No. 1: Disrespecting a dog’s “natural” diet

The first complaint against foods containing grains is that they do not respect the dog’s “natural” diet. To determine what the latter may be, scientists have the choice of examining prehistoric or wild dogs, which we define as individuals of domesticated species that have little or no dependence on humans.

Analysis of dog remains in graves at several sites on the northeastern Iberian Peninsula dating to the Early Middle Bronze Age (late 3rd to 2nd millennium BC) has shown that their diet was quite similar to that of humans, and in some cases included grains. . In contrast, the diet of wild dogs is also mainly based on human waste, which mainly consists of grains and human feces.

We can therefore conclude that dog diets dating back to prehistoric times consisted of human food waste that in some cases contained grains. This is very different from the impressions we have of the dog’s ‘natural’ diet – often imagined in our imagination as hunting, like a wolf in the wild.

Accusation No. 2: Dogs cannot digest starch

Contrary to popular belief, throughout their evolution dogs have acquired alpha-amylase from saliva – an enzyme responsible for initiating the process of breaking down starch – and can therefore digest a modest amount of starch .

During the domestication process [certain genes] that play an essential role in starch digestion were selected. Over time and through selection related to the origins of breeds, the number of copies of the gene encoding the production of starch-digesting enzymes increased, depending on the feeding habits of the breeds. Dogs are therefore able to digest starch, although not all breeds are the same.

Although dogs can survive without starch in their diet, its presence remains necessary under certain physiological conditions such as pregnancy and lactation.

Accusation No. 3: Gluten makes dogs sick

Consumption of gluten-derived products can lead to side effects of three known types: allergic, autoimmune and miscellaneous.

In dogs, the relationship between gluten and intestinal diseases has been studied in the Irish setter for about twenty years, but researchers have not yet established any causal link. A link between gluten and paroxysmal dyskinesia (episodic involuntary tremors) has been observed in Border Terriers. Currently, these are the only two reports of pathologies that can be associated with the presence of gluten.

In this context, an avoidance diet can be considered to test the dog’s sensitivity.

Accusation No. 4: Grains can poison dogs with mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are toxins produced by microscopic fungi during the growth, storage, transportation or processing of plants. They can be present in various plant organs, including grains, fruits and tubers.

The most common substance in animal feed is alpha toxin B1, which is mainly found in wheat grains. In humans and animals, mycotoxins can cause various health problems (liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, etc.). Nevertheless, control methods are introduced during harvest and the food industry also uses detoxification methods. In general, mold does not grow on properly dried and preserved food, so effective drying and proper storage are effective measures against mold and mycotoxin production.

Compared to “premium” dog food, the total aflatoxin content of “economy” dog food is generally higher. This difference can partly be explained by the use of cheaper products with less controlled storage conditions. The source of nutrients of animal origin also plays a role.

So are grain-free foods healthier?

Grain-free foods are not always starch-free, but protein-rich plants such as peas, lentils and beans have lower carbohydrate content than grains – which is why they are of interest to the pet food industry. For example, pea seeds contain 21% protein and 45% starch.

The starch in low-carb dog food is often replaced by fat. This may not be adapted to the animal’s situation, especially if it is overweight, obese or has kidney problems. Furthermore, a grain-free diet is not necessarily less rich in carbohydrates when the compositions are compared.

Finally, recent research has revealed cases of heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy) in dogs eating grain-free foods rich in legumes, including in breeds not prone to this pathology. Although the link between grain-free foods and dilated cardiomyopathy is not yet clear, caution is advised, especially in the case of pea-based foods.

Verdict: It’s complicated

The accusations leveled at grains in dog food are not as clear-cut as they seem. Because dogs have eaten grains since they were domesticated tens of thousands of years ago, dogs have developed the enzymes needed to digest starch. Crucially, research has shown that gluten is only a problem for a few individuals from unusual breeds. Although mycotoxins are found in all dog foods, their amount is highly regulated by the industry.

In short, there is currently no scientific justification for choosing grain-free food for healthy dogs with no known medical conditions.

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