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Aug 2011

Fields of Gold

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It is hard to pinpoint exactly when grains started to get such a bad rap in the pet food industry. If you talk to many of the “experts” out there, especially those who promote a raw diet, you will hear them say you should never feed your dog grains. This is simply not true. Ironically, even Dr. Richard Pitcairn, the “father” of the raw food diet, recommends grains in his recipes. That is because Dr. Pitcairn, like so many of us, know that grains can play a part in a healthy home cooked diet for your dog.

The best way to understand how to properly utilize grains in your dog’s diet is to start by learning how they developed such a bad reputation in the first place.

Strike #1 - Too Much Is Never a Good Thing


Go to any grocery store or pet food supermarket and grab a bag of what you think is a poor quality dog food. Check out the ingredient list and you will probably find among the first ingredients ground whole wheat, wheat middlings, white rice, corn gluten meal, brewers rice and others along with an inferior meat protein like meat meal or chicken-by-product meal. While grains do contain some protein, they should never be the main source of protein for your dog’s diet.

Strike #2 - The Itchy and Scratchy Show


As pet parents became more savvy about nutrition they began to make the connection between what their dogs were eating and the allergy symptoms they displayed. While some food allergies are genetically pre-wired, many of them develop during the first few years of a dogs life as they eat the same food day in and day out. Wheat is a very common allergy in dogs as well as rice; both of which are found as main ingredients in most major dogs foods.

Strike #3 - Inferior Quality


Sometimes when you read the list of ingredients on a bag of dog food it feels as though you need a dictionary in order to determine just what they are: wheat middlings (the left-over sweepings from the grain mill floor), cellulose (wood shavings), brewers rice (small leftover fragments of rice), cereal food fines (particles of breakfast cereals leftover after processing), grain fermentation solubles (by-product of human food and beverage production), and soy flour (usually extracted from soybeans by solvents). While the names may sound unfamiliar, the bottom line is these grains have little to no nutritional value to your dog.

Common Misconceptions


Now that you can see why grains have developed a bad reputation, let’s examine some of the misconceptions that surround feeding grains to dogs.

Myth #1 - Dogs can’t digest grains.


Actually, dogs can’t digest UNCOOKED grains. Uncooked grains are poorly digested because dogs have a very short digestive tract which means grains move through very quickly and end up as waste product before they have a chance to provide any nutritional benefit. Dogs also lack amylase in their saliva. Amylase is an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of starch into sugar. By cooking grains before feeding them, you begin the breakdown process for your dog and they are able to utilize the nutritional content.

Myth #2 - Dogs can’t utilize protein from grains, only meat.


Herbivores with their elaborate digestive systems are able to draw a high amount of energy from short chain fatty acids produced by the bacterial fermentation of fiber. While dogs, with their short digestive tract do not have this ability, they still receive benefits from grains but in a different way. The enterocytes and colonocytes lining the gastrointestinal walls are active cells with a very high turnover rate that utilizes the short chain fatty acids obtained from grains as a significant energy source.

Myth #3 - Grains offer no benefits.


A moderate amount of fiber in the diet aids in the transport of the stomach contents through the intestines and promotes regular elimination. High fiber diets are often used to manage diabetes and to help keep the weight on dogs who are extremely athletic.

So, how do you incorporate grains into your dog’s home cooked diet? First, take a look at his lifestyle. Is he a couch potato who has no problem maintaining his weight or is he a go-go kind of guy that burns calories like a fire pit? Does he have regular bowl movements or does he seem to become constipated frequently? Does he act hungry all of the time and eat his own feces? If you feel your dog needs some type of grain in his home cooked diet remember these important rules:

1. ALWAYS cook your grains first.
2. Test for allergies.
3. Keep the 2/3 to 1/3 ratio for meals; 2/3 meat, 1/3 carbohydrate (either vegetables or grains or a mixture).
4. Avoid white rice. It tends to raise blood glucose levels quite high and can lead to diabetes.

I have always incorporated grains in my dog’s home cooked diet. They enjoy oatmeal, amaranth, barley, quinoa, brown rice, kamut, millet, bulgar, farro, and kasha. When looking for variety, don’t overlook these wonderful fields of gold as a positive and tasty addition to your dog’s home cooked diet.
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