Lots of dog owners today like the idea of feeding their dogs grain free dog food. Grain free foods have plenty of benefits. They often have higher protein levels. They avoid some of the common grains that can cause allergies in some dogs. They often use carb sources that are less common so they are good for dogs with certain food sensitivities. But are they the best food for all dogs?

While many grain free foods are very good, they are not all superior foods. Some grain free dog foods can be just as much out of balance as foods with grain. If the calcium and phosphorus ratio is out of whack, for example, the food may be completely unsuitable for puppies. This happens frequently with grain free foods, especially foods that have very high protein percentages. AAFCO has formulated their nutritional charts for vitamins and minerals with popular (grain) foods in mind. These foods with grains contain phytates that absorb a lot of the vitamins and minerals in the food. That’s not necessarily true with grain free foods. They can have some ingredients that have phytates, but not the abundance that come from grains. As a consequence, dogs that eat grain free foods often get an overdose of vitamins and minerals. There’s nothing in the food to absorb them and prevent the dog from digesting them.

Some people also mistakenly believe that since a food is “grain free” that it is also carb free. This isn’t true. Vegetables generally contain plenty of carbohydrates. For instance, a dog food that is grain free can use sweet potatoes as a carbohydrate. Sweet potatoes are approximately 92-93 percent carbs. Dogs don’t need carbohydrates for nutrition but neither do people. Nevertheless, they perform important functions in the diet, providing a good source of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.

Many people like the idea that dogs are descended from wolves and believe that they need to eat a similar diet – a carnivore’s diet. But the truth is that dogs have been living with humans for over 15,000 years and eating what we feed them. The latest scientific research shows that dogs are perfectly capable of digesting the starches in grains – unlike wolves. http://www.nature.com/news/dog-s-dinner-was-key-to-domestication-1.12280

This is not to discourage anyone from feeding their dog a good grain free dog food. But when choosing a dog food for your dog, keep in mind that there are still many good dog foods that contain some grains. Here are some things to look for in a good dog food:

  • Choose a food that has several good animal proteins in the first few ingredients. Named proteins such as chicken, lamb meal, and fish are best. Avoid generics such as “animal meal.”
  • Avoid foods that have lots of grain and cereal. Small amounts are okay but foods that have white rice, brown rice, and rice bran add up to a lot of rice in your dog’s food. Corn is not necessarily bad unless there is too much of it. Foods with lots of different kinds of grains (cracked pearled barley, millet, oatmeal, etc.) also add up to a lot of carbs in the food, even if the grains sound appealing. Too much of anything is not good.
  • Look for good sources of animal fat. A named fat such as chicken fat is good. A vague fat such as “animal fat” is not good.
  • Avoid by-products and digest. These are less desirable parts of animals and you probably don’t want your dog to eat them.
  • Avoid artificial preservatives such as BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin. If you are in doubt whether a company uses ethoxyquin to preserve fish, call and ask.
  • Avoid artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners. Your dog doesn’t need these ingredients.

Remember that there are lots of good dog foods available. You don’t necessarily have to feed your dog a grain free food for him to get good nutrition. Just read the ingredients and the rest of the label to see what’s in the food.