A GRAIN OF TRUTH
A Grain Of Truth, By Dr Bruce Syme BVSc (Hons)
For those of you who have been reading & researching information on natural diets for dogs (as myself), it’s time to set the record straight on the issue of grains.
There is conflicting information being published on the use of grains, as part of a natural diet. Some vets advocate no grain at all, & believe a diet based on raw meaty bones is all a dog needs. Others recommend a small portion of grains in the diet. So what is the truth?
The basic controversy has arisen because of the very high cereal content used in processed pet foods. Many canned & dry foods contain up to 4 times as much cereal content as meat. This cereal is cleverly flavoured with meat render (boiled offal & carcass remains), & is often disguised as “meaty chunks” using food dyes. The simple fact is that dogs are not designed to eat such a high content of highly refined starch (cereals ground into flour). These cereal flours are used as cheap fillers. to bulk up the pet food & increase profit. Cheap starch has little nutritional value, except for calories, & can result in a diet with too much refined sugar.
It is this fact that has lead some vets & nutritionists to broaden the issue on cheap carbohydrates, to encompass grains in general. But this is not true. l agree that cheap carbohydrates used in commercial pet foods are not good for health, but this does not mean that dogs do not actually eat grains.
We must remember that dogs do ingest grains whenever they catch & eat live prey. The natural source of prey for dogs is generally herbivores….plant eaters. When a dog catches its prey, it will first eat the gut content of the prey animal, which is full of semi-digested plant & grain material. This can make up almost 30-40% of the weight of the prey animal. Next, the dog will eat the organs, & finally the meat & bones. The order in which they consume the prey is a simple & clear indication that the grain / vegetable content of the diet is vital to their health. Why else would they eat it first?
Dogs are omnivores, not obligate carnivores (unlike cats). This means that they are able to survive on a diet that does not contain meat. The most basic indication here is that they can survive on a diet of plant based material….grains, fruit, vegetable matter etc. It simply stands to reason that if an animal can survive like this, then their bodies must be fully equipped to digest & process these types of food groups.
An important point to mention here is that dogs cannot digest whole grains. They do not graze fields of barley & eat the grains. What they do is ingest the grain from the gut content of the prey animal. This grain has already been masticated (chewed), partially digested, & has been fermenting in the animals gut at 35.5’C. Presented like this, a dog can now easily digest the grain material. The same goes for plant material.
Dogs have a poor ability to digest intact plant material (they lack the enzymes to digest the cellulose plant cell wall). When they eat plant material, it is either direct from the gut of the prey, predigested, or they scavenge old composting vegetable matter, which is auto-digesting (decaying). The same goes for fruit material. Dogs generally also eat fruit off the ground, not off the tree, where it has all ready ripened, & started to decay.
The only time dogs can digest fresh plant material, is when they eat very young shoots. If you watch them eat grass, for nutrition, not as a means of making themselves sick, they are very selective, eating only the very fresh green shoots, not the bigger , greener leaves. This is because the new shoots have a thin cell wall that can be digested, whereas older plant cells develop a tough, indigestible, lignified cell wall.
So the final word on grains. They are ok, as long as they are unprocessed, cracked or crushed, pre-fermented, & make up a smaller portion of the diet than the meat content