What is wrong with grain, rice or oats ?

Hi I just wondered is it bad if a dog food has grain, rice or oats. I see that there is a lot of talk about grain free dog foods but I don’t know why. Is it because they are used to bulk out food or can they cause problems to dogs, thank you.

This article explains about oats in dog food. White rice is covered here and brown rice here.

As you say, there is a lot of anti grain sentiment around right now. I do not know why this has come about but critics say that dogs are not developed to utilise high amounts of carbohydrates. Here is what this website has to say about carbohydrates:

[i]Carbohydrates: Carbs are scored according to their nutritional value (including how easily they can be digested by the dog) and their quantity. Highly nutritious carbs like brown rice and sweet potato tend to score positively while more problematic carbs like maize and wheat always lose points. Too much of any carb is regarded as a filler and is downgraded.[/i]

Personally, I am OK with feeding brown rice and oats but I am not so keen when the amount of carbohydrates and fillers all together are in excess of 50%. However, that is just me and I am only a dog owner. Trouble is, some formulas contain several varieties of grain so there are combinations of rice (white and brown), oats, barley and maize. Some dogs do have problems with grains but others do perfectly well on food containing them so perhaps it can’t be all bad.

A bit of basic biology may help explain, high carbs can be problematic (this is any carbs, not just grains. Grains add further problems as they are, essentially, grass seeds, and these can cause irritation in many species, including humans, cats and dogs. Dogs don’t need any carbs in the diet, they are able to convert protein and fat into the necessary nutrients to keep blood sugar and glycogen levels healthy.

**Herbivores (Rabbits, Cows, Sheep) **

Herbivores eat plants, and their digestive system has adapted to absorb nutrients from plant material.

Grinding Teeth; Herbivores have square, flat molars designed to crush and grind plant material with a sideways motion

Long Digestive Tracts; Plant material is difficult to digest, particularly plant cellulose. The herbivores intestines are up to 10 times longer than their body length, giving the digestive system time to breakdown and absorb correctly.

Digestive Enzymes; Amylase is contained within the saliva of the herbivore combined with the chewing action help to break down the coarse fibre and carbohydrates that makes up plant material.

Omnivores (Humans, Pigs, Bears)

Omnivores have evolved to eat both plants and meats hence have adapted their digestive systems

Tearing and Grinding Teeth; Omnivores have sharp canine teeth at the front of the mouth to cater for meat, and flat molars to allow a grinding action for plant material.

Medium Digestive Tracts; Capable of digesting meat based proteins and fats, but still long enough to cater for vegetable matter. (Note that some vegetable which are difficult to digest such as sweet corn can pass through if not chewed correctly)

Digestive Enzymes; As with the herbivore, amylase is contained within the saliva of the omnivore, which also utilises the chewing action to help break down the coarse fibres and carbohydrates that makes up plant material.

Carnivores (Cats, Lions, Dogs, Wolves)

Carnivore in Latin means “Meat eater” and the classification refers to diets that consist of mainly meat.

Sharp Tearing Teeth; A carnivores teeth are designed for tearing and slicing (not grinding). Carnivores have elongated front teeth which are used to kill prey and triangular shaped molars which act like a serrated blade and operate in a vertical scissor action to give a cutting action.

Short Digestive Tract; High hydrochloric stomach acid (pH 1-2 compared to humans at a pH of 4-5) quickly digests meat based protein and fat.

Digestive Enzymes; Amylase is not present within the saliva of carnivores hence the burden of digesting carbohydrates is taken by the pancreas. Long term over loading of the pancreas is associated with insulin resistance and ultimately the failure of the pancreas to produce of insulin as found in type II diabetes.

** Conclusions**

Key genetic features of the both dogs and cats classify them as carnivores hence they would have historically eaten a diet almost exclusively of meat
Pointed Teeth designed for grasping ripping and shredding
Jaws designed to swallow whole food (not grinding)
High Acid Stomach Type
Short small intestines
Digestive enzymes adapted to breakdown meat
Absence of enzymes designed to break down vegetable matter


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Thank you David that was very useful and interesting to read :slight_smile: now I understand the prob.

You’re welcome

Heres one article (there are many discussing the same research) stating that dogs are capable of digesting carbohydrates and starches as its how they’ve evolved from living with us hoomans, making them different to wolves in their dietary requirements.


I think the one of the reasons grain free food has become popular is they normally advertise as high end, good quality protein sources. Where as cheaper end of the scale with lots of grain fillers, the protein source is meat derivatives which can literally be anything from an animal from what I understand.

Some good thoughts here
I see my old friend David linking the food he retails for and copy paste their opinion on it
I do agree with some of the info on your website [retailer for] but I had no clue dogs suffered from type 2 diabetes thats a new one to me :-
Thankyou to schnauday for giving us two sides to a story always fab to see. :smiley:
I do always try to look for factual peer reports and ones not done by companies although hard to locate and its also hard to tweezer out selling material based on companies opinion and not fact.
‘FILLER’ Seems to be a word banded about carbs are important in dog food to hold the kibble together and also carbs are a good source of instant energy so I am not sure nowadays fillers is a correct term depends on how they are used and in what volumes I think.
Shuffles off to read some more

I agree with the article, dogs can digest a bit more starch than wolves, which is good since all kibbles contain some starch to bind them.

As you say Louise, its about appropriate levels (30% or less according to that article)

Wouldn’t it be nice if the proper research was readily available, would make this all so much easier for everyone to learn about, me included.

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Interesting article here on the issue of grains.

Interesting, but I always find it frustrating that they say “many more copies” but its not quantified at all, and no mention of just how much extra carbs can be digested. It also remains that there is no salivary amylase and food is swallowed rather than chewed/ground.

It also takes no account at all of the rest of the digestive system, has that changed too?

Why do Burns foods only rate 2.9 to 3.7 on AADF? High grain and low meat, so who is right, John Burns or David Jackson?

Maybe there isn’t a right or wrong, just individual dogs and their varying responses to different types of food. All we dog owners have is our own observation and intuition.

This is very subjective and therefore of no statistical use whatsoever but on the subject of high carbs, many years ago I fed Burns to my dogs and it caused them to itch and scratch. My friends found this with their dogs (not the same breed BTW). One of my current ones responded poorly to James Wellbeloved (the rest of them were fine on it) so I now tend to go grain free if possible. I’ve tried the high protein/fat and that doesn’t do it for my current dogs because they pile weight on with these products and are half starved due to the minuscule quantity they must have. IMO (and I know this is controversial) their lifestyle simply doesn’t merit such high protein and fat levels in their diet, even if the former is of good quality.

A few years ago I had all of my dogs on one particular grain free food which only scores 3.2 to 3.5 on here. All were doing OK and in fact my youngest (age two years) was brought up on it from eight weeks and did very well indeed - never ailed a thing and had a fantastic coat. She was a very, very tiny little pup and it was something of a miracle that she survived (many sleepless nights). I learned about scores and decided to give them all a ‘better’ diet. It hasn’t been successful for two of my dogs. Now one of those has developed a problem which is exacerbated by these better quality foods. She is back on her original diet which is lower in protein and fat and although it is early days she is doing fine. There is a lesson there - if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

Absolutly - I couldnt agree more
If it aint broken dont fix it
However if it is broken and you want to fix it dont do as I did at first and think oh well the 80/20 have to be the best so must use that or be frowned upon as such.

Why do Burns foods only rate 2.9 to 3.7 on AADF? High grain and low meat, so who is right, John Burns or David Jackson?
With all due respect to the above mentioned people and also other companies like Eden, AUTU, Akela MWH etc etc list is endless! of new and upcoming retailers/producers. It all based on their opinion and business model if they have one as there isnt many papers or research done on theses now high meat low carb foods baring in mind they have only been about for a few years so the true facts have not been established. I am incline to think take all their information and find a food suited to my dog not make your dog suit a food just because of a persons rating or opinion. What works for one will not work for all. I am thrilled beyond belief to find something that fits my dog and works ... for now! and I wouldnt have found them if it wasnt for David Jacksons website and this forum so I am eternally grateful. lou x

I just don’t get it… if there is a reason (and it seam that where really might be!) that grains are no good, why there is just a small amount of dog food brands which provides food without it! I just got the lab staffie X, went to huge pet food supermarket and out of hundreds of different brands I only found 1 (!!) that is grain free, has at least 30% protein and 20% of fat… ???

Most brands of food are made by Mars, Nestlé Purina or Colgate Palmolive so in reality they use the same ingredients. Think about the main foods these companies make, food for human consumption, they have a lot of leftover parts that they need tonuse, or pay to dispose of; here are their primary sources of petfood ingredients. if f they stopped using these ingredients in pet food, how would they depose of these “waste” by-products

In addition there were studies over the years, generally using rats as the test subject, that suggested grains are a beneficial food etc. These studies are what many pet foods are based on… But dogs and cats are nothing like rats when it comes to digestion and nutritional needs.

An interesting article on the benefits of grains: Are Grains Good For Your Dog? The source is the website of an American magazine ‘Animal Wellness.’

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In relation to my own diet, I tend to use brown rice, quinoa, and oats (not in the instant sachets) The least amount of processing and refining the better. From bits I have read about refined carbs and how they are metabolised in humans, the fibre is key to getting the full nutritional value and also to the foods effects on hormones like insulin and leptin which control appetite and blood sugar… I am not sure if it works the same way for dogs but I am happy to feed all the grains I eat to my dog and she tolerates them well. She does get refined carbs at times but only in moderation.