Grain Drain: The truth about Rice, Corn, Oats and Wheat in your Dog’s Bowl

There has been much barking lately about the appropriateness of feeding grains to our four-legged friends. But pet parents are still confused. Do premium kibbles contain grains? What about canned foods? Are rice and pasta ok? Read on to find out.

Hard to believe as it is, and notwithstanding the variety we see today in dog breeds, the insides of our domesticated dogs have changed little over time. Just take a close look at the sharp teeth, the pH of the saliva, the intestines and the chemistry of the organs and you will find that they are all the same as they were hundreds of thousands of years ago. So when you look at your Spoodle lying in your lap or your Border Collie chasing a ball, remember he is a carnivore. 

So we know carnivores are meat eaters? Right? Wrong! Technically, they are prey eaters. They are designed to eat the meat of the animal as well as skin, fur, bones, organs and intestinal contents. They are not designed to efficiently digest grains.  Their prey are meant do that for them. Dogs are designed to get a good deal of their vegetable matter pre-chewed and pre-digested for them in the intestines of their prey including a very small percentage of any grain. So, a tiny bit of grain is OK, but….(and there’s a big but).  

Dog eating kibble

The majority of commercial pet foods contain more than a little grain, they contain a lot. For many brands, grain is the primary ingredient. And when we feed our dogs a lot of grain we get common, irritating and painful problems such as yeast overgrowth and allergy response. And whilst the allergy response in humans tends to be respiratory with runny, stuffy noses and sneezing, in dogs the allergy organ is the skin – particularly paws and ears. So when dogs and cats eat a grain-based diet they get itchy skin and smelly ears which can become chronic and last a lifetime. Veterinary treatment with steroids and antibiotics will relieve the problem temporarily, but continuing with a grain-based diet will bring it back, sometimes straight away, sometimes weeks or months later.

Want to know the good news?

The power to change it lies in the food bowl. And you control the food bowl.     

Every dog can benefit from a switch to a grain-free diet, even those without issues. But of those with allergies, intolerances or sensitivities, around a quarter will stop itching entirely and lose their yeasty ears through the simple elimination of grains, a reduction in starches, and an improvement in the quality of the protein that is fed. And yes, this includes eliminating healthy grains like oats and rice too! And it goes without saying that all bread, pasta, biscuits and 99% of all commercial treats and foods are off the menu.   

Dog with itchy pawsDog chewing at its paws

So, what can you do?

If you lack the time, know-how, or are not brave enough to make your own dog food from scratch at home, the key is to check your pet food labels carefully. There are non-irradiated, grain free, human-grade, raw, dehydrated or dry pet foods available now through pet shops and online. What many of us don’t know is that a grain-free wet food (canned, dehydrated or freeze-dried) is even better than a kibble, simply because of its higher moisture content. Dry or wet, grain-free foods are consistently higher quality and will of course be more expensive since grain is such a cheap ingredient. For help interpreting pet food labels, or recipes for easy home prepared grain-free diets see

As with everything, what you put in is what you can expect to get out. Doing it yourself, or switching to a better quality commercial food may seem expensive now, but in actual fact is significantly cheaper than years of veterinary care for skin troubles. And it will lead to a happier, healthier pooch.  Isn’t that what we all want?

Alla Keogh

Fuelled by a love for great food and a keen desire to offer pets and their parents the very best choices when it comes to their diet and health, Small Animal Nutritionist Alla is passionate about educating pet owners about natural, species-appropriate feeding.