If there is a debate that has taken over social networks, and the community of dog lovers for some years, it is that of cereals in dog food. In particular, the presence of cereals in dog kibbles.
Accusations are numerous: their presence is said to cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, diabetes, obesity and gluten intolerance and that they contain mycotoxins (toxins produced by microscopic fungi). In just a few years, the dry dog food market has remarkably adapted to this fear of grains. Many brands claim to have eliminated them from their formulas and trumpet it on social networks. But are cereals really bad for dogs?
The alleged culprits: cereals!
Behind the notion of cereal hide several concepts that often confuse consumers, such as carbohydrates, gluten and mycotoxins.
A cereal is a herbaceous plant grown primarily for the nutritional value of its grains. They are almost exclusively plants of the Poaceae family, more commonly known as grasses. The best known and most cultivated in the world are wheat, corn, rice and barley.
Accusation 1: not respecting the dog’s “natural” diet
The first accusation against foods containing grains is that they do not respect the dog’s natural diet. To understand more precisely what the dog’s “natural” diet is, two approaches can be considered: look at prehistoric dogs or feral dogs (individuals of domesticated species with little or no dependence on humans).
The analysis of canine remains found in tombs from several sites in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula dating back to the early Middle Bronze Age (late 3rd to 2nd millennium BC) has revealed that the diet of dogs was quite similar to that of humans and contained cereals in some cases.
The diet of feral dogs is also mainly based in people’s wastewith cereals and human feces being its main ingredients.
Therefore, we can conclude that the diet of dogs since prehistoric times has consisted of remains of human food (including feces) containing, in some cases, cereals, which differs quite a bit from the image we have of the “natural” diet. ” of the dog (often depicted as hunting, like a wolf at large).
Accusation 2: Dogs cannot digest starch
During domestication, certain genes which play an essential role in the digestion of starch. Over time and through selection associated with the creation of breeds, the number of copies of the gene that codes for the production of enzymes that digest starch increased as a function of the eating habits of the breeds. Therefore, dogs are capable of digesting starch, although not all breeds are necessarily the same.
Although dogs can survive without starch, its presence is still necessary under certain physiological conditions. like gestation and breastfeeding.
Accusation 3: gluten makes dogs sick
The consumption of products derived from gluten can cause reactions that three categories can be identified: allergic, autoimmune and other reactions.
In dogs, the relationship between gluten and intestinal diseases It has been studied in the Irish Setter for about 20 years, but currently the relationship between gluten and digestive problems in this breed is not clearly established.
In Border Terriers, a association between gluten and paroxysmal dyskinesia (episodic involuntary tremors). At the moment, these are the only two reports of pathologies that could be associated with the presence of gluten.
In this context, an avoidance diet could be considered to test the dog’s sensitivity.
Accusation 4: Mycotoxins poison dogs
Mycotoxins are toxins produced by microscopic fungi during the growth, storage, transportation or processing of plants. They may be present in various plant organsincluding cereals, fruits and tubers.
The most common in animal feed is alphatoxin B1, which is found mainly in wheat grains. In both humans and animals, mycotoxins can cause various health problems (liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, etc.). However, control methods are applied in the harvest and the food industry also uses detoxification methods. In general, molds do not grow on properly dried and preserved foods, so effective drying and proper storage are essential. effective measures against molds and mycotoxin production.
The total aflatoxin content is usually older on budget dog foods compared to premium dog foods. This difference can be explained in part by the use of lower cost products with less controlled storage conditions. The source of nutrients of animal origin It is also a factor to take into account.
Are grain-free foods healthier?
Grain-free foods are not always starch-free, but protein-rich plants such as peas, beans and lentils have lower carbohydrate levels than grains. That is why they are of interest to the animal feed industry. For example, pea seedscontain 21% protein, but also 45% starch.
In low-carb dog foods, starch is often replaced with fat. This may not be suitable for some dogs, especially if they are overweight or have kidney failure. Furthermore, a grain-free food is not necessarily less rich in carbohydrates when comparing compositions.
Finally, recent studies have reported cases of heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy) in dogs that consume grain-free foods rich in legumes, without this being related to breeds at risk of suffering from this pathology. Although the association between grain-free foods and dilated cardiomyopathy is still unclear, caution is warranted, especially in the case of pea-based foods, as suggested by a very recent study.
Verdict: Cereals are innocent
The accusations about grains are not as obvious as they might seem: dogs have been eating grains since they were domesticated, they have developed the enzymes to digest starch, gluten is only a problem for some individuals of rare breeds, and mycotoxins are found in all foods, but their quantity is highly regulated.
Therefore, there is currently no scientific justification for choosing a grain-free food for healthy dogs without any medical conditions.
Sara Hoummady is an associate professor of ethology and animal nutrition at UniLaSalle Polytechnic Institute.
Guillemette Garry She is a doctor in biology and a professor and researcher at the UniLaSalle Polytechnic Institute.
This article was originally published in The Conversation.
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