Home » Nutrition » Feeding grains to dogs and cats.

Feeding grains to dogs and cats.

Since the 3rd edition of our book was published in 2005 there was a strong movement towards feeding dogs and cats primarily meat and bones. This was called a “raw food diet.” The strange idea was put forth that grains are harmful or poisonous. Likely this is an exaggeration of the concept that grains in large amounts are not the optimal diet. The situation is more complex, however, than most realize.

The first question is if grains are not good for animals. The short answer is that grains are well accepted by animals if they are properly prepared. By this, I mean that the animal digestive tract is shorter than the human so the grains must be well cooked to be digestible.

Well, then, are they are in some way harmful? They are not if the quality is good. By “quality” we are meaning that the grains are complete, not just “leftovers” from milling. Also they need to be fresh, not rancid or spoiled. One would assume this is obvious but the fact is that commercial pet foods can use the leftovers and rejects from the production of human foods — the spoiled, contaminated, nutritionally inadequate floor sweepings — as their source of grains. Much of the concern about the harmful effect of grains in food for animals is because of the poor quality grain used in many commercial pet foods. The formula is like this:

Poor quality grain in commercial food = diminished health in animals = avoidance of grain based commercial foods = all grains are bad.

You can see that the first 3 steps make sense but the last conclusion does not as it is not taking into account that the health problems seen in animals has to do with the quality of the ingredient rather than the nature of it, e.g. that it is from grains.

Research into animal nutrition as cited in “Nutrient Requirements for Dogs” and “Nutrient Requirements for Cats” published by the Subcommittee on Dog Nutrition and Cat Nutrition by the National Research Council (about as reliable as one is going to find outside of the industry) reports that growing dogs fed a diet of up to 62% starch (which is an unusually simple carbohydrate, grains being much more complete) were able to digest 84% of the starch and use it for growth and energy. Even more significant these puppies had no apparent health effects from such a diet, growing the same as the group fed no carbohydrates. Cats have been shown to be able to digest over 96% of starch fed to them.

Another factor to bring in is that whole organic grains are very nutritious and compared to meat or other animal products have a fraction of the environmental toxins found in the tissues of animals. The animals that eat plants, drink the water available, and accumulate huge amounts of toxic substances, many hundreds of chemicals, that build up in their bodies. It is not so much that plants are completely free of these because our environment is so contaminated, but the amount in plants is like 1-2% of what is in animal tissue. The animals eating these plants day after day (or GMO soy or corn) accumulate this in their bodies. Then when their bodies are eaten by others, those that eat them again accumulate thousands of greater quantities of these chemicals in their tissues. This build up each step of the food chain is called bioaccumulation.

We discuss this in detail in the 4th edition of our book, Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide To Natural Health For Dogs and Cats, published by Rodale Press. It is now available from booksellers.

26 thoughts on “Feeding grains to dogs and cats.

  1. Hi Richard,
    Regarding the feeding of grains to dogs and cats, could you comment on situations such as when a dog or cat has a cancer?

    I was under the impression that along with finding the homeopathic similimum, avoiding vaccinations, or other harmful environmental obstructions to cure, that grains in the diet might be ‘feeding’ the cancer. Therefore, decreasing grains/carbohydrates would be beneficial for the patient.

    But according to your comments, if the grains are of good quality, then it would not make any difference?

    Interesting format for starting discussions! This is actually the first time I have ever posted anything on a ‘blog’!

    Live long and prosper,
    Carol Jean

  2. Carol Jean,
    This is a common misconception I think (about grains and cancer). It stems from the observation that many cancer cells having become more primitive (less differentiated) are not able to acquire energy through metabolism using the Kreb’s cycle (remember that one?). The Kreb’s cycle depends on the utilization of oxygen to break down protein, fats and carbohydrate to acetyl Co-A — sound familiar? The tissue cells of the body use this efficient system. Cancer cells often have lost the ability to do this and so depend on a less efficient anaerobic use of blood glucose.
    So…the idea is that since the cancer cells depend on glucose then to avoid any sugars and carbohydrates, right? Problem is that regardless of what you eat (even if all meat) still the body produces blood glucose as it is needed by all the tissues so avoiding grains does not stop the production of blood sugar and does not make nutrients less available to cancer cells.
    I hope this makes sense and explained it well enough. Let me know if not.

  3. Dr. Pitcairin,

    I have been feeding my dog a commercially produced product of oats by SoJo’s with her home prepared food. I soak the oats first for a period of time. Do you think this would be enough to get the nutritional benefits from the rolled oats?

  4. Soaking grains for some hours, until they are soft should be adequate. Check the stool. If not coming through as undigested oats then it is all right.

  5. Dr. Pitcairn,
    Thank you so much for all you have done to educate people out there. Your blog about grains couldn’t be more timely. It never ceases to amaze me how much misinformation there is floating around on the web… one prominent blogger likes to brag how his dogs have eaten nothing but raw meat and bones for the last seven years (no grains, no fresh veggies/fruit, no dairy) and he thinks the dogs are extremely healthy. I would NEVER feed meat alone! I do not understand the”grains are bad” group. One of my dogs is allergic to rice and potatoes, but she does well with oatmeal, quinoa, bulgar and polenta. She is so active, she needs the carbs for energy!

  6. Thanks for the feedback. Yes, there is confusion it seems to me. I think I explained it in the blog but often the dogs that are not healthy are extrapolated to all of them. Same happens with people. Sort of a lowering of the bar.

  7. Hi Dr. Pitcairn,
    I am just starting to feed my dog (and cats soon, hopefully) a raw diet and completely agree with you that grains, of quality and prepared properly, are a healthy part of an animal’s diet… provided they have no allergies to them. From what I’ve read, my own experiences, etc, grains can be a likely source of allergies for dogs, and I am wondering what, in your opinion, are the best grains to include in their diet?

    Thank you,

  8. Andrea,
    I don’t know if there are “best” grains. Most commonly used are rice, oats, corn (polenta, for example). If the grain is organic and whole I doubt there is a big, significant, difference between them. They will vary as to protein content some, and likely as to other ingredients to a certain extent but then when you factor in time it was grown, what part of the country, type of soil, makes it difficult to compare in exact terms.

  9. Therese,
    If your homeopathic veterinarian has not been able to help, then I suggest trying someone else. Here is a link to several you can question and work with if you wish:

  10. There is so much confusing data on this subject. Recently I was given a first edition to your Complete Guide to Natural Health for Cats and Dogs.
    My eleven year old dog Zoe has had three uti episodes this year alone. Otherwise she is a healthy dog never requiring vet intervention. It seems to me these uti’s happen after she’s dewormed which I now realize how devastating these chemicals are to her wellbeing.
    I would like to know if your stance on feeding the recepies included in the first edition have changed and also your protocol for the healing of bladder infections.
    Thank you in advance for your response.

  11. Teri,
    There are many opinions as to how best to feed dogs isn’t there? My experience as a veterinarian has brought me to a rather simple view, this being to feed as naturally as possible, emphasizing organic sources. An advantage to the recipes in our book is reducing the intake of many toxic substances that are now in animal products. I don’t know what the cause of the bladder trouble is for your dog but I do know that the bladder can be irritated from chemicals that are picked up from food because they accumulate in the bladder area if they are being eliminated. So I always advised clients to be careful about sources, making sure it is non-GMO, organic, and as whole as possible (whole grains, whole vegetables). Your observation as to the possible effect of deworming could be right on and this is why I offer alternative means in our book. It is difficult to realize how harmful some of these chemicals and drugs are. Bottom line is that I encourage you to try the recipes in our fourth edition as they are more adapted to today’s world of the toxic load of animal products.
    Good luck to you.
    With best wishes,
    — Dr. Pitcairn

  12. Hello Dr.,
    I just got your book (the 4th edition) and am beginning to read it. I am in the process of transitioning my dogs from a salmon/sweet potato diet to a vegan diet. I was wondering if you could give me your opinion on ‘natural balance’ vegan formula. Time and money are an issue for me, but as of right now and after a lot of reading on human nutrition, the ecological disaster that is animal agriculture, etc, I am more motivated than ever to switch my dogs to vegan food. That said, I’m imagining that in the very near future (I kind of took a quick glance at your book) I will start to make my own recipes–from yours. I envision supplementing the kibble with homemade–to reduce cost and make it healthier. When you have time, I would love to hear your thoughts on this brand of food. I chose it over ‘nature’s recipe’ because it had soy as its primary protein. However the third ingredient in ‘natural balance’ is canola oil. Bad huh?

  13. Natural Balance a nice brand. My experience is that soy an excellent food for both dogs and cats, but must be organic, not GMO. I am not sure if the canola oil in Natural Balance is organic. If it is, should be fine. You might check.
    Good luck with the recipes. We certainly see good results with them.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  14. Two questions. I’ve had your original book for decades. Have you updated the diets in the new version? I’m currently feeding Victor Grain Free Hero or Yukon formulas. The dogs are doing well, but I’m thinking of returning to homemade. I do add a smoothie of veggies, apple and goat’s milk to their food along with a bit of either canned (Zignature Lamb) or cooked venison/egg. My concern with grains is I have Poodles. One used to have horrible ear infections until I went grain free. In the past if she got even a piece of organic popcorn she’d have an issue so I’m concerned about trying grains with her again. What are your thoughts on this? I’m thinking quinoa or millet might be better options than rice etc… Maybe gluten free oats? I have a gluten allergy myself so do keep gf steel cut oats on hand.

  15. Yes, out 4th edition does have newly updated recipes. We are emphasizing plant based, including organic grains and avoiding animal meat and products as much as possible. This ear problem you describe your dog is susceptible to is an autoimmune disease so avoiding certain foods may help but does not solve the problem. I suggest you consider homeopathy for treating it which is what I have used successfully. There is no concern about gluten in animals.

  16. Hello Dr Pitcairn,
    How are you? I adore your book and have followed your advice for years (I’m always quoting “Dr Pitcairn says….!”) I’m feeding an older pancreatitis prone big rescue dog who’s had a very rough past life – after he had a terrible sickness episode this year and went into pancreatitis I switched to cooking his meals myself and now he’s bright and seems happy and healthier on meals inspired by your recipes of (cooked) organic chicken mince (vet said only cooked chicken?) oats, brown and white rice and veggies, plus a natural supplement powder (it’s quite like your Healthy powder – it’s a struggle to get some of the ingredients where I live in NZ but I found a good natural one with kelp, vitamins A,E, C, D,beta carotene, seaweed meal, Oligofructose & Inulin flaxseed meal,DHA Omega 3,Organic zinc, in it) and yeast flakes – my questions please if you get time to help are: 1) do you see anything in this supplement powder which is wrong for a pancreatitis dog? 2) eggs for a pancreatic dog? too high in fat? 3) I’m sure I read in your book a grain to protein ratio guide – that meat can be fed in one part to two part grains or half and half but now I can’t find where it is in the book (maybe I imagined it?!!). I’m not really measuring out anything except the supplement powder and feeding him 750gms boiled chicken per day total in two meals with a good equal-looking mound of grains mixed in and about a cup of veggies per meal – always half a grated carrot per meal plus mixed cooked veggies. It looks like a half and half mixture of grains and meat, does this sound ok? 4) I haven’t added bone meal to his food – it’s hard to source here but he does love chewing on his big bones so I’m hoping that counts enough? and 5) I haven’t added any oils to his food – the vet said NO FAT, what do you think about NO FAT in the form of no oils added whatsoever? It’s quite scary cooking for an animal with medical issues! He’s a very big mixed breed dog and is getting as much as he likes to eat (not greedy at all and will leave some sometimes), he was chubby before but now he’s on a natural diet his weight has stabilized and he’s very solid but trim even though his meals are actually bigger than before! I just badly want to get this right for him. Thanks so much for all the amazing work you do, I appreciate it! Kindest regards, Chrissy 🙂

  17. Chrissy, the best advice I can give is what is in the 4th edition of our book that was published last year. We updated recipes to emphasize optimal feeding in today’s world with so much contamination. We find that many dogs that switch to a primarily plant based diet become much more healthy. I think a big part of this is the avoidance of toxic chemicals accumulating in the tissues of livestock.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  18. Have a 20 year old cat who grew up on your home cooked food but due to a stressful situation at home living with a bully cat, she has developed bladder Crystal’s. I have considered a grain free diet except for yams and potatoes.I have been told that grains can create inflammation.What do you think?Also looking for a home where she can relax and wondering about canned food such as Blue Buffalo wilderness.Could I add fresh meat to it Extra B complex and chlorophyll. Thankyou for all your precious knowledge. Your book is the bible in my home! Do not know if my friend will home cook for Coconut so I am wondering about the next best thing .

  19. Elaine, I have never seen any association of eating grains with bladder crystals or inflammation. Don’t know where that story started. I think it would help you to read the 4th edition of our book which really emphasizes a new view to diet, a way to avoid the toxins that are especially in animal products, like Buffalo meat and other meats. There is concern about the urine being too alkaline but it is more complex than that. Our recipes take that into account and minimize meat and emphasize the more pure plant products.
    Good luck.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  20. Dear doctor Pitcairn,
    my friend Heather is asking you for the recipe for “poultry delight” if the meat can be grounded by the butcher and baked, and if yes at what temperature. If not can it be cooked on a skillet?
    Also for the “Healthy Powder” what kind of Vitamin E should be added? Is tocopherlbl Vitamin E Okay? Please let us know. Thank you!!

  21. Daniela, the meat can be cooked either way, the guiding factor is that the higher the temperature the more loss of nutritional value. So if there is a choice, use the lower temperature method. Regarding vitamin E, did you mean to use the word “Tocophérol”? I don’t recognize the way you spelled it. I have just recommended what is available on the market for human use, preferably organic.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  22. Hi Mr Pitcairn not sure how the best way to reach you or someone who could help. My dog over the last 3 years has gone through tremendous issues and i am ats witts ends with her. Shes living in a cone because shes constantly itching under her chin . The vet says she has fungus issues but no matter what we do she seems to always have ear infections , she has thyroid problems is on t4, and weve been feeding her over a month the garbanzo recipe and i dont know what to do . How long does it take for a dog to get better im truly losing hope. Weve spent over 3000$ on medications, treatments and foods to no avail. We are and have been feeding her only your garbanzo recipe and nothing else and its been a month. Do i just give up on her? My vet is against any of this as all other vets here in the republic of panama. Weve even done allergy tests on her and sensitivity tests because we didnt know what to do . Yet here i am, shes living in a cone (10years old) and i dont want her last years wearing a cone all the time ( if i leave it off she scratches until she scabs her hair off and is bleeding) wha t can i do to save her.

  23. Wow! What a challenge. I am sorry you are going through this. If changing the diet did not help then the other thing I do is homeopathic treatment. I don’t know if available in your area. If not, you could go to my website, the menu “referrals” and you will see “Health Conulstants” listed. These are people that are willing to work from a distance so that might work for you.
    Good luck.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  24. Dr. Pitcairn, My dog who is now 14 has been on your diet for almost his entire life. His bloodwork is “magnificent” and his vet is always shocked at how healthy he is since many of his clients who cook for their dogs often feed unhealthy table scraps. I take him to a partially holistic vet, so he gets titers and hasn’t had shots in many years since he still has the immunities. Your guide has served us well. He still has the energy of a much younger dog. He only has dental issues which is my own fault since he hates brushing and I don’t force it.

    My question: I have always added a spinach as his significant vegetable, but my own doctor told me to gradually take it out off my own diet due to the oxalates. Is there a vegetable you would recommend that would be just as beneficial for Gus, or is this not an issue for an elderly dog? (He is a Bolognese breed.) He spits out green beans and leaves them on his placemat by the bowl, so anything but that would be preferred. I currently make his food with spinach, peas and carrots, adding sweet potatoes in the fall.

    Thank you for your guide. My dog has optimal health and vigor. I’m so grateful to have such a healthy, happy and devoted buddy.

    Karen Wilger

  25. Karen, you have done well with your dog. I have never seen or heard of a problem feeding spinach to dogs. If you have been using
    it and your dog is healthy then I would not worry about it. If this is a new thing you are adding, and you would like to minimize it, then I suggest using Kale, or Brussel sprouts, perhaps green beans. I am guessing because I can’t say they are nutritionally equivalent but seems like they would be.
    Good luck.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s