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.