Is a dog food OK as long as it doesn’t have soy, corn or wheat? Are potatoes and peas good for my dog? These are common questions we deal with at the Moab Barkery, and they are valid ones. We know that you want to avoid feeding harmful ingredients to your dog and that is a great thing. However there is a mass of marketing that is telling you that dry processed diets are a healthy option for the optimal health of your dog.
While grains may be lacking in grain-free dog foods, one look at the ingredient list of any of these products will show you that the grains have been merely replaced by another starch, which functions as the binder that holds the kibble together. Common examples of starch ingredients used in conventional dog foods are corn, rice, wheat, peas, potato, oats, barley and tapioca. These starches gelatinize during extrusion and create a binding matrix, making the end kibble product cohesive. Simply put, without the starch component it is nearly impossible to form a cohesive kibble that holds its integrity and doesn’t simply fall apart.
There are some pretty compelling reasons not to feed any type of starchy carbohydrate to dogs, here are some of the top reasons…
Mycotoxins are toxic by-products of mold or fungus. Mycotoxins contaminate crops before they’re harvested or after they’re stored. They’re most commonly found in corn, barley, wheat, beets, peanuts and cottonseed, but other frequently affected foods include; sorghum, pearl millet, rice, wheat, soybean and sunflower seeds.
One of the most well-known mycotoxins is aflatoxin, and it’s the most carcinogenic naturally occurring substance known to man.
A global survey conducted between 2004 and 2013 found mycotoxin contamination in over 76% of the samples of grains and by-products destined for animal foods. Aflatoxins target many of the organs in dogs but especially the liver, where they can cause toxicity, immunosuppression and cancer. The effects of mycotoxin exposure are cumulative and build up in your pet over time.
Anti-nutrients are naturally occurring or man-made substances in food that can interfere with the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, and interfere with digestive enzymes. Essentially they can rob your dog of nutrition. Anti-nutrients are most commonly found in grains, beans, legumes and nuts. These include…
Phytic acid is found in grains and legumes like peas, which are commonly found in grain-free pet foods. It’s an anti-nutrient because it can bind to important minerals such as copper, iron, magnesium and zinc, and make them unavailable to your dog. Phytic acid can rob your dog of up to 80% of these critical nutrients.
Lectins are found in large amounts in beans and some grains and, like phytic acid, can also reduce nutrient absorption. Lectins can damage the cells that line your dog’s intestines. When this happens, the ability of nutrients to be able to pass through your dog’s intestines and into their body is affected. It can also disrupt the delicate balance of flora living there and trigger allergy and autoimmune reactions. There are many other anti-nutrients in grains and starches, including gluten which can cause leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disease, tannins which can upset the gastrointestinal tract and oxalates which can cause kidney stones.
The glycemic load of foods is an indication of how quickly it raises the blood sugar. A small, steady amount of carbohydrate or starch in the diet is fairly harmless, but when large amounts of starchy carbohydrate are added to the diet, and most dry dog foods are 30-60% carbohydrate, this can cause obesity and insulin resistance.
When your dog eats carbohydrates, they’re broken down into glucose, which is the form the body can use for fuel. When this happens, insulin is released to move the blood sugar, or glucose, into the cells. And how quickly this happens is the food’s glycemic load. The only foods that cause a quick spike in glucose and insulin secretion are carbohydrates.
Why is spiking insulin unhealthy? Over time, the dog’s body will become less sensitive to insulin and insulin resistance can occur. And that’s bad because the pancreas will have to work harder to produce more and more insulin and can become exhausted and your dog can develop diabetes. But that’s not the only risk. Insulin resistance can also increase the risk of thyroid disease and some types of cancer. And because one of insulin’s jobs is to store body fat, the dog eating a lot of carbohydrate can become fat and you’ll find it really hard to take the weight off.
There are some ways to reduce the carbohydrate load in your dog; these are listed in most to least desirable.
Feed a raw diet, the only reason raw feeders see fewer health issues in their dogs is because they don’t contain starchy carbohydrates. Fruits and vegetables are fine, they don’t contain phytic acid, they have a low glycemic load and they can be loaded with vitamins and minerals. But raw diets are generally free of peas, potatoes and cereal grains and that’s why so many dogs do so well on them.
Cooking for your dog can be a tough one because so many cooked diets are loaded with carbohydrates. Fresh foods are always better than processed foods, so if you cook for your dog, try to keep the carbohydrates to less than 10% of the diet and load your dog up on protein and fat instead.
Feed a low starch food with the least amount of carbohydrate and that means no more than 15%, and you will see that is a rare find. The problem is, pet food manufacturers aren’t forced to tell you how much carbohydrate is in the food, so they don’t. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to calculate the amount of carbohydrate in your dog’s food. Flip your bag of dog food over and you’ll find something called the Guaranteed Analysis. This is the guaranteed minimum amounts of certain nutrients in the food. Next, find the percentage of protein, fat, moisture and ash and then add them together, if ash is not listed use 7%, most dry dog foods fall between 5-8% ash content. Once you have added these numbers together subtract that total from 100 and you will have your carbohydrate content, for example… (100 – (23 (Protein) + 12 (Fat) + 10 (Moisture) + 7 (Ash)) = 48% Carbohydrate.
What happens if you do nothing?
The worst thing you can do is to keep doing what you’re doing because your dog appears to be healthy. Whether it is weeks, months or years from now, you and your vet probably won’t make the connection between their allergies, cancer, liver or kidney disease, and the lifetime of eating an unnecessary food that can cause very real health issues if it’s fed in excess.
If kibble is all you can afford, then try to add some protein or healthy fat like coconut oil, eggs or whole fish to your dog’s diet, at the minimum it will lower the glycemic load and replace some of the missing vitamins and minerals. But doing nothing is setting your dog up to fail.
Don’t rely on pet food companies to tell you what’s right for your dog, even the best companies have to care about their financial health before they can ever consider your dog’s health. Quality ingredients cost money and most dog owners aren’t prepared to pay that price for their dog’s food. Hopefully you’re an exception and you’ll start to see the connection between your dog’s health and the foods that you give them.