The following is a reprint from HEALTHY PETS - NATURALLY
by Russell Swift, DVM
At the recent American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association
Conference, I discovered that I am not the only one questioning the
use of grains in commercial and home-prepared pet foods. Grains, such
as oats, wheat, rice, barley, etc, are composed mostly of complex
carbohydrates. They also contain some protein, fiber, B-vitamins and
However, they are NOT part of the natural diet of wild dogs
and cats. In the true natural setting, grains hardly exist at all.
Wild grains are much smaller than our hybridized domestic varieties.
This means that even a mouse or other prey animal is not going to find
much of its nutrition from grains. Therefore, the argument that "dogs
and cats eat animals that have grains in their digestive tracts"
doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Prey animals that live near farms or
other "civilized" areas are likely to have access to grains. This is
not a truly wild diet.
What other clues do we have that grains are not necessary for
1) Dogs and cats do not have dietary requirements for complex
2) Grains must be cooked or sprouted and thoroughly chewed to be
digested Carnivores do not chew much at all.
3) The other nutrients in grains are readily available from other
dietary ingredients. For example, B-vitamins are found in organ meats
and trace minerals come from bones and vegetables. (Unfortunately,
modern farming has striped many trace minerals from produce and
supplementation is usually best.)
Why have grains become so "ingrained" in pet feeding? To the
best of my knowledge, grains were mainly introduced by the pet food
industry. The high carbohydrate content provides CHEAP calories. In
addition, grains assist in binding ingredients. We have become so used
to feeding grains to dogs and cats that most of us get nervous when we
decide not to use them. I know people who have been "grain-free"
feeding and doing very well. My own cat is one example.
What are the negative effects? I believe that carnivores
cannot maintain long term production of the quantity of amylase enzyme
necessary to properly digest and utilize the carbohydrates. In
addition, the proteins in grains are less digestive than animal
proteins. As a result, the immune system becomes irritated and
weakened by the invasion of foreign, non-nutritive protein and
carbohydrate particles. Allergies and other chronic immune problems
may develop. The pet's pancreas will do its best to keep up with the
demand for amylase. What does this pancreatic stress do over a long
time? I don't know, but it cannot be good. I suspect that dental
calculus may be another problem promoted by grain consumption.
Currently, I am making grains optional in my general feeding
recipes. I am going "grainless" in more pets as I explore this area. I
recommend trying to feed without grains if your pet is not improving
on your current protocol
The following is an excerpt from the 1996 revised edition of
REIGNING CATS & DOGS by Pat McKay
For the past several months my own two dogs and two cats have been
eating their fresh, raw food meals without grains, and I see a decided
improvement in their overall healthy, especially, digestion and
The interesting part is that they are eating considerably less in
volume which more than makes up for the higher cost of meat and
vegetables as compared to grain.
The reason I continued to search for another formula was because my
***er-mix had a chronic yeast infection (Candida albicans) which was
exacerbated by grains containing gluten.
The problem improved 50 percent in the first few months and continues
to improve by discontinuing the grains. She was not even able to
tolerate rice, millet and legumes which are ordinarily acceptable.
Symptoms of Candida albicans are excessive scratching,***ing,
chronic eye and/or ear infections, rashes, hot spots, colitis, chronic
cough, vaginitis, kidney and bladder infections, arthritis,
hypothyroidism and even diabetes.
Celiac disease is another intestinal disorder (although more rare)
that is caused by the intolerance of some animals to gluten, a protein
that is in barley, oats, rye and wheat. Malnutrition often accompanies
this disorder because of the greatly reduced absorption of nutrients.
Symptoms of celiac disease include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal
swelling, foul-smelling stools, weight loss, anemia and skin rashes.
All in all, I believe for most cats and dogs, grains should not be a
regular part of their fresh, raw food program.