Is Grain bad for dogs? The revolution of pet-food

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Is grain bad for dogs? What is true and what is false (with evidence, no small talk)

Where does the revolution of the last 15 years come from, that totally condemned the use of high-starch grain and traditional protein in pet food?

Dogs and cats, in different ways, are all ill

No doubt that the basic reason was observing that dogs and cats who eat traditional kibbles get always ill. So, is grain bad for dogs and cats?

The supposed culprits of all that

This observation led to indict all their components, but in particular the two main ones: carbs and protein.

  • The former are accused through the convincing argument that dogs are descended from wolves, so their genetic heritage would not be able to digest carbs;
  • The latter are indicted by the equally convincing explanation that the continuous intake of the same kind of protein would fatally lead to even serious sensitivization phenomena.

Two paradigm shifts

This led to a paradigm shift in the pet-food industry, with hundreds of companies all over the world that launched grain-free formulations onto the market, that is to say pet-food without grain and/or with alternative protein to the traditional one, with results that, objectively, in the most of cases were positive. In the mean time, this led to another sea change: the return of homemade diets, with a flourishing of various formulations, the most famous of which is the BARF diet (Bones And Row Food diet).

An elementary reasoning: going back to nature

All these diets are based on an elementary and airtight reasoning: going back to a diet that is as close as possible to a wild dog’s food, keeping in mind that this can be only partially attained, since our dogs cannot hunt their preys. And they cannot, as their ancestors did, hunt them in forests and eat all of them, including fur, meat, skeleton and viscera.

Going back to nature is impossible

At present, our dogs depend totally on us and we must prepare their food, surely not providing them with whole animals to mangle, but using the foods we have. And this is the real problem: the foods we have are NOT the ones nature created, but the ones that man produces, which are unquestionably far from natural foods.

Is grain bad for dogs? The nefarious role of chemistry and pharmacology

Any food we eat or give our pets does not look anything like what nature gave us originally. Unfortunately, this does not concern the organoleptic characteristics only – that are important, anyway – that make foods smell and taste good, but also concerns the production processes that, to ensure higher and higher production volumes, cannot do without chemistry and pharmacology.

All foods contain residues

This increasing use of plant protection products, herbicides and fertilising substances not only does alter the taste, consistence and smell of foods, but also causes the presence of residues in all food in different percentage.

The real cause of the staggering amount of disorders that affect dogs and cats all over the world

Are dogs and cats all over the world ill? Is it due to grain? Is it caused by the sensitivization to the most common protein? Our neat answer is NO, though many diets that are grain-free and based on “new” protein definitely improve dogs’ and cats’ health.

The new diets work and people do not know the fundamental reason: the absence of oxytetracycline-contaminated bones

These diets improve the general picture for an unthinkable reason: the absence of an harmful residue of oxytetracycline, the antibiotic widely and lawfully used in industrial farming, especially chicken farming. This antibiotic, that is not harmful in itself and is very effective in preventing and stopping industrial-farming pathologies, becomes surprisingly harmful when it is deposited in the bone and binds to calcium. 

Dozens of related diseases

Everything that contains bone meal (and numerous feeds contain it) becomes toxic and is the main cause of the dozens of inflammatory disorders that affect our pets. The awareness of the increase of these disorders led to research the “culprit”, indicting almast all the main components of pet-food and creating a free-for-all situation, since everyone is sure to have discovered the real cause.

Constantly fluctuating results

Unfortunately no diet ensures constant results and we all know that every pet-food, but the Raw, Barf, homemade, grain freepaleo, Pescatarian diets DO NOT PRODUCE CONSTANT RESULTS, with sudden relapses to a variety of disorders for no apparent reason.

Is grain bad for dogs? You are in a labyrinth

So each pet’s human friend is continuously looking for new feeding patterns without constant results.

A simple key

Yet the reason is simple: when you add the bone to any diet, if the bone is contaminated by oxytetracycline, reactions are unavoidable and involve various organs.

Is grain bad for dogs? 

Grain-free foods are invading the world and, over the last 15 years, they are becoming the leading products, undermining all multinationals from excellence positions in pet shops. Like we said before, the formulation is successful, since it combines the elimination of grain and the use of “new” protein. But we saw that the reasoning is not correct. I know that claiming all that is reckless, but there is clear evidence of what I assert. Let’s see it:

The theory that dogs descend from the wolf and that their genetic heritage does not enable them to digest starch cracks on all fronts and this not an opinion, it is well grounded on undisputable evidence that, moreover, confirms what happens every day: dogs can perfectly digest starch, if it is of good quality and well cooked and the practical evidence is that their stool are compact and not abundant.

Studies independent of commercial interests

The studies that were led by researchers who clearly had no interest on the matter (that, on the contrary, pet-food companies could have) were two and both of them were precise: the first research was published back in 2013 by the geneticists of Uppsala University (Sweden), Lindblad-Toh and colleagues. They analyzed the genome of 12 wolves and 60 dogs of different breeds and identified 36 genome regions that differentiate wolves from dogs, whereas they are the same in all dogs of all the studied breeds.

Can dogs digest grain? A very different genetic heritage between dogs and wolves

As per the genes that produce amylase, the researchers discovered that dogs have 4 to 30 genes, whereas wolves only 2. As a result, dogs can assimilate this food 5 times more easily than wolves.

Is grain bad for dogs? The fundamental aspect of stools

If we start investigating to find evidence to exonerate or to condemn the accused, a proof is surely the aspect of faeces: if they are excessive, malformed or liquid, it means that the dog did not digest his food correctly, but if they are solid, compact and not abundant, there is no doubt on his good digestion.

The second research on grain and starch was published this year

A new, recent study further bolsters the first research by proving that agriculture changed the wolf into dog. When a part of men from hunters and gatherers turned into farmers, in times of famine and lack of preys packs of wolves that lived around them had to settle for men’s “garbage” that consisted of waste of grain, starch and starch-rich food. This must have generated their genome variation and progressively became able to digest those foods.

A clear reconstruction of the reason why dogs perfectly digest starch

This is established by a study published on “Open Science” of London Royal Society and led by researchers of the Universities of Rennes and Grenobles, the CNRS of Lyon (France) and the University of Uppsala (Sweden) that assessed the evolution of modern dogs’ ability to digest starch.

Cueing from the previous publication that showed that, whereas nearly all wolves, jackals and coyotes have only two copies of the gene that encodes for pancreatic amylase (Amy2B) – the main enzyme that, in these animals, makes the starch digestion possible – most of dogs have up to 40 copies. We did not have, anyway, any data of the time when this gene amplification developed, there were many hypothesis, from prehistory to classical antiquity, up to the time of the numerous selections of canine breeds, the 19th century.

The differences between the human groups of hunters/gatherers and farmers

But Organe Ollivier and his colleagues extracted ancient DNA from samples of bones and teeth of wolves and dogs from archological sites from the whole Eurasia and from different ages. The results of analyses showed a picture that does not have a clear chronological progression. This can be explained only by the different behaviour of the various human groups – the ones who remained hunters and gatherers and those who dedicated themselves to agriculture.

Dogs altered their genes according to the man’s life pattern

The knowledge on the progressive and fragmented expansion of agriculture in Eurasia confirm the reason for the irregular progression of the wolf/dog’s genetic heritage, with samples that had amounts of very different specific genes: the samples dating back to 5,000 year ago or less had at least 7 or 8 genes, the ones from the intermediate period had 2 to 7 genes according to the place of provenance.

The dog’s clear ability to digest starch

If the dogs who were addomesticated from 15,000 to 10,000 years ago ate the food waste of their hunter/gatherer companions, they continued to have a predominantly meat diet, whereas the dogs who lived where agriculture spread developed the Amy2B gene and their ability to digest starch.

The case of Huskies and Dingoes

It is interesting to note that the only two breeds of dogs that still have two copies of Amy2B gene only are Siberian Huskies and Dingoes, who had a diet that was almost exclusively based on products of fishing and hunting until very recently.

In practice, these two breeds are the indisputable counterevidence that the genetic alteration in dogs was determined by human beings’ change in eating habits.

Is grain bad for dogs? What to conclude

These are facts, not only guesswork. Then, as usual, anyone is free to choose what they believe.

Dr. Sergio Canello

Forza10 Founder and Head of SANYpet’s Research and Development Department
Veterinary surgeon and international expert in food-borne diseases

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