Dogs have evolved alongside people to eat a variety of foods. So, it’s not surprising that when people start adding or eliminating certain ingredients from canine diets, owners may want to know more. To separate the wheat from the chaff, let’s dive into why manufacturers use wheat in dog food and what that might mean for your dog’s health.
Why Do Manufacturers Include Wheat in Dog Food?
Some types of dog food are made with grains and animal-sourced proteins, while others are labeled grain-free. Wheat is a type of grain, along with the likes of barley, oats, and rice. “Each grain has its own combination of nutrients, and many are easily digested by dogs,” says Dr. Kurt Venator, DVM, PhD, Chief Veterinary Officer at Purina.
When producing dog food, manufacturers often use hard red winter wheat, the most common and inexpensive type of wheat, says Dr. Jerry Klein, DVM, Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Kennel Club. Dog food does not contain other types of wheat, such as durum, soft wheat, and white winter wheat, which are sometimes used to make bread and pasta.
Is Wheat a Healthy Option?
“Wheat is a good source for use in dog food, as it has carbohydrates and protein, which allows it to blend well with other ingredients to form a complete and well-balanced dog food,” Dr. Klein says. Nutritionally balanced dog food requires certain amounts of protein, fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Hard red winter wheat is a great source of protein, fiber, and minerals. These nutrients aid in metabolism and the maintenance of healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
“Although seen by some as nonessential food, grains like wheat are an excellent nutrient source for dogs,” Dr. Venator says. Grains provide protein and fatty acids, which are important for cognition, heart health, and immune functioning, along with promoting healthy skin and fur. The carbohydrates in wheat give your dog energy, while the supply of fiber promotes digestion.
How Do I Decide Between Diets With or Without Wheat?
When you’re looking around the pet food aisle, you’ll see several options. To help you decide what’s appropriate for your dog, have a look at the nutritional information on the packaging. Food labels should tell you the recommended levels of protein, fat, and essential nutrients in the appropriate ratios and concentrations, Dr. Venator explains. Look for foods that are formulated as complete and balanced and meet Association of American Feed Control (AAFCO) guidelines.
Another way to narrow down your choices is to use a pet food selector. This online tool uses the information you provide about your dog to create a personalized feeding guide with tailored recommendations. The tool can filter the many food types by ingredient so you can find one suited to your dog’s age, breed, weight, and activity level.
Dr. Klein’s advice is to weigh these dog food trends against scientific evidence. Consider, for example, the finding that the “top sources of food allergies in dogs come from meat proteins” like beef and chicken as opposed to wheat, he says.
Are There Drawbacks to Feeding Your Dog Wheat?
“In some dogs, the protein in wheat (gluten) may cause food sensitivities or allergies,” Dr. Klein says. For instance, there’s a line of Irish Setters with an intolerance to gluten reminiscent of celiac disease in humans for whom gluten-free diets are necessary. People with celiac disease experience an immune reaction to eating gluten that can cause damage to the lining of their small intestine and prevent the absorption of nutrients.
Selecting the best food for your dog isn’t an easy decision. Whether or not you’re opting for foods made with wheat, it’s important to read the food labels carefully and seek advice from your veterinarian. Consider which ingredients have been omitted but also what manufacturers are adding in place of wheat. Make sure the food contains quality ingredients that balance other non-grain ingredients.