Food For Thought: Does Your Dog Need A Grain-Free Diet?

Is Grain-Free Healthier?

The short answer to this complicated question is – it depends! While food allergies do exist, protein sources are far more often the culprit rather than grains. In one study with 278 dogs, beef was the most common allergen, being responsible for 95 of the cases reported. Dairy was the second highest allergen accounting for 55 cases. Corn was identified as the grain offender in only 7 cases (1). Unless your dog is one of the very rare dogs with a grain allergy, feeding a Grain-Free diet is not a healthier diet option.

For dogs that truly do have allergies to grains, a grain-free diet would be an appropriate choice. The following are symptoms that would be expected in dogs that have food allergies or other types of allergies, including environmental and flea allergies:

  • Itchiness
  • Excessive hair loss
  • Bald patches
  • Inflamed skin
  • Sores and scabs
  • “Hot spots”

If you see any of these symptoms, talk to your veterinarian! They will help you figure out if allergies are the culprit and, if so, whether food or something else is the cause.

Are Grain-Free Diets Easier to Digest?

A common misconception is dogs have not adapted to eat grains. A 2013 study led by Swedish geneticist Erik Axelsson, reported in the journal Nature, he reports that “in a domestic dog’s vs. wolf’s genome comparison, three genes responsible for the digestion of dietary starch were expressed 7–12 fold higher levels in the dog compared with the wolf.” So it turns out our dog friends have adapted to eating a high starch diet during their domestication. High-quality, properly cooked and balanced diets provide enough nutrients, micronutrients, and vitamins for dog friends- despite having grains like corn, rice or wheat in them.

Do Grain-Free Diets Lead to Heart Disease?

There are several reports from cardiologists, including one case that Frontier’s veterinarians have treated right here in Hillsboro, of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (a life-threatening heart disease) in patients eating a grain free diet – learn more. The University of California-Davis is currently collecting data for a study on this major concern.

So What Should I Feed My Dog?

Once again- it depends! We veterinarians weigh your dog’s age, breed, health, and lifestyle when making diet recommendations. Things we look for when determining if a food is good for your dog is the AAFCO seal; AAFCO is The Association of American Feed Control Officers, a non-governmental voluntary association that “establishes model regulations, labeling, and nutritional standards, as well as ingredient definitions. Uniformity of standards and definitions for pet food labels helps make labels easier for you to understand as you select the appropriate product for your pet.” (2) AAFCO sets stringent standards substantiated by laboratory analysis, feeding trials, or analysis comparable in nutritional adequacy. Seeing the AFFCO seal on a label gives us assurance that pet food companies have gone through stringent voluntary analysis and trials.

We know the dog food market is bursting with confusing advertising and seemingly endless options- we’d be happy to discuss your dog’s nutritional needs anytime!


  1. Carlotti DN, Remy I, Prost C. Food allergy in dogs and cats. A review and report of 43 cases. Vet Dermatol 1990;1:55-62.

What's Next

  • 1

    Call us or schedule an appointment online.

  • 2

    Meet with a doctor for an initial exam.

  • 3

    Put a plan together for your pet.