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Grain-free dog food - more than just a trend

The dog descends from the wolf and is a carnivore. This fact alone justifies the question of what cereals have to do with dog food. However, the wolf also eats plant food deliberately and unconsciously through the digestive tract of its prey. The metabolism of wolves and dogs alike is still geared towards meat. However, a diet with 100 per cent meat would lead to deficiency symptoms, for example in the calcium balance. In recent years, there has already been a clear trend towards barfing, i.e. feeding raw meat and offal as well as fruit and vegetables. In the course of this, grain-free dog food has increasingly become a quality feature. But what is grain in dog food all about? And when should you pay special attention to what you feed your dog? You can read the answers to these and other questions about grain-free dog food in this guide.

Why grains in dog food have a bad reputation

Cereals include different varieties such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt, oats and also maize. It contains many nutrients such as minerals, trace elements and vitamins, but consists mainly of carbohydrates in the form of starch and is therefore a very good source of energy. Basically, therefore, grain is not bad or even harmful for dogs. Through domestication, dogs in general – and the many different breeds in particular – are now able to digest adequate amounts of starchy food. What has brought grain in dog food into disrepute is primarily the excessively high proportion in low-quality food. In some cases, up to 80 percent is in the form of cheap grain meal. It is no longer possible to speak of a balanced diet here. If the dog takes in too many carbohydrates through its food, i.e. eats too much starchy grain, this can lead to diarrhoea or other problems. Undigested starch draws water and puts a strain on the kidneys. In addition to too much grain in low-quality dog food, the grain is also increasingly mentioned in connection with allergies and intolerances in animals. Similar to humans, some foods do not agree with dogs. Often it is mainly the grain-containing dog food. In addition, in the long term it becomes a problem that with a high grain content there is a lack of valuable meat and thus vital animal proteins in the food, which are, however, necessary for the healthy development and maintenance of the musculature.

Digression: What does grain have to do with carbohydrates and what are carbohydrates?

The building blocks of all carbohydrates are simple sugars that can combine to form double sugars or polysaccharides.

  • Carbohydrates are generally understood to be sugars.
  • Household sugar/sugar belongs to the carbohydrates, as do glucose, lactose, dietary fibre, pectins, starch and cellulose.

Simple sugars (monosaccharides) are found, for example, as fructose in fruit, but glucose, i.e. grape sugar, is also a simple sugar.

Dual sugars (disaccharides) are formed when two simple sugars combine. Household sugar or sugar (sucrose), as well as lactose, i.e. milk sugar, belong to the disaccharides. All disaccharides taste sweet, which is why they are often found in sweets, drinks or baked goods.

Multiple sugars (oligo- or polysaccharides) consist of several interconnected simple sugars. Starch, pectin, glycogen, cellulose and others are polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are found in every plant, for example in cereal grains, potatoes, carrots, courgettes, apples and strawberries.

  • All plants contain a certain amount of carbohydrates, of course in varying quantities.
  • Grains (sweet grasses) are plants and contain carbohydrates accordingly.
  • Vegetables and fruits are also plants and also contain carbohydrates.

If a food contains potatoes instead of rice, it may be called “grain-free” – but in no case “carbohydrate-free”.

Is grain-free dog food better to digest?

Grain-free dog food is not necessarily better to digest than dog food that relies on grain alternatives such as potatoes etc. – as long as the dog does not suffer from an allergy or intolerance.

Again, it’s all about the carbohydrate content. Of course, in the course of domestication, the dog has adapted better and better to humans and it is assumed that the dog today can utilise carbohydrates better than the wolf could in the past. However, a look at the anatomy shows one thing clearly: carnivores have the shortest intestines because meat is easier to digest. Omnivores have a somewhat longer intestine because their diet is also based on plant fibres. Herbivores, however, have proportionally the longest intestines, because digesting plant fibres is very time-consuming.

A look at the details:

Cats with a length of 0.5m have an intestine length of approx. 2.1m (small intestine approx.1.7m (approx. 80.95%) // large intestine approx. 0.4m (19.05%)), so the intestine is approx. 4.2 x longer than the body.

Dogs with a length of 0.75m have an intestine length of approx. 4.5m (small intestine approx. 3.9m (approx. 86.67%)// large intestine approx. 0.6m (approx. 13.33%)), so the intestine is approx. 6 times longer than the body.

Horses with a length of 3m have an intestine length of approx. 30m (small intestine approx. 20m (66.66%) // large intestine approx. 8-10m (30%)). The intestine is therefore approx. 10 x longer than the body.

Naturavetal - Info: Carbohydrates as energy suppliers

Most digestion takes place in the small intestine. Here, enzymes break down the large main nutrients into smaller units so that the body can absorb and further utilise them. Here, polysaccharides are broken down into monosaccharides and absorbed into the cells of the mucous membranes. In the case of polysaccharides, i.e. when more monosaccharides are linked together, the body takes longer to break them down and make them usable. As a result, the blood sugar level rises relatively slowly and constantly until it slowly drops again. Figuratively, you can imagine this as an arc. The feeling of satiety lasts longer here.

Single or double sugars are broken down and absorbed much more quickly. The blood sugar level rises quickly and then drops again after a short time. You can imagine this as a spike. This also ensures that the feeling of hunger returns sooner.

“Short-chain” carbohydrates – fast energy suppliers, but also quickly consumed, shorter feeling of satiety.

“Long-chain” or more complex carbohydrates – slow energy suppliers, take longer to use up, longer feeling of satiety.

Vegetable by-products in dog food

According to EU declaration law, the manufacturer of dog food may choose whether to use the open declaration or the group declaration (closed declaration). In the case of the open declaration, the individual ingredients are described in detail, whereas for the group declaration only one category is mentioned. Often, the listing of ingredients of dog food with a group declaration mentions vegetable by-products. Most dog owners do not know what exactly they are buying and feeding to their beloved four-legged friend. The fact is that vegetable by-products are always waste. This can be peanut shells, straw or even leftover olives from oil production. Good and healthy dog food, such as that from Naturavetal, does without these waste products as well as the excessive grain content and artificial additives.

The following ingredients have no place in a healthy dog food:

  • Plant by-products such as leaves, roots or stems
  • Animal by-products such as feather meal, claws, beaks and hooves
  • Flavour enhancer
  • Attractants
  • Chemical preservatives
  • Artificial dyes
  • Artificial flavours
  • Artificial vitamins

Naturavetal-Info: Origin and quality of the processed cereals or cereal alternatives at Naturavetal.

We only use cereals and cereal alternatives that are not genetically modified. However, it is not possible to guarantee that they are 100% GMO-free, as environmental factors and transport routes can lead to tiny impurities, which unfortunately no one can avoid nowadays.

However, the grains or grain alternatives used in our Canis Plus® food are tested according to the strictest quality criteria and broken down using a patented steam-cooking process. This means that they can be optimally utilised by the dog and provide a wide range of nutrients as a supplement to meat, vegetables, fruit and herbs. During the strict quality controls, the raw material is cleaned several times so that only the valuable grain remains and is used for the production of our cold-pressed food. Inferior vegetable by-products such as stalks or leaves are therefore already sorted out in the course of these quality controls. The content of microtoxins, including aflatoxins, is also strictly monitored.

When you should feed your dog grain-free and what alternatives are available

Some dog owners often jokingly say that their dog is just a human being. But they are not wrong when it comes to food intolerances. There are many dogs that cannot tolerate gluten and other substances contained in cereals and develop allergies, especially to wheat. That’s why we offer various options in our range for feeding your dog completely grain-free or with high-quality, gluten-free grain alternatives, in both dry and wet food.

Broken down, gluten-free grains such as whole grain rice can make a valuable contribution in dog food due to the nutrients they contain, but only if they make up a healthy proportion of the total feed. Our dry dog food varieties Canis Plus® Salmon and Canis Plus® Beef contain the particularly well-tolerated, broken down and hulled millet as a gluten-free alternative. Our brown millet provides fibre-rich crude fibre, for healthy intestinal activity and various minerals, vitamins, trace elements and above all valuable silicon. However, if you want to completely avoid cereals, you can feed our Canis Plus® Rabbit with the grain-free knotweed buckwheat. Buckwheat also contains no gluten and is particularly rich in nutrients and essential amino acids.

Some dogs with a very sensitive or stressed digestive system do better on a low-carbohydrate diet. In this case, we primarily recommend the grain-free Canis Plus® complete menus or feeding our grain-free Canis Plus® meat rolls and pure meat cans with supplements. Here, the proportion of protein, fat and carbohydrates can be determined yourself. There are many excellent alternatives to grains such as vegetables, fruit and herbs that you can then supplement. You can also choose one of our flake mixes: Our Canis Plus® Top Fit Mix is completely grain-free and our Canis Plus® Vit/Min Variety Flakes contain millet, which has already been broken down and is therefore easy to digest, as a valuable source of fibre. Our air-dried flake mixes are therefore also an ideal addition to a species-appropriate dog diet for barfers. In addition, you can then choose between different, high-quality oil and calcium sources, depending on your dog’s personal preference and requirements. When it comes to dog food, you should first and foremost look for high-quality, natural raw materials and gentle preparation. Only then does the question arise as to whether you want to feed grain-free or not.

Feeding dogs grain-free - FAQ

Why is grain bad for dogs?

As already mentioned, grain is not fundamentally bad for dogs, because it contains valuable nutrients and carbohydrates that are a source of energy for the dog. It becomes problematic when a manufacturer processes too high a quantity of grain in the food and the dog, as a carnivore, thus consumes almost only carbohydrates in its daily feeding. If, in addition, vegetable by-products are processed and it is not clear to the customer whether he is feeding the roots and stems of a plant or the valuable grain, problems can arise.

Why shouldn't dogs eat grain?

A grain-free diet is actually only necessary for the dog if it has an allergy or intolerance to grain or individual types of grain, or if there are other illnesses that require a grain-free diet. For a normal healthy dog it is not a problem if grain is included in his food, provided the quality of the processed grain is correspondingly high and the processed proportion is within an appropriate range for dogs.

For which diseases should the dog be fed grain-free?

  • In case of a proven allergy or intolerance to wheat, barley, rye, oats, maize, rice, millet
  • In the case of diseases that require low-carbohydrate feeding (see below).

In which diseases should the dog be fed a low-carbohydrate diet?

  • Problems in the area of the heart, urinary system/kidneys, liver, pancreas, digestion
  • Problems with Giardia
  • For cell degeneration such as tumours and cancer in general

Naturavetal-Info: Grain-free feeding and low-carbohydrate feeding

In most cases where grain-free feeding is advised, what is actually meant is carbohydrate-reduced feeding. Unfortunately, many people are still unaware of the connection between grain and carbohydrates. Therefore, it is advisable to ask what exactly should be paid attention to, because grain-free feeding does not necessarily mean that the carbohydrate content is also reduced, for example, if potato or sweet potato is used instead of grain.

Is dog food better without grain?

Grain-free dog food is not better or worse than dog food that contains grain alternatives. It depends on the quantity and the quality of the processed carbohydrates.

For example, white polished rice is no longer as rich in carbohydrates as brown rice because the fibre part of the rice husk has been removed. Dietary fibres are also carbohydrates that are very important for digestion and for an intact intestinal flora. These indigestible components of the food ensure that the digestive enzymes are delayed in getting to the carbohydrates to break them down. It therefore takes longer for the cells to absorb the resulting simple sugars and pass them on to the liver. This again ensures that the blood sugar rises more slowly and constantly.

If one wants to develop a feeding concept from this, it must be taken into account that not only the type of carbohydrates fed plays a role, but of course also the amount taken in. This is because carbohydrates are not consumed in isolated form, but usually together with fats and proteins. The degree of processing also has an enormous influence. The more industrial processing steps take place, the smaller the carbohydrates are already present. And the smaller they are, the faster they are absorbed with the corresponding consequences for the blood sugar level.

If the blood sugar level is constantly exposed to strong fluctuations, this means constant work and stress for the pancreas. It must then constantly produce insulin and make it available in adequate quantities. If the pancreas is already under strain or in the long term, problems can arise here and, for example, inflammatory processes can be promoted. And a constantly fluctuating insulin level can also endanger health and promote chronic ailments in the long run.

Which dog food is grain-free?

If you have to completely avoid cereals due to allergies, you can feed our Canis Plus® Rabbit with Buckwheat. It contains buckwheat as a carbohydrate source. As a knotweed plant, buckwheat does not belong to the sweet grass family.

However, if you want to feed your dog a low-carbohydrate diet, we recommend our Canis Plus® complete menus, as these contain fewer carbohydrates than dry food. If you would like to put together your dog’s meal yourself, you can use our Canis Plus® pure meat cans or meat rolls and add your own side dishes of vegetables, fruit, herbs and sources of calcium and oil.

Should dogs be fed a grain-free diet?

A normal healthy dog does not need to be fed a grain-free diet, unless there are allergies or intolerances or diseases in various organ systems that require a low-carbohydrate diet. Dry food should generally be avoided for these dogs, as all dry food contains higher proportions of carbohydrates.

In these cases, you should feed our Canis Plus® complete menus directly or use our Canis Plus® pure meat cans and meat rolls and supplement the side dishes of vegetables, fruit, herbs and calcium and oil sources yourself.


Our team of experts will be happy to help you with all your questions. You can reach us Monday to Friday from 10am. to 4 pm. on 020 8531 7804 or by email to:

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