Are Grain Free Treats for Dogs and Grain Free Dog Food really better for my dog?

If we were paid a penny every time we get asked, “Are your treats grain-free?” or “Aren’t grains bad for dogs?” we’d be one rich dog treat bakery.  But in all seriousness, if you own a dog, you most likely have noticed that there is an abundance of grain free treats for dogs and grain free dog foods on the market, and they are taking the market by storm… and there is a reason for this… well, sort of.

Ok, so what’s that reason you ask?  Well, there’s a few.

Black lab in a wheat fieldGrains have showed up in dog treats and dog food for decades.  The main reason for this was that grains traditionally played the role of “filler” particularly in cheaper and less wholesome treats and foods, rather than actual nutritional ingredients because they tend to be cheap.  These filler-based treats for dogs and foods rely largely on corn (which is a whole other topic), wheat, and cereal by-products deemed unfit for human consumption, not to mention a whole other slew of chemicals, preservatives and ingredients that are unfit for human AND animal consumption… but we digress…

Another perspective is that wolves are dogs’ ancestors, and because of this, their diet Beef treats for dogs made by hand in small batches by Smart Cookie Barkeryshould rely on meat.  While yes, veterinarians and food manufacturers agree, a dog’s diet should be largely made up of meats, dogs have been domesticated for almost 20,000 years.  Their digestion and what they have been eating has evolved through their domestication meaning that wholesome grains/carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables are important for a well-balanced diet for dogs.

Additionally, as the humanization of pets is growing, so is our desire to feed dogs more and more like ourselves.  This is a good thing as we now pay a lot of attention to the ingredients in treats for dogs and dog foods, but it really is about the quality of the ingredients, and not just the ingredients themselves.  For example, in recent years, gluten-free diets have been all the rage in the United States.  If you ask most people on the street what “Gluten” is, (like Jimmy Kimmel did – results were hilarious just FYI), they cannot give you a correct answer.  Gluten is now commonly thought of as an unhealthy thing to eat.  This is not the case.  So to set the record straight, gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, rye and barley.  It acts like a glue (get it? Gluten? Easy way to remember what it is…).  There is a small percentage of the population that is allergic to gluten, and/or has gluten sensitivities, and as a result, foods containing wheat, barley, rye, or any grain for that matter have been deemed bad to eat or hard to digest.

As people have become more cognoscente about what they are feeding themselves (and influenced by all of the crazy nutritional information out there), they are also paying more Oats are a good source of fiber and are anti inflammatory for dog's dietsattention to what their dogs are eating (which is fantastic! We applaud all of you!) But you take this, in combination with the cheap, poor-quality and commercially manufactured dog food and dog treats, and the wolf-ancestor perspective, and you can now see why ALL grains have gotten unfairly lumped in with allergy-causing grains like wheat, grains that can be difficult to digest, over-processed grains, and grain by-products that shouldn’t be eaten in the first place.

So, no, not all grains are bad for dogs.  Grains rarely cause allergies in dogs (did you know only about 10% of dogs have food allergies?)  Grains are ok for dogs to eat.  The key is finding grains that have the most nutritional value for your pet.  Grain free treats for dogs and grain free dog food can be a great choice for your pup as they are typically made with high-quality ingredients, and can sometimes be easier to digest because of their lack of fiber (but dogs need fiber too!)  But, they are not always made with better ingredients, and because of this, they are not necessarily “better” than treats or foods that contain whole grains. 

In some cases, you actually will want to carefully check the ingredient panel on grain-free treats and food (well, all treats and food for that matter).  Why? Because in most grain-free treats and food for dogs, manufacturers still need to find ingredients to use that will bind the treats and kibble together and will lean towards potato starch, tapioca, or some other less nutritious and high-glycemic grain replacement, when wholesome and healthy grains like brown rice, or oats would actually be better than their grain-free, less nutritious counterparts.

We are not saying we do not support grain-free diets.  We do! It just seems that there is a lot of misinformation out there about the purpose of grains in dog treats and food. In fact, at this dog treat bakery, we are purists at heart. Check out our Rabbit Jerky for example.

Wholesome ingredients in Smart CookiesIn all of our treats, we pride ourselves on only using real, wholesome ingredients that are all originally grown, produced and made for human consumption.  We just also believe that every ingredient serves a purpose and there are certain grains that can be good for dogs.  Grains contain complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals which are all essential in dogs’ diets.  So, which grains do we recommend? We like Oats, Brown Rice, and Barley.  We also use Quinoa in our treats, but quinoa is technically not a grain. It is a seed.  Want to learn more? Read our article about Quinoa here.

Bottom line, the basis for grain-free treats for dogs and food is coming from the right place: wanting to take the best care of our dogs and pets as possible. This means feeding them wholesome diets made with real ingredients, and free of any by-products, chemicals, or artificial additives, but it is important we don’t put a blanket on all grains as bad.  Grains can serve a wonderful nutritious purpose in your dogs’ diet. We are all about personalized dog nutrition at Smart Cookie, so as long as you feed your dog wholesome foods and treats that are made with ingredients that complement their lifestyle, you are one great dog parent!