Grain-Free Dog Food

The Ultimate Guide to Grain Free Dog Food

Cereal Grains in Dog Food

Cereal grains are commonly added to commercial dog food. Some of the "healthier" grain-containing dog foods may add a single whole grain to the recipe, while the majority of commercial dog foods add an amalgamation of various low valued, feed grade, cereal grains.

According to Evaluation of selected high-starch flours as ingredients in canine diets[5]:

Cereal grains represent 30 to 60% of the DM of many companion animal diets... crystallinity and form of starch are variable and can cause incomplete digestion within the gastrointestinal tract.

To be clear, this site is an advocate of grain free dog food. Your dog does not require any cereal grains to be healthy, but, with that said, some dogs do just fine with some grain in their diet. Here is a list of cereal grains in dog food and a review of their value and use in your dog's diet. Read: The Problem With Grains and Dogs


If you have your heart set on feeding your dog grains, give him rice—whole grain rice, specifically human grade. Rice is one of the more tolerable grains that is commonly used in dog food. Don't confuse rice, whole rice, with rice flour. While rice flour is a decent substitute for wheat flour because of its lack of gluten, it is still a starch. Whole rice is the most nutritionally complete of the cereal grains for dogs, but other forms of of rice are rice bran. Rice bran is a moderately healthy by-product of rice, but if you do choose to feed your dog rice, it is best to serve only whole grain rice. Lower value rice products are known to contain low levels of arsenic[1].


Corn is the most common of the cereal grains to be used in dog food processing because of its mass availability and affordability. Because of its strong starch-protein matrix, it has low digestibility and very low nutritional value, while the carbohydrate value for corn is high[6]. Your dog possesses very little biological mechanisms for metabolizing and digesting corn and for this reason, your dog should never be fed any diet containing corn, corn meal, corn gluten meal, or other corn by-products.


Wheat is a problematic cereal grain for dogs. Wheat is difficult and sometimes impossible for your dog to digest. Wheat and wheat gluten are known to be a cause for food allergies in dogs.


Barley is one of the more acceptable cereal grains that is used in dog food. Barley is high in fiber making it a low glycemic cereal grain.


Millet, although classified as cereal crops, are seed grasses. Millet provides B Vitamins and is good a gluten-free source of fiber, yet still difficult on digestion. Millet should not be fed to dogs with thyroid issues due to its thyroid inhibiting properties[2].


Flax is not a cereal grain, as it is sometimes confused. Rich in soluble fiber though, flax is known to be a great plant source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. As a source of soluble fiber, flax is a healthy ingredient in dog food, although the type of omega-3 provided in flax is unavailable to your dog. He has no way of converting inactive ALA into usable omega-3. For this reason, dogs should only be given fish oil for omega-3[3].


Oats are a high fiber cereal grain, and if minimally processed, provide some good nutritional value. The fiber content of oats can be beneficial for a dog's colon health, however, a dog's colon is better supported with probiotics than with cereal grains[4].


References and Citations

1. Shelly Burgess. FDA releases preliminary data on arsenic levels in rice and rice products. FDA News Release Sep 2012

2. Basavaraj et al. (December 2010). "Availability and utilization of pearl millet in India"SAT eJournal.

3. Res. 2008 Apr;69(4):486-93. Effects of dietary supplementation with fish oil on in vivo production of inflammatory mediators in clinically normal dogs. LeBlanc CJ, Horohov DW, Bauer JE, Hosgood G, Mauldin GE.

4. Vet Ther. 2009 Fall;10(3):121-30: Clinical benefits of probiotic canine-derived Bifidobacterium animalis strain AHC7 in dogs with acute idiopathic diarrhea.

5. Evaluation of selected high-starch flours as ingredients in canine diets. J ANIM SCI August 1999 vol. 77 no. 8 2180-2186

6. The Use of Sorghum and Corn as Alternatives to Rice in Dog Foods. J. Nutr. June 1, 2002 vol. 132 no. 6 1704S-1705S

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We found that our dog has allergies to wheat and corn, this is helpful information.

Our dog was eating a single-grain rice formula. We thought this was the way to go with dog food, but found that it was the cause of her diarrhea. Constant diarrhea.