Can Dogs Eat Wheat? Biting Into the Digestion of a Common Grain

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vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

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Wheat is a main ingredient included in many brands of dog food. Is it good for your dog? Learn everything you need to know about wheat here, and decide for yourself if you think it should be a part of your dogs' diet.

With all of the talk about wheat these days, you’re probably curious, if not concerned, about whether this grain is a beneficial ingredient or not in your dog’s diet. Can dogs eat wheat?

As it turns out, yes, they can. However, there is no nutritional requirement for wheat in your dog’s diet. But, when used in meals, it does have its benefits for dogs of various life stages. That’s if it’s given in the right amounts, of course.

See why omnivores like your dog may benefit from wheat, yet why it shouldn’t be at the top of the ingredient list.

Digestion of Wheat in Dogs

As agriculture developed thousands of years ago, dogs’ eating habits changed, along with how their digestive systems process certain foods, such as wheat.

Researchers have found changes in the genes responsible for the digestion of starch. It is evident that dogs can break down large carbohydrate molecules into smaller pieces, further chopping those pieces into sugar molecules, and finally absorbing those molecules in the intestines. Researchers believe this is possible because dogs have 30 copies of a gene for amylase, an enzyme made by the pancreas that is involved in the first step of starch digestion.

So yes, dogs can eat and digest wheat.

The Benefits of Wheat

While there is no nutritional requirement for wheat in a dog’s diet, there are benefits to its presence. For instance, certain wheats can contain fibers that may be helpful in aiding the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut or intestines. Fiber found in wheat is also helpful in keeping your dog’s bowel movements regular.

Speaking of keeping regular, it’s been found that older dogs are more likely to develop constipation, so increased fiber, such as wheat bran, can help keep things moving.

Wheat also packs a burst of energy — the carbohydrates found in this grain are great when it comes to fueling muscular and metabolic activities.

The Drawbacks of Wheat

Some dogs (actually very few when compared to other allergens) may be allergic to wheat. It’s not entirely understood why and how an antibody response occurs in the intestines, but it’s known to occur in some dogs and to cause distress. Common symptoms include itchy skin, typically along the face, ears, legs, and feet. Chronic ear infections, hair loss, and skin infections may result. If left unchecked, these allergies could lead to more serious health conditions and even death.

Suggested Amount of Wheat Intake

When it comes to balancing the amount of protein, vegetables, and grains in a healthy dog’s diet, it’s quite simple. Just break it into thirds. Anything from 1/3 to 3/4 of a dog's diet should be protein, this can be meat or non-meat protein, with 1/3 to 1/4 vegetables and 1/3 to 1/4 grains including wheat products.

Just ensure you work with your vet or a board certified veterinary nutritionist to make sure you get everything right and aren’t leaving your pet with a dietary deficiency.

Dog Food Shopping Tip

To be sure you’re feeding your dog a sufficient amount of wheat, scour the ingredient list of your preferred dog food. Most people are not aware of the practice of splitting and processing grains; meaning grain products, while from the same source, are listed separately. Wheat from one source can be broken down and listed as wheat flour, wheat bran, wheat middlings, and wheat shorts, allowing them to fall to the bottom of the list. It will appear as if there is less grain in the food than meat and vegetables, when in fact grains like wheat could be the main ingredient.

Back to Your Dog Food Questions Answered
Previous: What Are Hypoallergenic Dog Foods?

More on Dog Nutrition

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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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