How to Add Grains to Dog Food? A Comprehensive Guide to a Balanced Canine Diet

Grains have become a controversial topic in the dog world in recent years. Many pet owners have jumped on the “grain-free” bandwagon, believing that grains are bad for their canine companions. However, the truth is that grains can be an important part of a balanced diet for dogs when chosen wisely. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the benefits of grains for dogs, tips for choosing the right grains, and how to gradually mix them into your dog’s diet. Whether you want to add grains to a commercial grain-free food or make your own homemade dog food with grains, you’ll find everything you need to know right here!


Fact 1: Ancient civilizations used grains as a primary source of nutrition for their domesticated animals.
Fact 2: Some dogs have been found to digest grains more efficiently than certain meats.
Fact 3: Grains can provide essential nutrients that are sometimes missing in grain-free diets.

Why Should I Add Grains To My Dog Diet?

Grains are a valuable source of essential nutrients that contribute to a balanced diet for dogs. Despite the popularity of grain-free diets, it is important to note that not all dogs require grain-free food. In fact, many dogs can benefit from the inclusion of grains in their meals. Here are some reasons why you should consider adding grains to your dog’s diet:

  • Grains provide energy: Grains are a great source of carbohydrates, which are the main source of energy for dogs. Carbohydrates are essential for supporting your dog’s daily activities and overall vitality.
  • Nutritional benefits: Grains contain important vitamins, minerals, and fiber that can benefit your dog’s overall health. These nutrients include B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and dietary fiber.
  • Better digestion: The fiber found in grains can promote healthy digestion and help prevent gastrointestinal issues such as constipation and diarrhea.
  • Cost-effective: Grains are often more affordable compared to other protein sources, making them a budget-friendly option for pet parents.

Potential Risks of Grain-Free Foods

  • Lack of necessary nutrients like iron, B vitamins, fiber
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Higher carbohydrate content from starchy veggies like potatoes
  • Possible link to canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)

The bottom line is that grain-free foods may lack essential vitamins, increase starch, and have been implicated in cases of DCM. Talk to your vet before switching to a strictly grain-free diet.

Addressing the myth of grain-free diets

While grain-free diets have gained popularity, it is crucial to understand that not all dogs require a grain-free diet. Grain allergies in dogs are relatively uncommon, and most reported allergies are actually caused by proteins such as beef, chicken, or dairy. Grain-free diets can also lack essential nutrients that are naturally found in grains, which can lead to nutritional imbalances if not properly addressed. It is important to consult with your veterinarian to determine whether adding grains to your dog’s diet is suitable for their specific needs.

Determine Whether Grain Is Needed

Before adding grains to your dog’s diet, it is essential to evaluate whether grain inclusion is necessary for your furry companion. Every dog is unique, and their nutritional needs may vary based on their health status and specific dietary requirements. Here are some factors to consider when determining whether grains should be added to your dog’s meals:

  • Health assessment: Assess your dog’s overall health and consult with your veterinarian to identify any specific nutritional needs or restrictions.
  • Signs of nutrient deficiency: If your dog exhibits signs of nutrient deficiency such as a dull coat, poor skin condition, or lack of energy, grains can be a valuable addition to their diet.
  • Stool quality: Monitor your dog’s stool. If your dog has frequent loose stools or diarrhea, grains can help improve stool consistency due to their fibre content.
  • Activity level: Active dogs with higher energy requirements may benefit from the additional energy provided by grains.

Do Grains Cause Allergies?

There is a common misconception that grains are the primary cause of allergies in dogs. However, true grain allergies are relatively rare. Most reported allergies in dogs are actually caused by proteins such as beef, chicken, or dairy. If you suspect your dog has a grain allergy, it is important to consult with your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and guidance. They may recommend an elimination diet or allergy testing to identify the specific allergen causing your dog’s symptoms.

Choose a Grain Source

If you and your vet determine grains are appropriate, which grains should you choose? Here are some of the top healthy grain options for dogs:

Oats – Rich in fiber, manganese, and protein. Help regulate digestion.

Brown rice – Highly digestible and hypoallergenic. An excellent source of B vitamins.

Barley – Contains vitamin E, minerals, and fiber. Helps regulate blood sugar.

Quinoa – A complete protein that is low glycemic. Supports muscle growth.

Buckwheat – Protein-rich with lots of fiber. Helps cardiovascular health.

Millet – Packed with B vitamins, amino acids, and magnesium for energy.

Whole rye – High fiber and manganese. An antioxidant-rich grain.

When selecting grains, always choose whole grains over refined grains which lose nutrients during processing. Consider your dog’s health needs to find the perfect grain match. And remember to introduce new grains slowly in case of allergies.

PRO TIP: Look for whole grain blends that provide a variety of complementary nutrients from different sources.

The 7 Types of Grains Considered Healthy for Dogs

If you’ve decided to incorporate grains into your dog’s diet, let’s explore some of the healthiest whole-grain options to consider.

Grain Nutritional Benefits
Brown Rice High in fiber, rich in manganese, and provides slow-release energy.
Barley A good source of insoluble fiber promotes healthy digestion and helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Whole Wheat Contains B vitamins, iron, and fiber, and provides sustained energy release.
Oats High in fiber, supports digestion, and provides essential amino acids.
Millet Rich in B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus, gluten-free.
Sorghum Packed with fiber, antioxidants, and minerals such as iron and phosphorus.
Corn Source of essential fatty acids and antioxidants, high in carbohydrates.

As you can see, grains range widely in their nutritional profiles. Choosing a variety will help cover all your bases!

Focus on whole grains rather than refined ones. Prioritize digestibility for your dog and nutrients that target any health issues.

PRO TIP: Work with your vet to select one or two new grains every few weeks to mix up nutritional variety but avoid overloading your dog.

Cook or Prepare Grains as Needed

When adding grains to your dog’s diet, it is important to fully cook or prepare them to enhance digestibility and ensure safety. Here are some methods of preparation for different grains:

  • Brown Rice: Cook according to package instructions until fully tender.
  • Barley: Simmer in water or broth until softened and fully cooked.
  • Whole Wheat: Cook in boiling water until fully tender.
  • Oats: Cook with water or broth until soft and fully cooked.
  • Millet: Simmer in water or broth until fluffy and fully cooked.
  • Sorghum: Boil in water or broth until tender and fully cooked.
  • Corn: Boil, steam, or grill until fully cooked.
PRO TIP: Always opt for whole grains over refined grains for maximum nutritional benefits.

adding grains to your dog's diet

The 5 Steps To Add Grain to a Grain-Free Dog Food

If your dog is currently eating a grain-free diet, you can’t just dump a bunch of grains in their bowl! Follow these steps to safely and effectively transition your canine companion:

Step 1: Check with your veterinarian

Make sure your dog doesn’t have any health issues that require a grain-free diet. Get the green light before introducing grains.

Step 2: Select a grain source

See our list of the best grains for dogs below. Stick to one at first to check for allergies.

Step 3: Cook the grain

For digestibility, always cook grains before feeding. See our preparation tips later on.

Step 4: Mix the grain with meals

Start by adding just a spoonful of the cooked grain to your dog’s regular meals.

Step 5: Transition slowly

Gradually increase the amount of grain over 2-4 weeks as you monitor your dog’s reaction. Take it slow!

Follow these steps carefully and there’s no reason grains can’t be a healthy part of your dog’s balanced diet. Always work closely with your vet if your dog has any food allergies or sensitivities.

Some tasty homemade recipes to try with whole grains

Chicken and Brown Rice – Combine cooked chicken, brown rice, carrots, peas, yogurt

Beef and Oatmeal Bake – Layer beef, oats, egg, cheese, pumpkin

Fish and Quinoa Bowl – Flake cooked fish over quinoa with spinach, bell pepper

Get creative with healthful ingredients and whole grain mixes suited to your dog’s needs. The options are endless!

Find the Balance That’s Right for Your Dog

Grains should make up no more than 50% of your dog’s total diet. The rest should come from quality protein sources and produce. Here are some tips for achieving balance:

  • Vary grain choices for a range of nutrients
  • Use grain-inclusive commercial food as a base
  • Add homemade mix-ins like meat, veggies, yogurt
  • For homemade food, follow recipes formulated by vets
  • Consider your dog’s age, activity level, and caloric needs
  • Monitor energy, weight, and digestion to tweak amounts as needed

Every dog has unique nutritional requirements. Work closely with your vet or canine nutritionist to find the proper ratio of grains and other whole foods. Adjust over time based on your dog’s health markers. Get creative with combinations to keep your pup interested and satisfied.

Grains are Not All Bad. Use Them to Your Advantage!

There are many misconceptions surrounding grains in a dog’s diet. Grains can offer valuable benefits when incorporated properly. Here’s why grains should be considered:

  • Addressing misconceptions: Grains in moderation can be a healthy addition to a dog’s diet, providing important nutrients and supporting digestive health.
  • The role of grains in digestive health: The fiber content in grains can aid digestion and help maintain a healthy gut flora, reducing the risk of gastrointestinal issues.
PRO TIP: Rotate between different grains to provide a variety of nutrients to your dog.

Will Adding Grains to Grain-Free Dog Food Offset the Potential Risks?

There has been some concern about potential links between grain-free diets and canine heart disease. Adding grains to your dog’s diet may offer protective benefits:

Regulating blood sugar – Fiber in whole grains can help avoid blood sugar spikes and drops.

Providing antioxidants – Grains supply antioxidants to combat inflammation and cell damage.

Balancing minerals – Whole grains contain more balanced mineral levels compared to legumes.

Boosting protein quality – Combining grains with other proteins creates a complete amino acid profile.

Promoting gut health – Prebiotic fibers in grains feed beneficial gut bacteria.

However, grains also contribute calories so amounts must be carefully managed to avoid obesity. Work closely with your veterinarian to harness the benefits of grains while minimizing any risks for your dog. Monitor your dog carefully when making any diet change.

Not All Grain-Free Dog Foods Are Created Equal!

If you opt to stick with a grain-free diet, keep in mind that not all formulas are nutritionally equal. Here are some tips for choosing quality grain-free food:

  • Prioritize meat-based proteins like chicken, beef, fish
  • Avoid carb-heavy fillers like potatoes, peas, lentils
  • Look for some nutrient supplementation like prebiotics
  • Ensure fatty acid balance of omega-3s and omega-6s
  • Make sure calcium and phosphorus levels are appropriate
  • Choose recipes formulated by veterinary nutritionists
  • Rotate proteins and formulas regularly

Just because a diet is grain-free doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy. Scrutinize labels and ingredients carefully and don’t hesitate to speak with your vet.


While the debate continues to rage about carbs and grains in dog food, the truth is that grains can be a healthy part of a balanced canine diet when used judiciously. As long as you select digestible whole grains suited to your dog’s needs, prepare them properly, transition slowly, and pay attention to overall diet balance and variety, your pup can benefit from these nutritious alternatives to grain-free. Work closely with your veterinarian to determine if and which grains make sense for your dog’s lifestyle, breed, and life stage. By thoughtfully incorporating delicious whole grains, you can boost the nutritional variety in your dog’s bowl for improved well-being.


Is it necessary to add grains to my dog’s diet?

No, it’s not mandatory. Dogs can get all their nutritional needs met on a well-formulated grain-free diet. Adding grains simply provides variety and supplementary benefits.

What are the potential risks of grain-free dog food?

Risks may include nutrient imbalances, insufficient fiber, increased inflammation, and possible links to canine heart disease in some dogs.

How do I know if my dog is allergic to grains?

A: Signs of a grain allergy include itchy skin, ear infections, impaired digestion, and GI issues. An elimination diet trial can help diagnose.

Can I mix different types of grains in my dog’s food?

Yes, offering a variety of whole grains can give your dog balanced nutritional benefits. Just introduce new grains slowly.

What is the proper way to cook grains for my dog?

Soak then rinse grains first. Boil, steam, or microwave until soft. Don’t undercook. Let cool before mixing with food.

How often should I add grains to my dog’s diet?

Most healthy dogs can eat small amounts of grains daily or several times a week. Adjust the frequency based on your dog’s needs.

Are there any side effects of adding grains to my dog’s food?

As long as the transition is gradual, side effects are unlikely. Monitor stool quality as increased fiber may cause looseness at first.

Is it better to buy dog food with grains or add them separately?

That depends on your preferences. Many owners like the control of adding their own cooked grains to a high-quality commercial base.

How do I know if my dog is getting a balanced diet?

Talk to your vet. Monitor weight, energy levels, coat health, and medical issues. Make sure you provide proper nutrition for your dog’s life stage.

Can I give my dog grains if he has diabetes?

Yes, but the amount and type should be tailored based on your dog’s blood sugar levels. Work closely with your vet on this.

What are the signs that my dog is not tolerating grains well?

Symptoms may include digestive upset, skin irritation, changes in stool, behavior changes, and lethargy after eating grains.

Is it okay to switch my dog from grain-free to grain-inclusive food suddenly?

No, you should transition slowly over 2-4 weeks. Rapid changes can upset your dog’s digestion.

What are the benefits of whole grains over refined grains for dogs?

Whole grains retain the fiber-rich bran and nutrient-packed germ, offering superior nutritional value over-refined.

Can grains help in managing my dog’s weight?

Yes, the fiber in whole grains promotes satiety to prevent overeating. But calories still need monitoring.

What are the best sources of grains for dogs?

Some top choices are oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, and millet. Focus on digestible whole grains.