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Grains and Pulses in Dog Food

Grains and Pulses in Dog Food

We have heard from many pet parents who want to better understand the world of grains and pulses in dog food. Our pet nutrition specialist Alexandra Camara, MSc has laid out the details for us!

Tell me About Whole Grains

In a low carb world, many people have been pushing grains off their plates – and similarly out of their pets’ bowls. The question is: are we doing our pooches a disservice when we cut the carb? Whole grains are the intact, ground or cracked caryopsis, consisting of the starchy endosperm, germ and bran. While refined grains have been stripped of most of their nutrients, whole grains serve up the whole package! Whole grains are rich in fiber, trace minerals, B vitamins and vitamin E. Grains are also a readily available energy source for dogs and cats. There are many positives to whole grains.

So what does this mean for Fido?


What Role do Grains Play in Pet Food?

At HOPE, we use barley and oats in our complete and balanced pet food formulas.

Barley is rich in soluble fibers and contains high levels of β-glucans.

Let’s back up: fiber? Fiber is the non-digestible portion of carbohydrates. Fiber can be insoluble or soluble. Insoluble fiber aids stool quality (aka firm poops 💩), because it doesn’t break down in the gut. Soluble fibers can be absorbed and used by gut bacteria as an energy source, thereby supporting gut health.

Ok, so soluble means it can be absorbed by the gut, but what the heck are β-glucans? They are fibers that help the body reduce cholesterol and control blood glucose levels in people and pets. This means the release of glucose and insulin peak more slowly after a meal. β-glucans help to maintain healthier blood glucose levels and contributes to a slower release of energy.

Are you starting to feel like a grain expert yet?

Oats are also high in β-glucans and rich in soluble fiber. The result? Both are useful for controlling blood glucose and insulin levels. Like humans, our pets are susceptible to chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes. Whole grains can be key to helping control both.

Although pet owners may believe that grains are “fillers”, this is simply not the case. Grains are a valuable source of readily available energy as well as dietary fiber, amino acids, vitamins and minerals for pets.

Okay, but what about allergies? Grain allergies are actually extremely uncommon. Dogs are much more likely to develop an allergy to commonly used proteins like chicken or beef. If you believe your dog has an allergy or sensitivity, ask your veterinarian to help determine the source.

allergies in dogs

Tell me About Pulses

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines pulses as a type of legume, harvested as a dry crop. They include peas, lentils, chickpeas, and dry beans. Pet food manufacturers have used these ingredients for over two decades, so they are nothing new. They are a complementary protein source in many foods.

At HOPE, we use chickpeas and lentils to complement our primary source of protein: black soldier fly larvae (insect protein). Pulses also supply vitamins and minerals. They are a rich source of both insoluble and soluble fibers – and we know you are an expert in those now! Chickpeas and lentils also have a low glycemic index, which can help with canine health problems related to glucose intolerance.

By combining insect protein, brewers yeast, algae, grains and pulses, HOPE creates a complete and balanced dog food providing the required nutrients for your dog to thrive.

If pulses aren’t new to dog food, why are we talking about them so much right now? Read on to learn more.

pulses in pet food

Why So Much Talk About Grains and Pulses in Dog Food?

Many pet parents want to know more about pulses and grain-free dog foods. Concerns around these diets started with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) statement in 2018 about dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). You can learn more about it in this earlier article.

The FDA told the public that there was an increasing number of reports of DCM in dogs, possibly linked to grain-free dog foods. The truth is, no one has all the answers yet. We need more studies to truly understand the risks (if any!) associated with feeding dogs grain-free foods containing pulses or potatoes as main ingredients. It is of the utmost importance to determine the cause of the FDA reported cases of cardiac diseases, but recent literature has demonstrated that there is no definitive relationship between these diets and DCM.

What do we know? Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and results in a decreased ability of the heart to pump blood effectively. The most commonly known fact about DCM is that it can be related to taurine levels. There are many other factors, however, that can also cause DCM, including genetics, age and weight.


Taurine is an important amino acid that humans and pets require for our health. Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins. It is possible that you have heard about taurine in connection with cats. This is because cats cannot produce enough taurine themselves, and must obtain it from their diet. On the other hand, dogs can make taurine in their bodies, so it is not currently considered an essential amino acid for them.

What is Next for DCM Studies?

DCM is a complex condition with many proven etiologies and potential causes contributing to the development of the disorder. Prospective studies investigating diet, infection, metabolism and genetics, must be conducted to better understand any potential correlations with diets to DCM.

Much more investigation will continue to help us all better understand DCM. Some of the major research questions include: are grain-free diets connected with nutritional deficiencies? Do these diets lead to poor nutrient bioavailability? Are they somehow impairing taurine metabolism? Is something happening with nutrient interactions? Is there a presence of toxic substances?

We will continue watching the research and will stay up to date on DCM-related concerns. We hope to continue empowering great pet parents like you who want the best for their dog. As new information becomes available, stay tuned for future articles.

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