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Is Wheat Bad for Dogs?

Written by Anna Hollisey


Spaniel sitting in wheat field

Firstly: if you’ve googled this term because your dog just snaffled your ham sandwich (we’ve all been there), there’s probably nothing to worry about. Wheat is harmless for most dogs – it’s actually a key ingredient in many dog foods as it provides carbohydrates which delivers energy. But, like humans, some dogs develop allergies to wheat; we’ll look at the symptoms and how you can treat them. 

Does Your Dog Need Wheat in Their Food?

Dogs are committed omnivores (they eat everything, as you may have noticed). But from a scientific stance, there are several things that they NEED to get from their food.

For example, they need a certain amount of protein in their diet (and it should come from different sources, to ensure that they get all the essential amino acids). 

Dogs also need to get fiber, vitamins, and carbohydrates from their food. 

  • Fiber supports digestion
  • Vitamins support a wide range of body functions
  • Carbohydrate is a valuable source of energy. You already know that your dog needs a lot of that!

While energy is naturally derived from protein and fats, carbohydrate is also an important source. And, of course, the younger or more energetic your dog, the more calories they need to eat. 

Since they won’t get all that energy from protein and fat alone, we add carbs to their bowls. Complex carbohydrates include options like corn, rice and oats as well as wheat. You’ll see that between 30 and 50% of your dog’s food is made up of carbs, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

(Sidebar: It’s thought that dogs evolved to eat grains, fruit and vegetables when they were first adopted by humans and spent time on farms and agricultural settings. They would, like the humans, feed on leftover crops when meat access was restricted.)

However, when we look at the carb options, there’s a sliding scale of digestibility and benefits. A fiber-rich and gluten-free grain like rice or oats is better than wheat or barley. Arguably, wheat is probably the least beneficial of all grains. In fact, it’s among the top 5 food allergies reported in dogs (beef, chicken, egg and dairy are the others). 

That’s why we created our dog food/food with gluten-free oats, rather than wheat. 

What Are The Symptoms of Wheat Allergies in Dogs? 

If your dog is happy and healthy on their diet and it contains wheat, there’s no cause for concern. Many dogs can eat wheat without any problems, and it is a useful source of energy for their everyday lives.

That said, some dogs do develop gluten allergies. There are two key symptom groups to watch out for:

1. Itchy or flaky skin.

Dogs tend to get itchy paws, faces or ears. They can even have widespread dermatitis. This can prompt frantic chewing and sometimes red sores or infections – which tend to appear in your dog’s paws or ears. Watch out for:

  • Repeated ear infections
  • Chewing paws
  • More scratching than usual
  • Bald spots or red sores caused by scratching

2. Gastrointestinal issues.

Food intolerance can produce vomiting or diarrhea. As wheat intolerance is usually a gradual build-up, it’s not likely to cause severe anaphylactic shock (the way bee stings can). Keep an eye out for:

  • Mucus in stools
  • Vomiting or excess gas
  • Weight loss 

If your vet suspects an allergy, they will first eliminate more serious conditions – depending on your dog’s symptoms. After that, they may recommend that you give your dog a trial diet, removing the suspected allergen, to see whether there is an improvement. In the meantime, your vet may also prescribe an antihistamine or similar to relieve your dog’s itching.

Choosing A Great Dog Food

Gluten is present not just in wheat, but also other grains like couscous, bran, flour, semolina, farro, and spelt. You’ll need to start by avoiding all sources of gluten so that you can ascertain whether it’s causing your dog’s problem. 

If you have been advised by the vet to conduct a food trial, you will need to choose a food based on a ‘novel’ protein and carbohydrate. (These are ingredients which are unknown to your dog’s body.) There are several available: look for complete foods which are formulated without the main allergens (dairy, beef, eggs and wheat). 

Options for the main sources of protein and carbs include venison, kangaroo, wild boar, pumpkin, pea and sweet potato. There’s an added bonus with these formulations: your dog will get less ‘filler’ and more vegetables, improving their overall gut health. 

Alternatively, you can try a hydrolysed food – in which proteins have been broken down enough to prevent an allergic reaction. Choose a food sold by your veterinarian (these specialist ones are the most reliable), if you can. 

Give the new food to your dog for 8-12 weeks to find out whether their symptoms settle down. Once you find a food that keeps their skin healthy and their gut happy, keep them on it – adding some additional sources of the same proteins when you feel like a change. 

What goes into dog food? There is a great guide to help you understand your dog’s diet here. 

Supplement for Skin Health

Front of the Pack was founded to bring your dog the very best. We decided that we’d only use the best, clinically-proven ingredients, naturally sourced and flavored with dog-friendly broth. And while we started out with an all-rounder supplement (The One), we soon branched out into supplements to tackle our dog’s particular problems. And now of course, we offer a fantastic range of dog food that’s also only made with the best ingredients. 

For skin health, SOOTHE/products/soothe is our solution. It contains ingredients to support digestion such as Floradapt and postbiotics. It has Omega-3, which is well known for reducing inflammation and promoting glowing skin. Soothe is hypoallergenic, so you can sprinkle it over your dog’s new food for a boost in nutrients and taste. Read our customer comments to find out how it’s helping lots of dogs to live their best, itch-free lives!