One of the most controversial foods when it comes to dogs is corn. And chances are that your pup has probably eaten a lot of it if he’s had commercial pet food. “Corn is a cost and convenience concession,” says Ernie Ward, veterinarian and author of Chow Hounds. But that’s no fault of pet parents: There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about the nutritional value of the vegetable. “It’s not as simple as, ‘Is it good or bad?’” Ward explains. We asked the most common questions about corn so you can make an educated decision.
Is it digestible?
Corn isn’t digestible for dogs as a whole grain, so it needs to be refined and then cooked. However, it’s highly digestible if it is processed, says Greg Aldrich, pet food program coordinator at Kansas State University. Only thing is, processing corn leads to a higher glycemic index—a concern with any grain-based diet, because it can raise the blood sugar level in animals.
Will it cause allergies?
Corn is not a major allergy threat, but it’s something to be aware of, Ward says. “There are many dogs that are sensitive to corn and wheat and other grains,” he explains. So if your dog shows a sensitivity (they may have an upset stomach or skin irritation), talk to your vet about it and consider eliminating the vegetable from their diet.
How nutritious is it?
Corn is a decent source of energy, but it’s not as healthy as meat or other lean proteins. It also lacks the vitamins and minerals found in some other veggies. Still, corn does contain zeaxanthin and lutein, says Aldrich, which are antioxidants that can help support your pup’s vision.
What about corn-fed protein? What’s most important is that dogs are fed a high quality animal protein-based diet (versus plant-based). Grass-fed beef may be healthier because of potential differences in nutrient makeup between grain and forage energy sources, but there’s a lot of complexity in this issue, Ward says. And compared with the grain-fed versus grass-fed debate for humans, it isn’t as big of a deal for dogs. “The nutritional differences will be very slight—in the fatty acid profile and perhaps the levels of carotenoids in the fat.” Aldrich says.
At the end of the day…
“You have to make decisions based on your own personal food philosophy,” Ward says. “I tell my owners that it may cost you more, but if your food philosophy says, ‘I want to exclude it,’ then fine. But if convenience and cost are important to you, then you should try corn or wheat,” he says.