By Dr. Becker
A pet food industry journal article I read not too long ago discussed the fact that rye isn’t found in many pet foods.
Now, you and I might feel grateful to know at least one type of species-inappropriate grain isn’t widely used in commercial pet diets. But the majority of pet food companies and their suppliers are motivated to find ingredients that will help keep their products affordable and their bottom line healthy.
The author of the article I read conducted a survey of pet food labels and found only a few brands in which rye was listed as an ingredient. Those foods were what he described as ultra-premium or very high-end dry dog food. He was surprised not to find rye as an ingredient in any cat food or canned food included in his informal survey.
Apparently rye is no more expensive than other grains, so the author set out to discover if there was a problem with availability, a technical factor, possible heath issues linked to rye in dog and cat food, or some other reason for the lack of use of this particular grain by the pet food industry.
Rye vs. Other Cereal Grains
Rye isn’t as common a raw ingredient as wheat or rice. It ranks eighth among cereal grains produced globally. It grows well in colder climates and in marginal soil. It is a key crop in Poland, Germany, Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine which produce about 75 percent of the world’s supply.
The only threat to rye crops is a type of fungus that is only a problem under specific growing conditions, and screening is an effective control measure.
The nutritional composition of rye is comparable to wheat in terms of protein, crude fiber, ash, crude fat and starch. However, when it comes to non-starch polysaccharides that are indigestible in the stomach and small intestine, but fermentable in the colon, rye contains a higher percentage than wheat.
These polysaccharides are agents in grain that interfere with nutrient utilization.
Like other plants, rye also contains substances that inhibit protein digestion and mineral absorption. However, unlike other plants, rye also contains a compound (an alkylresorcinol) that at high levels can irritate intestinal and mucous membranes and retard growth.
The good news, at least for pet food manufacturers, is that common pet food processing techniques like extrusion eliminate many of the anti-nutrient compounds and convert the non-starch polysaccharides to digestible sugars.
How Many Pet Foods Will Soon Contain Rye as an Ingredient?
Rye has been a staple in livestock diets for centuries. But since those diets don’t undergo the extreme processing of pet food, use of rye in cattle, pig and poultry feed must be limited in order to minimize the impact of anti-nutrients and polysaccharides on digestion.
Research into the nutritional value of rye in pet foods is apparently hard to come by.
Based on his research, the article author concluded that since thermal processing decreases the anti-nutrient content of rye, dogs and cats don’t find it unpalatable, and it results in satisfactory stool consistency, there are no issues that should limit the use of rye in pet food.
This information, of course, was compiled by and for the commercial pet food industry. It will be interesting to see if rye begins appearing on more pet food labels as perhaps an alternative to wheat, soy or other problematic ingredients pet owners are getting wise to.
It would seem rye has the potential to cause at least as many problems for sensitive individuals as wheat, corn, oats or other cereal grains. And even though rye doesn’t technically contain gluten, it is assumed pets with gluten intolerance, celiac disease or other similar sensitivities would react to rye as well.
And certainly, rye is not a species-appropriate ingredient for carnivorous dogs and cats.
My recommendation is, as always, to read pet food labels carefully and avoid formulas with rye or other types of grain. Your pet doesn’t need grains as part of a biologically appropriate diet, she has limited ability to digest them, and their presence in her digestive system can interfere with absorption of the important nutrients she does need.