Answers from Experts – 05/99

This month: Questions about feeding dogs grain from home beer-brewing kits, whether hops are poisonous for canines, and whether dogs should drink milk.


Can Beer and Dogs Mix?
Is the grain from a beer-brewing kit safe for dogs? We feed our Scottie a natural diet rich in veggies, grains, fruits and white meats. I make beer. May the distillers grains be used, in moderation, in her feed and snack crackers?In the first part of the brewing process, you cook malted barley and cornstarch in water for 90 minutes. When the fluid is strained off for beer making, the “brewer’s grain” is discarded or fed to cattle. Is it appropriate for use in dog biscuits and as part of a home-prepared natural diet?

In a related, but separate question, I saw that your article “Herbs for Improved Performance” (WDJ February 1999) recommends giving hops to dogs. Isn’t that dangerous?

Answers from Experts – 05/99

-Bruce A. McCallum
via e-mail

We turned over this question to herbalist and holistic pet care expert CJ Puotinen, author of Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care. Puotinen, a frequent contributor to WDJ, is also author of a number of books on herbs. She lives in New York state with her husband and a Black Lab named Samantha.

Let me start by answering your questions regarding distillers grains. Malted barley is sprouted before roasting, and sprouting makes grains more digestible for dogs as well as people. In fact, the most nutritious grain you can give your dog is grain you soak overnight, drain, leave in a jar for 24 to 48 hours until small white rootlets begin to emerge, then puree in a food processor or crush in a meat grinder. The resulting live, raw, pulverized food resembles the contents of a prey animal’s digestive tract, and small amounts provide domestic dogs with the same vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and other fragile nutrients that the stomach contents of prey animals provide to wild canines.

In the malting process, sprouted grain is dried in ovens, releasing the sugars and flavors essential to beer brewing. Because it is sweet and has an interesting, complex odor, malted grain is attractive to dogs.

Does cooking malted grain for 90 minutes make it unsuitable for use in dog biscuits? Probably not; in fact, some would argue that prolonged cooking makes its carbohydrates easier to digest.

Is roasted, cooked or baked grain an appropriate ingredient in natural diets for dogs? Now we reach the crux of a fascinating debate. Prior to the development of commercial pet foods, America’s dogs ate the same constantly varying combination of raw meaty bones and table scraps that sustained their domesticated ancestors for thousands of years. It wasn’t until recently that grain replaced meat and bones as the main ingredient in canine diets.

According to Russell Swift, D.V.M., a growing number of veterinarians active in the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association question the use of grains in commercial and home-prepared pet foods. Their argument is that the seeds of oats, wheat, rice and barley are not a significant part of the natural diet of wild dogs because in a natural setting, grains are in short supply. Of the prey animals normally consumed by wild canines in North America, only small birds have a seed-based diet, and even rodents and other animals noted for their love of grain have little access to mature seeds in the wild. Most prey animals live on leaves, grass and vegetation other than seeds.

Why have grains become so “in-grained” (sorry, couldn’t resist) in pet feeding? Swift says that to the best of his knowledge, grains were introduced by the pet food industry, where their high carbohydrate content provides inexpensive calories and helps bind ingredients. Grains give bulk to pet foods, an important consideration in customer satisfaction. A large quantity at a low price makes grain-based foods seem practical and substantial. Thanks to 60 years of advertising and availability, grain-based foods are familiar to all. In fact, notes Swift, “We have become so used to feeding grains to dogs and cats that most of us get nervous when we decide not to use them.”

However, grains can generate a host of problems for our canine and feline companions. It is difficult for dogs and cats to produce the quantity of amylase enzyme necessary for carbohydrate digestion and assimilation; the proteins in grains are less digestible than animal proteins; foreign, nonnutritive protein and carbohydrate particles irritate and weaken the immune system, often resulting in allergies and chronic immune problems; and the demand for amylase so stresses the pancreas that Swift and others believe grain consumption is a likely cause of diabetes, pancreatitis and other digestive tract disorders. Add dental calculus problems and you have an impressive list of conditions that may be linked to grain consumption. A growing number of holistic veterinarians, breeders, trainers, groomers and owners recommend replacing commercial pet food with an all-raw diet that more closely approximates the food on which dogs evolved and which they are well equipped to digest.

For information and guidelines, I recommend that dog owners read the following books:

• Give Your Dog a Bone, by the Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst (Billinghurst, 1993);

• The Ultimate Diet: Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats, by Kymythy Schultze (Affenbar Ink, 1998);

• and my book, Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care (Keats Publishing, 1998). All of these books are available from Direct Book Service’s Dog & Cat Book Catalog (PO Box 2778, Wenatchee, WA 98807; ph (800) 776-2665; fax (509) 662-7233;

Dog biscuits made with leftover brewer’s grain may be just as nutritious as any other biscuits, but that’s about all one can say in their favor. Regarding feeding hops: In 1995, the National Animal Poison Control Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana recorded eight fatal cases of hops toxicity; the victims were seven Greyhounds and a Labrador Retriever mix whose ingestion of spent hops from home beer-brewing kits resulted in malignant hyperthermia, an uncontrollable fever rising as fast as two degrees Fahrenheit every five minutes. Warnings soon appeared in dog magazines, veterinary journals and herbal publications about the dangers of feeding hops to dogs, especially Greyhounds.

There is a world of difference between a bucketful of hops residue from beer making and the small amounts of fresh or dried hops used in herbal teas, powders and tinctures. Hops growers, manufacturers and distributors reported nothing different about their production methods when the fatal beer kits were assembled, and the cause of the problem remains a mystery. No cases of hops toxicity have been reported since the original eight cases.

Does Your Dog Got Milk?
I would appreciate some information about the pros and cons of feeding milk to dogs. My dog was born on a dairy farm and LOVES milk. But everyone I know says it is bad for her. They say it will give her stomach aches, gas, and allergies. Is this true? She seems to do just fine with it.

-Rai Buchan
Willington, CT

We directed this question to Carolyn Blakey, DVM, of the Westside Animal Clinic in Richmond, Indiana. Dr. Blakey has been practicing veterinary medicine for 32 years, the last four in an all-holistic practice. She especially enjoys serving as a holistic veterinary consultant to clients all over the country.

Congratulations for disregarding the advice of your well-meaning friends and having faith in your dog’s good condition! If your dog was vomiting, experiencing diarrhea, or had gas, then it would obviously make sense to stop feeding the dog milk to determine whether it WAS causing a problem. And if your dog starts exhibiting these symptoms, the milk would be the prime suspect. But if you dog regularly drinks a certain amount of milk, and continues to look good and feel good, keep it up!

Lactose is the substance in milk that causes digestive disturbances for a lot of dogs (and people!). Lactose is a sugar, and is found in the milk of all mammals. To digest lactose, an animal needs a digestive enzyme called lactase, which increases the rate of conversion of lactose to glucose and galactose, carbohydrates needed by the body for energy. Most mammals produce lactase in sufficient quantities to digest milk when they are young, but progressively produce less and less lactase as they age. (Mother Nature never intended animals to drink milk their whole lives.)

Any animal that produces enough lactase can have all the milk they want. But if their bodies don’t produce enough lactase, they will experience digestive problems, usually diarrhea and gas.

If a dog really loves milk and is somewhat lactose-intolerant, you can buy milk that has been supplemented with acidophilus, or feed her yogurt, which is also laden with enzymes that assist in the digestive process.

The fact your dog was raised on a dairy, and milk was apparently given to the dog daily, helped cue her body to continue producing lactase. As long as she continues to do so, she’ll be fine; milk is a good source of protein and calcium, after all. But I wouldn’t suggest that other people start giving milk to their adult dogs; their bodies wouldn’t be prepared for it.


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