Can I Give My Dog Barley?
Though fruits and vegetables have hogged the spotlight for quite some time, they are definitely not the only foods often praised for their health benefits—when experts put together the basic parts of a healthy diet, they usually include fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. When we were kids, ‘whole grains’ meant whole wheat bread and oatmeal. Today, however, more people are expanding their whole grain horizons. One of the most beloved grains is barley. This nutty, chewy grain makes an excellent breakfast whether you’re an athlete, a couch potato, or anything in between. We know that we should try to get our kids to eat whole grains, but what about our pets?
Dogs will eat just about anything we drop into their dishes, but we know that their strong stomachs are not good guides for optimal nutrition; the fact that a dog can eat something does not automatically mean that they should. As pet parents, it is our responsibility to give our furry friends the foods they need to stay healthy and happy for as long as possible. But it can be hard to figure out what to feed our pets, and grains can be controversial. So, what’s the verdict on this hearty whole grain? Can dogs have barley?
The answer is yes, dogs can eat barley in moderation. Though some online sources claim that grains are unhealthy or even harmful for our canine companions, in reality, small amounts of whole grains such as barley are considered to be pretty safe for dogs. They are nontoxic, which means that there is no real risk of poisoning. So, if your dog has gobbled up a bunch of barley behind your back, there is no need to panic! Just make sure that barley binges do not become a habit and they will be perfectly fine.
In the doggy diet, the biggest benefit of barley is probably the high fiber content. Barley and other whole grains are loaded with both soluble and insoluble fibers, which are great for overall health. Dietary fiber has been linked to a decreased risk of many chronic illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, digestive (stomach and colorectal) cancers, and even autoimmune inflammatory illnesses like arthritis.
All of those benefits are long term. The most immediately noticeable health benefit of fiber is its ability to regulate digestion. Whether your dog is prone to constipation or diarrhea, incorporating grains that contain moderate amounts of fiber into their diet may be able to alleviate their symptoms.
Because soluble fiber absorbs water, it can regulate the amount of fluid in the intestines. If your dog suffers from watery stool or diarrhea, fiber may be able to soak up the excess fluid in their colon, which can slow excretion and firm things up. If your dog struggles with constipation, feeding them barley (with plenty of fluids!) is an excellent way to shuttle fluid into the intestines. The fiber will soak up water in the stomach like a sponge, then carry it into the colon, where it can soften hard or impacted stool and increase the frequency of bowel movements.
Insoluble fiber has a role to play in digestive health, too. This type of fiber can’t soak up water, but it adds bulk to stool, which stimulates the intestines and encourages fuller, healthier bowel movements. Including moderate and high fiber foods into your dog’s diet can be an excellent way to treat chronic or mild constipation without medications.
Things to Consider
That said, if you suspect that your dog has a chronic health problem, make sure to consult a veterinarian before making any major changes to their diet. Whole grains and other high fiber foods can improve digestion in many cases, but, if your dog is battling some underlying condition, they need professional veterinary care. Any time something seems ‘off’ about your dog’s toilet habits, you should check with a vet before trying to treat them at home.
Barley also offers some nutrients such as protein, manganese, selenium, copper, B vitamins, and magnesium, but it should not be one of your dog’s primary sources of nutrition. As healthful as barley is, it isn’t a good idea to use it as a staple food. Dogs are not equipped to digest as much starch as humans, so giving your dog large amounts of barley is likely to cause digestive problems. Barley is also higher in carbohydrates than many ideal doggy foods. If your pup eats too much barley, you may find that they start to get a little pudgy. Dogs who are overweight or obese need to have their portions carefully monitored.
In conclusion, barley is a safe food for dogs to consume in moderation. It is nontoxic, full of healthy fiber, and generally well tolerated in moderation. Just make sure to practice portion control—giving your dog too much starch can lead to weight gain or upset stomach.