“My vet told me that he doesn’t want me to feed Fluffy a grain-free diet.”
“My neighbor told me that when she used a GRAIN-FREE diet, her dog’s allergies improved. “
“There is a cute, new neighborhood pet supply store that has the best treats and food! I don’t know if they’re grain-free or not, but Max LOVES them!”
“So, what’s the deal with diets for dogs? I don’t remember if being this hard to find a good food for my pet.”
These are common conversations that veterinarians, like myself, hear every day. I’m not writing to change your opinion about your dog’s diet. I am writing to clarify the issues and promote a healthy conversation between you and your veterinarian to choose the BEST food for your dog.
Let’s start with breaking down the most common ingredients in GRAIN-CONTAINING foods compared to GRAIN-FREE foods.
GRAINS INCLUDE: GRAIN-FREE INCLUDES (This is NOT gluten-free)
Corn Sweet potatoes
Barley Peas, Pea flour
Oats Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas
Grains serve a valuable purpose in daily diets.
- Grains promote a healthy gut. Those rich in fiber help manage various large and small bowel conditions by promoting a healthy microbiome. In other words, they feed the good bacteria in the gut to aid in digestion and metabolism.
- Grains help with weight management. The fiber content in many grains helps our dogs feel “full” longer.
- Grains contain proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins essential for good health.
- Gluten contained in some grains provides an added protein source.
GRAIN-FREE diets became popular when a small population of humans (yes, a different species altogether from a dog) saw favorable results when eliminating various gluten-containing grains from their diet. The symptoms of their celiac disease, inflammatory bowel condition, and wheat allergies improved. The misconception is that many believe what is good for humankind must also be good for “dog-kind.” Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Remember, we can eat chocolate and drink coffee. Your dog cannot.
Veterinary dermatologist agree that the majority of food-related sensitivities in dogs is associated with proteins found in beef, chicken, and dairy. That’s not to say that some dogs don’t have a sensitivity/allergy to grain, but the percentage is extremely low (less than 1%).
In 2018, the FDA found evidence dating back to 2014 that grains-free diets may be linked to a heart condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM is a debilitating heart condition that we commonly see in certain breeds such as the Boxer, Doberman, and the Great Dane. But when cases involving breeds who did not have a genetic predisposition for DCM started increasing in number, veterinarians took notice. The investigation linked this spike in DCM to those dogs being fed a grain-free diet. There is additional concern that a link may exist between what is called BEG Diets (B=Boutique, E=Exotic, G=Grain-free) and DCM. BEG diets may substitute grains with grain-free foods, but also add in exotic meats (i.e., duck, kangaroo, among others), and other fruits and vegetables.
Early discussions suspected a lack of an essential amino acid (EAA), taurine, in the ingredients of grain-free diets. Taurine is not typically and EAA that dogs need as they can synthesize their own (unlike cats). According to the FDA findings, nearly all of the grain-free diets they tested exceeded the requirement of methionine-cystine which is the precursor for making taurine. Therefore, simply adding additional taurine to your dog’s grain-free diet may not be enough to ward off DCM.
There is much research to be continued, but this is why your veterinarian may likely have the discussion that a GRAIN-CONTAINING diet ay be the best option for Fluffy. While research continues, the best course of action is to have the discussion with our veterinarian to weight the pros and con of your dog’s diet and what additional monitoring may be essential to look for signs of DCM.
Personally, I promote the use of canine diets that pass the *AAFCO feeding trial standards while keeping the grains that have stood the test of time IN the food. I promote teaching pet owners how to read a dog food label and find the AAFCO seal on the dog food bag/can that they currently feed their dog(s).
Until we have a specific cause for the cases of DCM and can make very clear dietary recommendations the current advise is to avoid grain-free and “BEG” foods. For now stick with the big 5 companies who have foods that meet the AAFC) feeding trial standards and *WSAVA nutritional standards. These include: Hill’s, Purina, Royal Canin, Iams, and Eukanuba. Manufactureres of the “BEG” diets do not perform feeding trials to ensure that dogs can survive and thrive on their products. Until we know the exact cause of DCM, this is the safest approach toward feeding your furry friend.
For complete up-t0-date information you can visit the FDA sites:
*AAFCO: Association of American Feed Control Officials. www.petfood.aafco.org
AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, and it is the pet food company’s responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard.
*WSAVA: World Small Animal Veterinary Association. www.wsava.org