Should You Feed Your Dog Grain-Free Food?
Some (not all!) Grain-free dog foods are subject to additional FDA controls after several dogs who ate these foods developed the rare canine heart disease. You don’t have to give up your dog’s favorite food just because it is grain free, but it is worth taking a look at why you chose it and if it really is the best choice.
Are some of these foods really dangerous?
The FDA is suspicious of some grain-free foods due to the high incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. This is a condition that is not fully understood, but it is more common in certain breeds, and previous research has shown that diet can play a role, especially if it results in deficiencies in the natural chemicals taurine or carnitine in dogs.
Some veterinary cardiologists have noticed that they are seeing more cases of DCM in breeds of dogs that do not usually get sick, and these dogs ate grain-free dog food with potatoes or legumes.
That’s all we know at the moment. The FDA does not warn people against grain-free dog food, but simply warns us that they are studying it. It may turn out that the food is not connected at all. Here’s one alternative explanation that came to my mind: Grain-free pet food is more expensive and may prove popular with the same people who have the budget to take their pet to a cardiologist cynologist.
What foods are suspicious?
The FDA doesn’t name names, but here’s how they describe the products:
In diets reported to the FDA, potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other “legumes” (legume seeds), as well as their proteins, starch, and fiber derivatives are often listed at the top of the ingredient list, indicating that they are the main ingredients.
In other words, they are not talking about all products that say “grain-free.” If there are multiple words at the top of the ingredient list for those ingredients — for example, “lentils,” then “pea protein,” then “soy flour,” it could mean that legumes make up a significant portion of the food’s ingredients. Take a look at your dog’s food label and see if it matches this description.
What’s so great about grain-free foods?
We think of dogs as carnivores, and indeed, their wild ancestors ate many dead animals. But dogs are made to digest other foods as well. Scientists who have compared dog DNA to wolf DNA have found that our best dog friends are better than their ancestors at digesting starch (found in grains and other plant foods). This probably helped them learn how to use human waste and handouts. The details of how this happened are historically unclear, but in any case, dogs are no longer carnivores. Dogs can eat grains as part of their food if the food is overall nutritionally balanced (enough protein, etc.).
“Grain-free” dog foods are usually not all meat; Look at the ingredient list and you’ll usually find that grains like wheat or corn have been replaced by other starchy vegetables like peas, lentils, and potatoes.
Until now, both grain and vegetable based dog foods seemed to provide the same nutrition. But if the FDA’s suspicions are correct, foods high in legumes and potatoes could be harmful to your dog’s health in the long run.
What if my dog is eating grain free food?
If you’re feeding your dog a grain-free food and it contains a few legumes or potato ingredients at the top of the ingredient list, it’s probably wise to switch to something else until we figure out if they’re problematic. Whole Dog Journal suggests asking yourself why you chose this food. If it was just a whim, disconnect. But if you choose this food as the only one that helps your dog with digestion or other health problems, proceed with more caution. As always, the best source of information on what to do for your dog’s health is not an article you read online, but a discussion with your veterinarian.