Kristen M, Lohr, VMD Devon Veterinary Hospital
Have you ever stood in the pet food aisle comparing pet food labels, wondering which food is the best choice? Which food is the most nutritious? So many choices. Unfortunately, reading a pet food label is difficult because most of the information on the label is useless. Many companies are better at marketing and making pretty bags than they are at manufacturing quality pet food. Most of us pick a pet food that sounds nutritious and healthy for US. I like blueberries, therefore Scooter will LOVE this food! This bag costs $98.00! This one MUST be the best. Sound familiar?
Grain-free pet food entered the market place within the last decade, and now makes up almost half of the dog food on the market in the United States. Is this a coincidence that at the same time the human population started eating gluten-free and low-carb diets? Probably not. Grain-free diets exploded because consumers began to believe ingredients like rice and oats must be bad for their pets’ health. Misinformation, high-end marketing and anthropomorphizing led to the explosion of the grain-free myth. As long as the food is fancy, we will buy it.
Are grains bad?
Grains have been accused of causing anything from skin allergies to digestive upset to weight gain. Grains do NOT cause health problems. In fact, they are a good source of vitamins, minerals and protein. Food allergies are very rare. If Fluffy’s skin got better when you changed her diet to grain-free, it wasn’t due to the absence of grain. When pet food companies remove grains from the diet, they substitute with peas, lentils, legumes, seeds and potatoes. Grain-free is truly a marketing term, not a nutritional claim.
Are grain-free foods bad?
We don’t know yet!
A recent increase in heart disease in some dogs eating grain-free pet food has been brought into question. The FDA announced this week that they are investigating a potential dietary link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and pets eating a grain-free pet food.
What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?
Dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM is a serious disease of the heart muscle. The heart enlarges and has decreased ability to pump blood. This can lead to abnormal rhythms, congestive heart failure or sudden death. This is not a new disease. Breeds that are genetically predisposed to DCM include Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards, and Cocker Spaniels. In the past two years, this disease has been seen in increasing numbers in smaller breed dogs, catching the attention of veterinary cardiologists and now the FDA.
The FDA investigation- should we panic?
The FDA is currently reviewing over 500 cases of recent dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs and 14 in cats. The common denominator in nearly all these cases was that the pet was eating a grain-free product. 93% of the diets contained peas or lentils and over half contained potatoes/sweet potatoes. The FDA had been warning about foods containing peas, lentils and potatoes since July 2018. A statement released last week identified 16 brands, ordered by the number of cases linked to them.
If you feed a grain-free diet, should you switch?
What we know:
What we don’t know:
We don’t know if diet is the only underlying factor. There is, however, enough evidence and suspicion for the FDA to do their due diligence and start an investigation.
The bottom line- WHY TAKE THE RISK?
WHAT SHOULD I FEED MY PET?
DON’T judge a food by its bag.
STOP reading the ingredient list. Unfortunately, this is not a reliable way to compare foods. The ingredient list does not tell us the quality or amount of ingredients in a particular food.
Avoid exotic ingredients that are currently being investigated (peas, lentils, legumes). Stick with diets with common, well-studied ingredients.
Pick a pet food manufacturer with YEARS of nutritional expertise and rigorous quality control. Here are some savvy questions to ask:
-Does the manufacturer employ full-time veterinary nutritionists?
-Does the manufacturer own the manufacturing plant? This allows for
better quality control.
-Does the manufacturer conduct any research and publish in peer-reviewed
-Does the manufacturer run AAFCO feeding trials?
ASK your veterinarian!!
Since you asked, I like Purina ProPlan, Hill’s Science Diet and Royal Canin.
Just because the pet food was “made with love” doesn’t mean it is nutritious.