Grain Free Pet Food and Other Potentially Fatal Fads

When it comes to choosing the best food for your pet, the choices are overwhelming at best. On top of that, it seems that everyone has an opinion. If you ask (or even if you don’t) you are likely to be bombarded by information from your pet store clerk, breeder, trainer, best friend, and various pet food review websites. So how are you to know what the right choice is?

Goldorado Animal Hospital is here to help! We hope that you will consider our stance with a little more weight given our education and history of providing care with your pet’s best interest at heart. 

Learn why we are taking a tough stance against grain free pet food and other fad diets lacking scientific background. 

Where the Grain Free Pet Food Fad Turned

Grain free pet food, all meat diets, and other fad diets featuring “holistic” ingredients are nothing new. The veterinary community has long recognized that these types of pet foods are largely popular due to marketing with little, if any, scientific basis. 

Until recently, though, veterinarians have turned a mostly blind-eye to these types of feeding regimens. While we have found them to be mostly unnecessary, client demands and media pressure have made us relatively silent on the matter. After all, for most pets these diets were harmless, albeit expensive.

That has changed. As of July 12, 2018 the FDA released an alert to veterinarians after recording a significantly increased number of animals diagnosed with a serious heart problem called dilated cardiomyopathy. The pets being diagnosed had one thing in common: they were all dogs eating grain-free or other boutique or exotic diets (kangaroo, bison, etc.) containing peas, lentils, potatoes, or other legume seeds. 

Dilated cardiomyopathy is nothing new. We have historically diagnosed this potentially fatal heart issue, especially in predisposed breeds such as Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, and Great Danes. The FDA alert in 2018, however, noted reports in breeds that we have previously not  had a significant problem in, including Golden Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, and Labs.

Perhaps the scariest part of this whole debacle is that no one yet knows for sure what is causing this to happen. The best information that we have is that there is a strong correlation between the diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy and pets being fed BEG diets (those made by boutique companies, made with exotic ingredients, and grain-free).

Our Advice

So what is a pet owner to do? It is difficult to know how to proceed. No one wants to put their pets at risk of a serious heart condition, yet there are opinions on all sides. The resounding advice from veterinary nutritionists and the educated veterinary community is to steer clear of these BEG diets, though. 

So where do you even begin?

Stick with feeding trials — When commercial diets are produced, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) they can be approved as a formulated diet which means that the nutrient profile on paper appears adequate for the type and species they are intended for. Look for diets that have been approved via feeding trials, which means that live animals have been shown to do well on them.

Don’t look to taurine — In cats we have discovered that the amino acid taurine must be supplied through diet in order to maintain healthy heart function. This is why cats don’t do well on vegetarian diets. Some people wishing to continue to feed BEG diets are supplementing taurine. At this time, though, while it appears that some pets suffering from diet-induced taurine deficiencies, this is mostly not true. Taurine supplementation will not always prevent DCM in pets on suspect diets. 

Raw or homemade isn’t better — In the face of this apparent nutritional concern in the pet food industry, many pet parents are tempted to turn to raw or homemade diets for their pets. This is a risky move, however, as the problem has also been identified in pets fed these types of diets. Pets fed homemade diets are also at high risk for other nutritional deficiencies and imbalances as well.

Proceed with caution — If your dog currently eats a BEG diet but doesn’t have any sign of heart trouble, the choice is yours. Because we don’t know exactly where the problem lies, and because it doesn’t appear that every or even most dogs on these diets have a problem it is hard to offer advice on whether it is safe to continue or not. Because dilated cardiomyopathy is a potentially fatal disease and can be difficult to detect in the early stages, it is often best to reconsider your pet’s BEG diet. 

If you are overwhelmed by the choices, please give us a call. We are happy to help guide you. We also recommend using resources provided by board-certified veterinary nutritionists such as the website through Tufts University.

There is a lot of information out there when it comes to feeding your pets. We hope that you will turn to us when it comes to sorting through all of it. Our education, experience, and compassion should speak for themselves.