What is all the Buzz about Grain-Free Pet food?

Lately, there have been articles all over the internet discussing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation into a possible connection between grain-free diets and young dogs with DCM or Dilated Cardiomyopathy. For the next several weeks, I want to talk about some of our basic pet nutritional needs, what pitfalls to avoid, and how choose quality foods for your pets.

First things first, cats and dogs are two very different animals with very different needs. Cats fall into the category of obligate carnivores and require animal-based protein to get the nutrients they need to live a healthy life. Recommendations for cats include high protein diets, with moderate levels of fat and low carbohydrate levels. Dogs on the other hand, are in the middle of debate about whether they are more carnivore or omnivore meaning they require more meat than anything or if they do best with a variety of vegetables, fruits, meats and carbohydrates. No matter the category, dogs do better with a carefully balanced combination of proteins, fats and carbohydrates (including grains).

Grain-free diets are very popular and very well-marketed but are not rooted well enough in nutritional science for me to recommend regularly. Grains are an excellent nutrient source for our pets and when balanced in a quality pet diet are very beneficial. The FDA is now investigating multiple reports of a connection between grain-free diets being deficient in Taurine (an essential nutrient for our pets) and DCM, a disease where the heart loses functionality and fails. Stay tuned for next week for common fads in pet food and any updates from the FDA!

Pet Food Fads

Unfortunately, there are no current updates on the FDA’s investigation into grain-free pet food diets and a potential connection to pets developing dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM); a progressive form of heart failure. As promised, though, we will discuss some of the other pet-food fads (outside of grain-free diets) you need to be aware of and the risks associated with them.

  1. Raw Diets. Raw diets have gained popularity from the belief that our dogs and cats are like wolves and lions respectively. Our domestic dogs and cats have long diverged from their wild ancestors and have evolved very different digestive systems. Raw diets not only lack key nutrients for our pets, but they carry potentially deadly disease for your pets and the people in their lives. Raw meat, dairy and other products can carry numerous bacteria such as dangerous strains of E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, Listeria and Botulism causing organisms. These diseases affect your pets and can subsequently be transferred to you or your family members.
  2. Homemade diets. Homemade diets have become popular due to rising fears and confusion about commercial pet foods and the belief that cooked human food is better and safer than commercial products. Although many human foods are safe for pets (not all), getting the complex nutrient balance needed for each specific pet’s health is very difficult. A large number of pets fed homemade diets will be deficient in key nutrients, and many of those deficiencies can lead to severe illness or even death. Unless you are a full-time, veterinary trained nutritionist, we recommend you use a high quality, AFFCO approved for all life stages (look for the label on the back) commercial pet food.

Stay tuned next week for tips and tricks on picking treats and foods for your pets!

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