Grain-free diets are a fad; a very dangerous fad.

Grain- free diets are a fad; a very dangerous fad.

Can owners PLEASE STOP feeding these heart-disease and blindness-inducing foods to their dogs and cats!!

One percent of healthy pets have a food allergy.

Yes, that percentage soars if the pet has skin disease issues: but most times those skin allergies are caused by protein from animal sources and only a tiny % would be actually allergic to grains.

What you can have is an overload of carbohydrate in a diet, to which the animal becomes intolerant. If the level of carbohydrate is lowered, not removed, then over several weeks that pet will return to normal re diarrhoea signs etc.

What has happened is owners just reflexing putting their perfectly healthy pets onto ‘grain-free’ diets in the belief that that is the best food for their pet often using the ‘Wolf=Dog’ analogy.

A very interesting review in the JSAP 06/2019 has some very current and insightful comments on raw foods but also on the ‘Dog =Wolf” analogy. This document references an extensive list of top peer-reviewed reference papers to discuss some worrying new emerging health risk developments with feeding raw but also addresses the widespread fallacy about the Wolf/Dog analogy.

The wolf model for food feeding re limited capacity to digest carbohydrate is often touted as a reason not to feed cooked foods or carbs. The domestic dog is genetically altered from its ancestors with increased starch digesting capacity owing to different patterns of gene expression. The different balances between domestic and wild esp energy and other nutrient needs plus longevity limits the ability to use the wolf as a model for the modern dog.

We as humans don’t eat what our ancestors did so why constrict dogs to a primitive diet? I am often told that dogs and cats never learnt to cook their own food as an argument for raw feeding. True but as the ad says, they ‘found a man who could’ and sat by that man and his camp fires and evolved alongside him into the non-wolf pet companion we love and know and feed today.

The scientific review  highlights that one cannot use emotive rationales and reliance on anecdotal selective data and interpretation to make scientific decisions.  Yet, I am told time and time again that, because Owner X has bred pets for years and some lived to 20 etc and they fed diet Y, I am therefore wrong in my advice.

As an owner, I have my own pets who lived long disease free lives  fed my choice of pet diet so why is my ‘Owner’ experience suddenly not valid if Owner X’s is?

I can also trace my human family tree back to the 7th Century and could use said knowledge as an argument for the value of my opinion on how my doctor should treat my child or  what we eat.  Yet, as a parent, I don’t do that. Furparents and breeders need to be wary of how much weight they give to what is, in the scheme of things, their very small experience base

As a Vet, I don’t have the luxury of using such easy arguments. I have to advise what works safest and best for the greatest number of my patients. I have to have my advice work across tens of thousands of animals, not just one family of dogs. It isn’t just important to get it right. It is equally important to know how it can go wrong and then work out the risk benefit analysis for each and every pet and owner in front of me. No one diet works for all, we have to have an ability to move within a range of options, but not bring additional dangers into the mix.

As Vets, we have been unable to convince owners who make this decision to feed grain-free/boutique food, that this is not in the best interests of the pet. The owner brings their healthy dog into us, the dog appears ‘healthy’  and the owner is positively zealous about their decision. Nothing we vets could say would change their mind so we have backed off.

Now we have specific proof that feeding grain-free carries a high risk of induced cardiomyopathy in a dog even in those breeds not normally at risk of this condition. Cardiomyopathy can occur genetically in certain breeds of dogs; what has distinguished the food-induced cardiomyopathy from genetic cardiomyopathy is that the food- induced heart dogs get to recover over time if the diet is corrected.  Over 200 dog cases in the USA have been logged with the FDA; affected dogs consistently ate foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds or potatoes as main ingredients over a time span ranging from months to years.

One of big alerts is where a brand highlight the ‘Natural’ aspect of their diet. Another red flag is where kangaroo and lentil are heavily featured as main ingredients as there was a correlation with this diet in USA dogs found  with the cardiac issue.

To my horror, I also discovered these grain-free ingredients here in a dog-roll format: Did we learn nothing about the damage feeding some of these roll formulations did to the Brains of dogs from to the additives in the rolls destroying the pet’s Vitamin B?  Now we have these rolls as grain-free…Madness in my opinion.

Thirty years ago, we saw cats and dogs with specific types of heart disease (and blindness in cats) that were caused by poor quality pet feeding both home and commercial based. Properly balanced foods like Hills and RC became available and those diseases disappeared. I personally went from working in a clinic-pre the days of good balanced puppy food – having a case load of 10 major orthopaedic corrective surgeries a day to down to ONE orthopaedic surgery a year, when Hills puppy food became available. I smile when people abuse me with ‘Ah Vets get kick-back from Hills”. The measly amount I might make on a bag of food is incomparable to the profit available on an orthopaedic surgery costing. To go from 10 surgeries a day to 1 a year and all because I am passionate about PREVENTION of disease is all the ‘kick-back’ I need. To now find pets back suffering the diseases almost wiped out last century again, is heart-breaking for the pet, the owner and their vet.

So, next time someone promotes a ‘grain-free’ ‘natural’ or ’boutique’ dog food, best remain sceptical.

If you have put your healthy dog onto one of these diets: contact your vet and over the next 5-7 days, wean them off it and put them on a fully tested (and by that, I mean have undergone AAFCO feeding and rated safe) food. Do not take any verbal or written guarantees-ask for the AAFCO* result from boutique food producers on grain free. All Hills and RC diets Grain + diets are AAFCO* rated so it is  safe to select within that range for starters  to get a balanced diet into your pet ASAP. Some months down the track on good food, you can modify your pet’s diet a little:for now just get feeding the proper foods.

This health risk may not be as simple an issue as the incorrect level of an ingredient in the diet; but there may be an interaction between the ingredients in the food matrix that allows the toxin to be produced. If that is the case, then for this heart disease risk, even an AAFCO rated Grain-Free will not provide reassurance. The safest option is to not feed any Grain-free in Any brand, regardless of their rating.

For more information on the issue:the Tufts Uni link to the issue is a good start and from there you can access the USA FDA reports and concerns on the issue :

  1. Raw diets for dogs and cats: a review, with particular reference to microbiological hazards 04/2019 JSAP
  2. Amy2B copy number variation reveals starch diet adaptations in ancient European dogs. Morgane Ollivier et al Published:01 November 2016  The results also suggested that selection for the increased Amy2B copy number started 7000 years cal. BP, at the latest. This expansion reflects a local adaptation that allowed dogs to thrive on a starch rich diet, especially within early farming societies, and suggests a biocultural coevolution of dog genes and human culture.
  1. Diet adaptation in dog reflects spread of prehistoric agriculture. M Arendt et al Heredity volume 117, pages301–306 (2016).