A recent article in the New York Times about the potential hazards of grain-free dog food has pet owners on high alert. In her story dated July 24, 2018, Jan Hoffman reported that the FDA was investigating a correlation between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (D.C.M.) typically seen primarily in large breeds with a genetic predisposition to the rare condition. The culprit appears to be low levels of taurine, but I’d be careful to jump to conclusions about the cause. Although it’s a relief to find mainstream news that will help pet owners make more discerning choices when it comes to their dog and cat food, the article doesn’t get to the heart of the real issue at hand. I believe it’s not about the correlation between taurine and grain-free food. It’s about nutrition.
Why should we avoid feeding our dogs grains in the first place?
It’s pretty simple, actually. Grains such as corn, barley, wheat, peanuts, cottonseed, sorghum, millet, and rice are often used in pet foods. Healthy as they may seem, grains are also high in starchy carbohydrates, of which Fido has no use. Since starches turn to sugar when digested, dogs are not adapted to absorb any nutritional value from them. According to Dr. Karen Becker, a well-regarded holistic vet, “Dogs have short digestive tracts and are adapted to metabolize animal flesh and fat, not grains and simple sugars, including starch.”
But wait, there’s more. Because grains are dried and stored for long periods prior to use, they are also high in mycotoxins. These are toxins produced by fungi, capable of causing disease and even death in humans and animals that consume them. As heat is conducted in the storage of grains, fungi spores grow and release mycotoxins which can contaminate the grain supply. Dr. Jeffrey Judkins, a holistic vet in Jacksonville, OR recommends that dogs consume no peas and very little grains on occasion including organic oats, quinoa, and rice.
Basic nutrition for dogs and cats of all breeds indicates they need a meat-centric diet free from biologically appropriate filler ingredients. Admittedly, this is not easy to find when shopping for dry pet food. Kibble requires some kind of starch for consistency, so the key is to find a trusted source, know what ingredients to avoid, and become comfortable reading pet food labels.
Unfortunately, as in traditional western medicine for humans, veterinarians in the US receive very little nutrition education while fulfilling their degrees. Be sure to ask your vet for their thoughts. It might help you learn more about what’s best for your pet. If you’re interested in going further, you can find out more about proper nutrition for dogs and cats under the Info & Resources tab.