When it comes to keeping dogs healthy, diet plays an important part. Providing the best foods for your dog is one of the best things you can do for it. Diet is easy to control, and the control is up to you as a pet parent. As a dog owner of a certain breed, you should know that diet differs from one dog to the next. Every breed requires different types and different amounts of food. This is something that your veterinarian can help you figure out if you’re just unsure of which dog food to pick out of the many choices that sit on store shelves.
Why pay attention
If you feed your dog too much, it’s likely to become obese. If you feed your dog too little, it will grow weak and malnourished. If you feed your dog foods you’re not supposed to, you’ll likely cause a problem just as well. Even your best intentions could have a potential for disaster, as what a lot of pet parents are finding out today. Reading dog food labels and following the latest health trend is no longer enough. It’s exactly because of health trends that dog owners have to be even more careful today. There’s a possibility that the grain-free diet trend for dogs might pose a threat for dogs of all breeds. The FDA issued an alert in July 2019 warning pet owners of the danger of grain-free dog foods.
What is grain-free?
Grains are common ingredients in dog foods. There are a lot of different types of grains that are used in dog foods, and some of the most common ones include wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, rye, and soy. Grain-free dog foods will not contain any type of grains at all, but they are commonly substituted by other carbohydrate sources such as quinoa, lentils, peas, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. It’s important to remember that grain-free dog food doesn’t equate to carb-free. This is the same when it comes to gluten. Pet parents have to remember that grain-free dog food doesn’t mean it’s also gluten-free. Gluten-free dog foods may not contain grains with gluten such as wheat, barley, and rye, but there’s a high likelihood that they will still have other grains in the ingredients.
Grain-free vs. grains
We all know that a balanced diet for humans contain some type of whole grains. For dogs, a well-balanced diet should contain animal protein, vegetables, fat, and whole grains as well. Whole grains are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium, selenium, carbs for energy, and fiber for digestion. There’s a misconception that grain-free diets provide more protein instead. Most dog food brands, however, add more of other carbohydrates sources instead. You also have to understand that not all dog foods utilize high quality ingredients. This is something you’ll have to pay attention to as a dog parent. If you can find dog food that replaces whole grains with better ingredients, you might be safe.
So why do grain-free if it doesn’t give your dog that much of a benefit? Some veterinarians might suggest a grain-free diet for your dog if your dog shows signs of grain-related allergies. If a dog has general food allergies, the vet might still suggest a grain-free diet to see if symptoms improve somehow. Other than that, many pet parents are often misled to think that a grain-free diet is somehow beneficial to dogs. As a matter of fact, taking whole grains completely out of your dog’s food might even become deadly—as the story of one family and their dog, Willow, has taught us this past week.
Willow was a lovable and adorable 5-year old poodle when she passed away from a heart condition known as DCM, dilated cardiomyopathy. DCM is a heart disease characterized by a thinning heart muscle, which almost always lead to heart failure and death. According to Willow’s owners, the Hickens, the dog’s sickness started off as a simple cough—something similar to kennel cough, which is actually what the vet originally diagnosed. After treatment, Willow’s cough still persisted. It alerted her veterinarian enough that an echocardiogram was soon ordered to figure out what else could be going on. As it turned out, Willow’s heart was literally broken, and at the time, it was already too late to fix it.
Willow’s human family was devastated of course, but the events prompted them to ask more questions about the disease that killed their beloved pet. It was something they had never encountered before, and they also verified that Willow’s breed had no genetic heart conditions; she couldn’t have inherited DCM. What the Hickens found out was that DCM was not an unusual occurrence. It seems that many dogs that are not predisposed to heart conditions have been getting cardiovascular diseases through one common denominator: a grain-free diet.
The science and FDA
Unfortunately, the science is still incomplete regarding this matter. Although the FDA had already issued a warning about grain-free dog foods, they are yet unable to issue an outright ban because the science is still incomplete. At this point, there are so many other variables and factors involved in dog food processing that a definitive answer might take a little while. We already know that grain-free foods contain no grains but more carbohydrates. There’s a possibility that the excess carbs might be causing dogs to get sick. There are also many external variables that can affect dog foods such as various other ingredients, formulation of the food, processing, et cetera. Every single variable has to be studied and ruled out in the case of DCM before the absence of grains can be officially pointed out as the problem. At this point, even scientists are saying that very statement.