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What is all the hype about grain free foods?

Let’s talk nutrition here for a few minutes. I know it’s not a very exciting topic, but it is certainly an important one! In recent years there has been a huge trend in the dog food market for ‘grain free’ foods….going to the pet store is so OVERWHELMING, and just walking down those aisles you are hit with fancy grain-free foods over and over again…but is it really better? Why are grains bad?

The marketing wizards in the pet food industry definitely got people – they twisted it so that people feel that grain free food = better quality food, but this is just not the case! Sure some of those foods are good quality, but not all…and now, there is a much bigger concern – that these foods could actually be linked to CAUSING a form of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy. We don’t completely understand how this is working yet, but there is definitely a link to taurine, that is usually provided to dogs in…you guessed it…grains. Some of the dogs affected have a taurine deficiency, but not all cases resolve when we treat with taurine so there is more to the story that we don’t have figured out yet. In more recent research, there is also a suggestion that it could have something to do with the amount of legumes in a lot of the foods since they are a common replacement for grains – we are starting to suspect that there could be some sort of legume toxicity or combination of the legumes and the lack of grains that could be playing a role together.

I’m just going to start with this - there is no evidence to support feeding grain-free. Period. Dogs are omnivores like people – they are SUPPOSED to eat grains just like you and I are supposed to eat grains. Grains are an important part of a well-balanced diet for dogs. They got a bad rap being blamed for causing allergies, but most pet allergies are related to environment (pollens, etc) or protein sources (chicken, beef, lamb, etc). Grain allergies account for a tiny fraction of all food allergies in dogs – so yes, there is a tiny subset of the population that does require grain free foods, but it is tiny. For the vast majority of dogs, grains are not bad and are actually something that they need! It is more important to focus on a novel protein diet when dealing with allergies, but that is another whole blog, for another day, lol.

With this recent grain-free trend however, many dogs are becoming very ill or even dying from heart disease from eating these so-called "BEG" diets (boutique, exotic, grain-free). The most terrible thing about this is that nutritionally mediated dilated cardiomyopathy is 100% preventable. There have been zero reported cases of NMDCM in dogs eating foods that meet WSAVA guidelines, currently made by brands like Purina, Hill's, Iams/Eukanuba, or Royal Canin. I’m not saying that you need to feed one of those specific brands, and they each have their pros and cons….but if you are feeding a grain-free diet – do you NEED to be??? If that answer is no, please please get your dog on a grained diet! As the information regarding the grain free concerns has become more wide-spread, food companies have started getting more options out there with grains, so there are lots of options! Remember to check the label for grains, but also check out the top five ingredients – we should see real things as the top ingredients, not fillers! Call your vet, discuss changing with them – do your research, and let’s stop this trend of losing dogs to a totally preventable disease. Remember – grains are not the enemy!

Want more info? Check out a few articles here:

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