Nearly an entire year ago, I was asked to write an article about my thoughts on the FDA's claims that grain-free diets could be linked to heart disease in dogs. Now I find myself in some strange twilight zone where I have to do this all over again; thankfully animal nutrition isn't just my career, but an absolute life-long, unwavering passion as well.
I'm writing this for the Freaked Out Pet Owners of America Club (is that an association yet?), for the dog moms and dads who saw a list posted online and are now panicked, or the hundreds of dog owners in my inbox who want to make sure they're doing the right thing for their furry best friends. I've heard your concerns and I am here for you.
Let me start by saying that I am not affiliated with any brand of dog food and I have nothing monetarily to gain from this. This blog is 100% scientific (and experience) driven thoughts from my 10 years of being fully immersed in this field. In any of this information with the FDA, they are talking about extruded dry dog food only. Canned foods, raw diets, and baked dry dog foods (regardless of being grain free) are not affected.
Last year the FDA announced that they were conducting an investigation dealing with the increase in cases of DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy) in dogs and it's potential link to grain free diets. The take away from then was essentially that they didn't know if they were related at all and that they thought it could have something to do with poor taurine (an essential amino acid for heart health) absorption in foods using ingredients like peas, lentils, and potatoes. We were assured that they were doing everything in their power to get to the bottom of it and I personally expected that a year from now they would at least know more than they did then. Unfortunately that is not the case. In fact we now know less as the original theory of grain free diets causing poor taurine absorption has now been debunked.
A stall in research is fine, I get it. What I do not understand is how or why the FDA would release a list of names of dog foods when we are no closer to knowing if there is even a true link between any of this. It doesn't seem fair to drag names through the mud and scare pet owners when you can't provide ANY evidence. It doesn't even seem like it would be legal to do that. Also, when you calculate how many reported cases per listed brand to the amount of dogs who are fed the food, we are looking at just about .001% of dogs per brand. So why did they choose to list it by number of cases and not percentages? I'm also concerned that the major dog food companies that are commonly recommended by veterinarians (who all have grain free varieties that are absolutely loaded with legumes and potatoes) aren't listed at all, not even once. Something just seems strange about it compared to how the FDA normally presents things.
Now it's important to note that I completely sympathize with pet owners who have had dogs affected with DCM and any client of mine will tell you that I will be your first line of support and shoulder to cry on when it comes to your pets. DCM is largely a hereditary disease seen in many popular breeds such as golden retrievers, labs, great danes, dobermans, etc. It has been a growing problem since before grain free diets were even developed. The issue that I believe sparked concern is that we started seeing other breeds developing DCM that we weren't so used to seeing; Shih-tzus and pugs to name a couple. A problem I have with the study is that they don't require information about the lineage of the dog. These are all very popular breeds of dogs that have MANY health issues and are downright over bred these days. The amount of backyard, unethical, for profit breeding of every single breed on the DCM list would blow your mind.
So isn't there a chance that a lot of these dogs drew the gene-pool short straw but had a well meaning owner who wanted to feed a food without glyphosphate laced corn and antibiotic loaded meats? Maybe they looked up the plethora of recalls on popular brands of dog food and made an educated decision to go with a company who has never had a recall in it's entire history. Or isn't there a chance that because no animal on earth was meant to eat highly processed foods for every single meal, every single day of their lives, that we are seeing the side effects of that? Grain free diets only came about because pets were not doing well on grain based diets (you know, carnivores eating plants type deal). I wish I could be in the labs during all of the research and testing but for now I'll just hold on to the hope that maybe next year or the year after we'll have some more useful info. Unfortunately it looks like we'll have to wait for now.
I think it's important to state that I do think some grain free diets got a bit out of hand and I do not support the use of high amounts of legumes and potatoes just the same way as I do not support the use of corn, wheat, soy, rice, etc in high amounts either. We're feeding meat eaters here; when the ratio of meat to everything else is flipped on it's head, how can we reasonably expect a positive outcome for long periods of time?
For my Freaked Out Pet Owners of America Club members, email me. I am here for you. I can help you get your dog on the current safest possible diet for their individual body. I will do a blog post every time I have access to more information regarding this subject.