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Pet Food Choices

Sep 01, 2018 10:29AM ● By Louisa Asseo

Dr. Louisa Asseo, owner of Oasis Veterinary Hospital, 6635 Alhambra Ave, Suite 100, 925.954.8087

One of the most common questions veterinary hospitals get is “What food should I feed my pet?” Given the wide variety of species we see at Oasis Veterinary Hospital, you can imagine the answers get pretty interesting. When it comes to our cat and dog companions, it often gets confusing. Who should you believe? The media? The pet store clerk? The veterinarian office?

One of the latest trends in dog and cat foods is the notion that grains are bad for your pet, and therefore, only grain-free diets should be fed. This trend gained in popularity in 2007 after the massive pet food recall due to melamine contamination in ingredients sourced from China. While I am in complete support of making sure our foods are safe, I have always been wary of the radical shift to eliminate all grains. Grains provide fiber for a healthy digestive system and crucial vitamins and minerals that can be scarce in other food items. Grains such as rice, corn, oat, rye, and barley are commonly used in pet foods, and unless your dog has a specific adverse reaction to these ingredients, there is truly no benefit to grain-free foods. 

While this trend has continued, most long-standing pet food companies have developed their own grain-free alternatives to appeal to their consumers, but is this the right way to go? The majority of veterinary professionals agree that grains are not harmful to your pet, and in fact, they add valuable nutrients to the diet. To replace these grains, pet food companies must add other carbohydrate sources from chickpeas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, and peas.

It is now known that many grain-free diets are linked to congestive heart failure in dogs, and there is an ongoing investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with regard to this connection. While we do not know exactly why this is, veterinary nutritionists are surmising that these diets may be deficient in key amino acids such as taurine and carnitine. Tuft’s University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine has documented low blood levels of taurine in dogs fed grain-free diets that were diagnosed with congestive heart failure secondary to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Fortunately, DCM caused by a nutritional deficiency has a chance of improving or even correcting itself with proper diet and medications, so there is hope for some of these dogs. Unfortunately, dogs that have a congenital form of DCM that is genetically linked are not so lucky. 

We all want the best for our furry and scaly companions, and nutrition is key in helping them thrive. Before deciding to go grain-free (or any other diet, for that matter), do your research about the benefits and possible effects. Most importantly, talk to your veterinarian about any proposed changes to your companion’s diet. There is a lot of information out there, both good and bad (thank you Google!), and your veterinarian can help you sort through it all to determine the best option for keeping your furry or scaly companion happy and healthy.