With the rise in so many new dog food brands available on the market, I felt it was important to raise awareness of a new style of dog food that might actually be causing more harm than good.
This is not a discussion about raw versus commercial, this is a discussion about the Grain Free move!
In the past 5 years, there has been a surge in grain free diets for dogs and interestingly, there is no evidence to suggest it is actually any better for dogs. In fact there is more evidence to support it is harmful for dogs! It really surprises me that when I walk down the pet food aisle in the supermarket, every brand now has a Grain Free version on the shelf. And even in your top end pet stores, high quality brands have followed this trend and buckled under the pressure to keep up with these trends without researching what they are selling!
Consumers also often follow trends and because more and more humans are leaning towards gluten free and grain free diets to improve their health, they are also led to believe this is the case for their dog!
So why have grain free dogs foods made it on the shelves?
The surge in grain free dog brands seems to have been spurred by the move to go grain free in human diets. Yes many people have intolerance and even allergies to grains but this does not necessarily transfer to the dog world. And there are tests to determine if one has a true allergy or intolerance to particular grains.
When dogs develop intolerances and allergies, they present with diarrhoea, chronic tummy issues, sloppy poops, vomiting or frequent regurgitating, acid reflux, ear infections, skin issues, they sometimes struggle to gain weight and they sometimes can have a combination of all of the above!
What many do not realise, it is often the protein the dog reacts to, not the grain and if a food trial was to begin to determine the cause of the symptoms, the vet would often suggest a single protein diet for 6 weeks to see if the allergy symptoms reduced and improved. This means you would feed your dog strictly only a chicken based diet for example for 6 weeks and if symptoms did not improve, then you might trial strictly beef for 6 weeks and so on. Again this does not mean the dog only eats chicken or beef as this is not balanced. It would still have good quality grains and carbohydrates but in a more refined way. If the veterinarian, specialising in gastrointestinal disease, found that proteins were not the cause of the disease, only then would they consider a trial on a grain free diet which again would be a short term program.
Rarely is food allergy a true grain intolerance and yes there may be the exception to this as there is no doubt some dogs are sensitive to grains, but for the vast majority, grains are crucial! The dog most likely actually has an intolerance to a specific protein.
Dogs require some grain in their diets on a regular basis and if we think back to what dogs eat when they are in the wild, before they eat the meat off the animal, they head straight for the abdomen and eat the intestines, offal and stomach contents. The reason for this is that the gut holds vital predigested grains and nutrients; dogs don’t rely just on muscle meat and fat.
Many of the commercial raw based diets recommend that grain be added in to complete the balance. Foods such as Vet’s All Natural, a raw based diet created by veterinarian Dr Bruce Syme, state clearly that there must be a balance between the lean protein and the grain mix that the company produces. The grain is soaked to awaken the probiotics and nutrients and then this is combined with the protein. It advises against only using protein as the bulk of the diet.
If we then look at quality dried foods such as those sold in your vet clinics, the first couple ingredients are always protein (meat products and byproducts, sometimes single, sometimes mixed) followed by grains and carbohydrates. Good quality dog foods use brown rice, white rice, oats, corn, barley and more, with the first three being the more preferred as the grain.
What is the hidden danger of grain free diets?
Researchers around the world have discovered that there is a strong link between grain free diets and heart disease in dogs and the FDA, Food and Drug Administration in the US are currently investigating the links in many of the current food brands.
Whilst the cause of the heart disease has yet to be understood, what was clear was that diets using peas, legumes and lentils as the carbohydrate component were the common denominator. Scientists believe that there might be a deficiency in the grain free diet that affects the developing heart when the dog is young.
Larger breeds seem to be affected more than smaller breeds however this is likely to change as more research is carried out.
The actual heart disease possibly linked to grain free diets is called Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy which is where the heart muscle struggles to function properly and does not adequately circulate the blood throughout the vascular system. Eventually the dog goes into heart failure and the life span is shortened.
So what is the recommended diet for dogs?
If your dog does suffer from chronic stomach issues or seems to have ‘flare ups’ very often, speak with your GP Veterinarian about it so that your dog is supported and monitored if a food trial was to be recommended. There are also specialists now that focus just on the gastrointestinal part of the dog and they can run tests that determine the cause of the gut issue. Consider a referral to a gastrointestinal specialist who can and will often get to the bottom of it without compromising your dog’s health.
Remember also that vital hormones such as serotonin, are predominantly found in the gut and if the gut is not doing great, then this can have a huge impact on the brain! We often find that dogs with sensitive stomachs often have behavioural issues; everything is connected!
So the next time you go down to your local pet store or supermarket, take a longer look at what you are grabbing from the shelf. If your dog has no issues at all with its digestive system, please ensure you purchase dog food WITH grains in it. Let shop owners know that they should be putting signage in the dog food section to warn other owners of the repercussions of feeding a dog long term on a grain free diet. If your dog does suffer from digestive issues, speak to your GP vet and consider seeing a specialist about it.
If you have just realised you already do have a big bag of grain free dog food, don’t toss it out, no need. BUT, start mixing some boiled brown rice, barley or oats into the food until that bag is finished and then move towards a grain included diet.
Hopefully this blog will raise some awareness of how grain free diets can be harmful and I can prevent dogs from developing unnecessary heart disease!