By Katy Cable- TWR
Poor King! The black Lab puppy was in agony! He lay on the floor of the pet store, moaning while incessantly licking and gnawing at his swollen, red paws. He shook his head as if to try and relieve the discomfort of his foul-smelling ears. His fur was brittle and crusty with numerous bald patches.
Equally distressed was King’s dad,
“I don’t know what else to do! The vet said to add grains to his diet but he seems to be getting worse every day!” he explained.
My interaction with King isn’t uncommon. In the past five years working with pet parents, I have seen the demand for "grain-free" pet foods make a meteoric rise only to drop like a lead balloon due to a DCM scare. When discussing pet foods with people, the first thing they typically request is either food with grains or without. So, what’s the difference? Is "grain-free" really better? And what about this DCM issue?
In July of 2019, an alert was issued by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) warning grain free diets may be linked to canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM.)
DCM is a disease of the dog's heart muscle that results in weakened contractions and poor pumping ability. It can lead to enlarged heart and congestive heart failure. Even death.
And then came the backlash! Suddenly every pet parent, usually on the insistence of their vet, wanted a grain-inclusive pet food. I was extremely concerned, and began investigating the report.
The report begins by naming the breeds of dogs most commonly affected by DCM as well as the brand and type of foods (kibble, wet, moist, raw, unknown) fed. The first thing that struck me was all the pet food brands listed were relatively popular, high-end, quality brands. I found it strange there wasn’t one mention of a low-rated, inexpensive, pet-food brand listed.
The FDA researchers observed that most of the DCM cases were associated with dogs eating DRY, GRAIN-FREE, foods. (That seems logical since far more dog owners feed dry-food and most options available today are marketed as “grain-free.”)
The report failed to list any information or statistics of how dogs were reacting when using other brands of pet foods. I highly doubt dogs eating the 2 top foods named (Acana & Zignature) were fairing more poorly than dogs on Beneful, or Kibbles-n-Bits. In fact, the Acana/Zignature feeder is likely more educated on pet food, willing to spend more money on their pet’s food and visits their vet more frequently for routine care. They may also be more prone to own the breeds of dogs more prevalent to get DCM. This report had more holes in it than Swiss cheese
The report goes on to say, “It’s important to note that the reports include dogs that have eaten grain-free and grain-containing foods and also include vegetarian or vegan formulations. They also include all forms of diets. Kibble, canned, raw and home-cooked.”
“Therefore, we do not think these cases can be explained simply by whether or not they contain grains or by brand or manufacturer.” (This was written and underlined in RED TYPE!)
My biggest takeaway of this scare was the following: “To put this issue into proper context, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that they are 77 million pet dogs in the United States.
As of April 30, 2019, the FDA has received reports about 560 dogs diagnosed with DCM suspected to be linked to diet. Tens of millions of dogs have been eating dog food without developing DCM.” (This was also written and underlined in RED TYPE)
So, there it is! The whole study was nothing more than BOGUS HYPE! Designed to put the fear of God into pet parents, sell certain dog foods and sell news. I wouldn’t be surprised if a big brand pet-food company, feeling the pinch of some of these competitors taking market share, was behind the whole scare.
Now you might be completely confused as to which option of pet food to choose. My advice remains the same as when I began blogging and discussing "grain-free" diets way back in 2015. -Before they were even A THING! When selecting a food for your pet, whether it’s wet, dry, “grain-free” or “grain-inclusive”, the FIRST THING I advise is, READ THE LABELS!
Grain-Free" doesn’t mean “Carb-Free!” Funny enough, many pet foods marketed as "grain-free" contain even higher amounts of carbs, or “sugars.” They may contain more corn, soy, rice and vegetable proteins than foods that contain grain. Therefore, a “grain-free” pet food can often be a LESS HEALTHY option.
Dogs and cats thrive on animal, fish and game protein. They do however, need a variety of trace minerals and vitamins found in veggies. Meat is expensive, and labor intensive, so, pet foods often keep prices low by adding corn, rice and potatoes as MAIN INGREDIENTS.
Although “grain-free”, ingredients such as: white potatoes, white rice, soybeans, and corn, quickly turn to glucose in the system and cause surges in blood sugar. That’s why many dogs eat and eat and eat without feeling satisfied. It’s no different than the CRASH that happens after consuming a bag of potato chips or a candy bar. Dogs typically pack on the pounds and all the health issues that go with it. Our pets are literally getting obese and starving to death at the same time.
The most important thing to consider when selecting ANY pet food, is choosing one that lists premium meat proteins as the first two or three ingredients. Read some pet food labels and you’ll notice several popular brands that substitute nearly all the animal protein with high-carb, starchy, plant-based protein. They charge a premium for nothing more than a “grain-free” bag of corn, brewers rice, wheat gluten and some poor-quality meat “by-product” meal. But the beautiful dog on the package and commercials reel consumers in every time.
If the first two or three ingredients are meats, THEN, look for low-glycemic carbs (grain-free or grain-inclusive) to round out the nutritional platform. Peas, oats, quinoa, lentils and sweet potatoes, don’t convert to sugar as quickly, but they're still NOT A SUBSTITUTE for animal protein.
I think you may be surprised at what you find. Many popular, expensive foods are quite high in sugars and others can be terrific options.
Last week while making a visit to one of my regular pet stores, I had a real thrill. I was nearly knocked over when, out of nowhere, a beautiful, energetic, black Lab puppy came racing over to me. While he was whimpering and smothering me with doggie kisses, when his owner appeared. Then I made the connection. The dog was KING! He had made an amazing transformation and was thriving on his new food. Next to winning the SuperLotto, nothing could’ve made me happier!
One thing is certain, regardless of whether you prefer your pet’s food with grains or without, there are many excellent choices and many horrible ones. What you put in your dog’s bowl is either keeping them healthy or making them sick. I can help you make the best choices. My website offers lots of valuable information to help you. You’ll find over 100 blogs and videos on a variety of popular topics. Plus I’m happy to answer and questions or provide some recommendations. Bone Appetit!
🐾Katy Cable is a former actress appearing in “Back To The Future” and starring in the TV series: “Safe At Home” & “ Fired Up!” In addition to her dog health & lifestyle blog/vlog: The Weekly Runt, (https://www.weeklyrunt.com/) she’s a contributing writer to numerous publications including Thrive Global, & The Huffington Post. Cable lives at the beach with her husband, Rick and her rescue Pug, Olive.🐾
*For those of you who wish to read the report in it’s entirety, here’s the link: DOG FOOD ADVISORY REPORT