It has become very ‘in vogue’ to feed our companion cats and dogs a ‘grain-free diet’.
As consumers, we believe that the word ‘free’ means that it must be a healthier version of the original food. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In many instances when a food company uses the word free to promote food, it may be free from one ingredient but is normally replaced with another substitute ingredient. Often these substitutions are providing fewer nutrients than the original ingredient.
A few common ingredients used as a replacement for grains in ‘grain-free’ pet foods are; highly refined starches such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, peas, and lentils. These ingredients provide fewer nutrients than the whole grains they are replacing.
The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) investigated a potential link between certain diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (also known as DCM). DCM is a disease of the heart muscle that results in weakened contractions and poor pumping ability. The FDA states “More than 90 percent of products were ‘grain-free’, and 93 percent of reported products had peas and/or lentils. A far smaller proportion contained potatoes”
Certain dog breeds are predisposed to DCM, however, the increase in ‘grain-free’ diets and DCM in breeds that genetically don’t normally present with DCM is food for thought.
“The FDA is continuing to investigate and gather more information in an effort to identify whether there is a specific dietary link to the development of DCM and will provide updates to the public as information develops”
Are our dogs and cats allergic to grains in pet food?
Another reason pet owners are also reaching for grain-free pet food is that they believe that their pet's allergies are caused by grains in pet food. Numerous allergic reactions seen in our companion animals originate from their environment. True food allergies are much less common than those caused by the animal's environment such as pollens, grass, trees, mould, and fleas to name just a few. “Food allergies in pets are uncommon (ie, <1% of skin disease, <10% of all allergies) and grain allergies are even more uncommon” Grain-Free Pet Foods: Fact vs Fiction, Kara M Burns, MS, Med, LVT, VTS (Nutrition), Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians, March 2017
Four board-certified vet nutritionists were interviewed by Veterinary Practice News about allergies and the role grains play in them. The veterinary nutritionists told the magazine that corn, wheat, and soy are rarely the cause of food allergies. Cailin Heinze, MS, VMD and a diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition had this to say “I honestly don’t know where that got started. It’s not based on any data, and there are excellent foods that contain one or more of those items”
“Animals require specific nutrients such as amino acids from protein and glucose from carbohydrate, not specific ingredients” Dr Delisa Appelton BVSc (Hons) PhD. Professional Consulting Veterinarian, Hills Pet Nutrition
To ensure you are choosing the right diet for your pets lifestyle and life stage or medical condition, please speak to your veterinarian or veterinary nurse to discuss if your pets current diet is meeting his or her nutritional needs.
If you are concerned that your pet has allergies of any sort, please always consult your veterinarian for further information.