Is Grain Bad for Dogs or is Grain-Free Dog Food Bad?




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Is Grain-Free Dog Food Linked to Heart Disease?

If you are a concerned pet parent, you may be asking yourself, your dog’s veterinarian, or even your friends, “is grain-free dog food harmful?” I want to say first, I am not your dog’s veterinarian, nor do I play one on Google. However, sometimes a well-meaning veterinarian may get caught up in the headlines that a grain-free dog or cat food is bad. I feel I have an obligation to my readership to offer my two cents on the subject and to encourage you to continue your own research on the grain-free or grain-full pet food debate.

What is DCM (Dilated Cardiomyopathy)?

Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is when the heart muscle weakens, which leads to a decreased ability for the heart to pump properly and, if untreated, can lead to cardiac failure. So, this is not something to take lightly. This heart disease is common in cats and seen in breeds of dogs such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dachshunds, Great Danes, Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards, Doberman Pinschers, and Toy Poodles.

Is Grain-Free Good or Bad for Cats and Dogs?

A grain-free pet food is actually a very healthy choice for both dogs and cats. But, here’s where the problem lies when speaking about a processed pet food that is grain-free. When a pet parent is looking to buy the best-grain-free dog or cat food, they are likely looking at bags of dry kibble that instead of grains is filled with peas, lentils, legume seeds and/or potatoes as main ingredients. Even if you are looking at the bag of dog food and see meat as the first few ingredients, it may be followed up with one or more carbohydrates and starchy foods listed above. This is where the problems come into play.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients.

Starchy carbohydrates such as peas, lentils, legumes, and potatoes should never make up a large portion of pet food, and neither should grains for that matter. Dr. Karen Becker says it best. “The problem with grain-free formulas isn’t the lack of grains. At a minimum, it’s the high level of starchy carbohydrates coupled with the extreme high-heat processing methods used to produce these diets.

The Best Grain-Free Dog and Cat Food

When I think about the best dog food for Dexter, or when my cat Nutter was with me, it is about providing them fresh, whole foods high in meats with a small portion of fruits and vegetables. Looking at Dexter’s current raw dog food diet, I typically make his food at home and use approximately >85% fresh meat/bone/organ with <15% organic fruits and vegetables.

I’m not one to tell you never to use grains, potatoes, or legumes, I just would advise you to keep those numbers down. I’m also a firm believer in rotating everything. This includes the meats I use, where they are sourced from, and even Dexter’s healthy-dog supplements and vitamins. I feel by providing Dexter with a wide variety of foods and using different suppliers I am limiting the risk of not receiving the nutrients he needs and also preventing an overload of a product or brand that may end up with a sourcing issue. Even the best brands can have a mistake or issues with sourcing.

If you are concerned about feeding your dog or cat a grain-free food, I highly recommend speaking with a veterinarian who is truly knowledgeable about pet nutrition. If you are in your veterinarian’s office and they are selling bags of prescription diet pet food, I would look elsewhere for advice on your pet’s nutrition. You can find a certified veterinary food therapist (CVFT) on this website. Remember, your pets are counting on you to feed them a healthy pet food.


Do you feed your pet a fresh food diet? Tell me in the comments.

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