Recently, the FDA launched an investigation into cases of canine heart disease potentially linked to diet. And grain-free diets are at the center of the controversy.
What Exactly is the FDA Concerned About?
The FDA is investigating the potential link between canine heart disease, also known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), and certain grain-free pet foods. Their main concern is that DCM is occurring in breeds of dog not genetically predisposed to the condition.
DCM is a disease of the heart muscle that causes the heart to pump blood ineffectively. Although not uncommon in dogs, it typically occurs in large and giant breeds, including Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, Saint Bernards, and Irish Wolfhounds.
The following is a direct quote from the FDA's statement about their investigation into atypical cases of DCM in dogs:
"...the impacted dogs consistently ate foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds or potatoes as main ingredients in their primary source of nutrition for time periods ranging from months to years."
So, are all grain-free dog foods bad? Not at all! Grain-free is the best choice for your dog if it's the right grain-free food.
In the next section of the post we'll show you how to tell the difference between a high-quality grain-free dog food and the type of low-quality food the FDA is warning against.
Not All Grain-Free Dog Foods Are Created Equal
Grain-free dog foods are foods which do not contain grains such as corn, rice, and wheat. Good grain-free dog food should have meat as its main ingredient. It should also be biologically appropriate, minimally processed, and moisture rich.
Many low-quality grain-free dog foods contain comparable carbohydrate levels to those made with grains. Although technically "grain-free", their main ingredients are starches such as potatoes and peas. These low-quality, biologically inappropriate ingredients have been linked with health problems including obesity, digestive disorders, and skin conditions in dogs.
Simply put, while these foods are “grain-free”, they do not provide your pet with the health benefits of high-quality grain-free foods. Think of it as substituting bad for bad.
How to Choose the Best Grain-Free Dog Food
Let’s take a look at a few important characteristics that high-quality grain-free dog foods should possess, and how this could impact the health of your pup.
High in Meat Protein
High-quality grain-free dog food will list real meat as a main ingredient; not unnecessary fillers such as potatoes and starches. Dogs are primarily carnivorous and thrive on a meat-based diet. When real meat is listed as the first ingredient, you can be sure your dog's food contains a high ratio of a quality protein source that will support their overall health.
The best grain-free dog foods are made with minimally processed, whole and natural ingredients. Dry dog foods are cooked multiple times at high heat, which destroys nutrients and diminishes flavor. By comparison, minimally processed wet foods contain ingredients and nutrients closer to their original state.
A dog's natural, carnivorous diet contains around 70% moisture. High-quality, wet grain-free dog food mirrors mother nature by providing adequate moisture to help the body function. Unlike dry dog food, it's biologically appropriate and can help prevent health problems including urinary tract infections, digestive issues, and obesity.
What to Avoid in a Grain-Free Dog Food
When choosing a grain-free dog food, keep it simple. Always check the ingredients on the label and do not buy the food if the main ingredients (or first couple of ingredients) include the following:
Meat and Bone Meal
Meat and bone meal is a product of the rendering industry. It is made from the portions of animals that are unfit for human consumption. Meat and bone meal is of lower quality than real meat. It is also highly processed, which makes it difficult to digest.
Starches like potatoes, green peas, sweet potatoes, and beet pulp are cheap filler ingredients in many grain-free dog foods. These food ingredients are biologically inappropriate, increase calories, and can contribute to obesity and other health issues.
Soy products are commonly used in low-quality grain-free dog foods as an inexpensive form of protein. They are biologically inappropriate, highly processed, and often genetically modified. This means that they are difficult to digest and can lead to health problems in dogs.
Carrageenan is a thickening agent that's used to improve food texture. It has no nutritional value and has been associated with gastrointestinal inflammation in dogs.
Artificial preservatives are used by many pet food manufacturers to extend the shelf life of their products. Grain-free dog foods that contain these chemicals should be avoided, as they have been linked with toxicity in pets.
The Bottom Line
The FDA is investigating a potential link between DCM and certain grain-free pet foods that contain low-quality carbohydrates as their main ingredients. Feeding your pet high-quality, high-protein, moisture-rich foods can help you steer clear of warnings like these.
If you are concerned about the quality of your dog's food, please use the guidelines in this post to check the ingredients label on the pet food packaging. In addition, we recommend consulting with your veterinarian to discuss your dog's dietary health.
Looking for a high-quality grain-free dog food that's high in meat protein, minimally processed, and moisture rich? Check out our Limited Ingredient Diets for dogs.
Our premium wet dog foods contain no carb-loaded fillers, unnecessary thickening agents, artificial preservatives, or other harmful ingredients. Instead, we pack them with 70%-96% real meat to mirror Mother Nature. And with 8 delicious single meat recipes to choose from, you're sure to find a variety your pup loves.