One of the important questions we ask clients during their appointment is “What diet are you feeding?” I could make a serious dent in some student loans if I had a dime for every time I got the answer, “Uhhh . . . I’m not sure. But it’s really good. It’s grain-free.”

I’m gonna give you the real real on why grain-free isn’t a thing for pets . . .

“But What Would She Eat In The Wild??”

The client perception seems to be that our domestic animals, dogs and cats alike, are descended from wild animals and therefore need to eat what their ancestors ate–raw meat. NEWS FLASH: Your labra-pomsky-doodle-ranian is the most domesticated animal on the planet. She ain’t gonna make it “in the wild.” Like, probably not even outside of the gated community, Susan. She needs her kibble.

Celiac Disease Doesn’t Affect Pets

You’d have to be living under a very large, very heavy rock not to be aware of the sharp increase in gluten-free diet choices for humans lately. Which is fantastic news for people who have celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder that is triggered by ingesting gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. This diet trend has also extended to our pets, which is weird because dogs and cats don’t get celiac disease. But here we are, because marketing.

You’re Breakin’ My Heart

Grains, like wheat, rye, barley and others, are an important part of any pet’s diet. The thing is, just like us, animals need nutrients, not just ingredients. These nutrients are building blocks that the body uses for all kinds of things, and they’re all pretty darn important.

Recent findings by veterinary cardiologists suggest that home-cooked and boutique grain-free diets may be contributing to dilated cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition. Research is still going on, mainly led by UC-Davis cardiologist Dr. Josh Stern. But right now it looks like there’s a link between taurine deficiency and Golden Retrievers developing DCM. 

Itchy Scratchy

Maybe the most common misconception I hear from clients regarding grain is that their pet’s scratching is somehow caused by wheat or corn in their diet. Pardon my French, but that’s hogwash. Cutaneous reactions from true food allergies are actually pretty rare in pets. And the chance that these reactions are caused by grains is pretty much the equivalent of finding a unicorn. Studies have shown time and again that beef, chicken, dairy and egg are the most common culprits for causing signs of allergies in our pets.

So please, please, please, for your pet’s sake: jump off the grain-free train. You are very likely paying wayyyyy more than you need to for questionable nutrition. Ask your veterinarian for a diet recommendation based on your pet’s nutritional and other medical needs.

Resources:

https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/update-nutrition-services-concern-between-diets-and-dcm-dogs

http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/tag/grain-free/

https://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org/article/researchers-getting-closer-understanding-dietary-taurine-and-heart-disease-dogs

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235375792_The_genomic_signature_of_dog_domestication_reveals_adaptation_to_a_starch-rich_diet

http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2017/01/food-allergies/