Pet Nutrition

Grain-Free Diets and Heart Disease

By Pet Nutrition, Veterinary Alert No Comments

You may have heard about the recent FDA investigation into heart disease and grain-free pet foods.  I wanted to clear up some misinformation and help our clients understand what’s really going on.  Most importantly, I don’t want anyone to be overly concerned if their brand of dog or cat food was listed or to think that their pet is safe if it wasn’t.

The FDA has been investigating a possible link between grain-free pet foods and a type of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  The investigation is still underway, and they aren’t sure what is causing the increase in DCM cases as of yet.  Until they know more, they have been updating the public via their website periodically.

From the information they have so far, grain-free diets were being fed in 91% of the cases that were reported to them, so they are considering that as a possibility.  Without grains, pet food manufacturers have had to use other ingredients to get the nutrients as well as the consistency of dry dog food.  Some of the more common ingredients were peas, lentils, and potatoes (including sweet potatoes).  There is a possibility that those may be the source of the problem, but again, they aren’t certain.

DCM is not an extremely rare disease to begin with.  Many of the cases that were reported to the FDA were likely not related to any diet.  Since the FDA only started receiving so many reports after they first announced the investigation, it’s hard to know how much change there has truly been.  Their concern is the fact that it is occurring more in breeds not usually prone to it.

We are monitoring the investigation and will continue to keep our clients informed.  Meanwhile, let me explain that we do not believe a grain-free diet is necessary for most pets.  While some pets can be sensitive to grains, the majority of food allergies are to the protein sources in food such as chicken or beef.  So, if your pet does not need to be on a grain-free diet and you’re concerned about this possible link, you may consider switching foods.  As always, remember to switch foods gradually so as not to upset your pet’s stomach with a sudden change.

I also wanted to note some confusion in recent news reports.  Many reports have stated that the FDA “named 16 dog food brands with an increased risk” of this disease.  The truth is that those were the top 16 brands they came across in the investigation.  That may be due to the fact that they are some of the most popular brands of grain-free pet foods on the market.  They also listed proteins by frequency, and salmon came up far more frequently than goat.  That does not mean goat is better for your dog or cat’s heart; it just means that it’s a rare protein source for pet foods.

If you have any concerns about your own pet, please call us. 

If you’d like to find out more, you can see the recent reports on the FDA’s website at:

Golden kitten and golden puppy with kibble

How To Pick a Pet Food – Part 1 – What Not to Look For

By Pet Nutrition One Comment

I get people asking me all the time, “What’s the best dog/cat food brand?”  The problem is there is no one food that is best for every pet.  Just as people have different body types, activity levels, and nutritional needs, so do our pets.  To make things even more confusing, pet foods are subject to more lenient regulations than human foods, and companies aren’t always the most trustworthy.  Frequently, pet food companies follow social trends instead of what they know to be best for the pet.  Here are a few things that don’t mean as much as you may think they do.


Natural everything has become quite a trend lately.  As with most trends, it’s not a bad thing at all; I’d even venture to say it’s a good thing.  Unfortunately, anything trendy gives some of the less ethical corporations an opening to take advantage of people.  The Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the group in charge of writing definitions for ingredients in animal food.  They are not a regulating agency, but most states have adopted their guidelines. [1]  AAFCO’s definition for “natural” is actually pretty permissive.  It includes anything that was derived from a natural product and allows for some chemically synthetic additives “in amounts as might occur in good manufacturing practices.” [2]   In other words, natural can still be highly processed.

Also, if the package says “natural with added vitamins and minerals”, this actually means that the product would fit the definition of natural until they added the possibly artificial vitamins and minerals. [2]

 Human Grade

The term “human grade” isn’t regulated in the pet food industry at all.   Neither AAFCO nor the FDA has a definition for “human grade” pet food. [3]  Even if they did, fit for a human does not equal fit for a pet.  Our bodies are designed differently and do not have the same nutritional needs.  For instance, dogs and humans can generally make sufficient amounts of taurine from plant based sources.  Cats, however, cannot manufacture their own taurine and need to eat animal proteins to get what they need. [4]  Every species of animal has unique nutritional needs, so be sure to find foods that are designed for your pet.

No Animal Byproducts

Another common label on pet foods is “no animal byproducts.”  There are a lot of rumors flying around about byproducts.  The claims that animal byproducts might be euthanized dogs and cats are simply untrue.  By AAFCO definition, any meat byproduct that is not specifically listed by the species it came from must be from cattle, swine, sheep or goats. [5]

Also, animal byproducts are frequently nutrient dense.  Simply put, byproducts are anything left over after the original product was processed. [5]  This is usually the parts that us picky Americans don’t want to eat.  For example, organ meats are extremely nutritious but not nearly so appetizing, and certain parts (i.e. lungs) that are not considered edible for humans would be part of a dog’s natural diet.  These are common meat byproducts.  Some things byproducts cannot be are “hair, horns, teeth and hoofs.” [5]

Grain Free

One last trend I need to discuss is the “grain-free” diet.  The first problem is that grains are not the most common pet allergy.  The usual allergy triggers in animals are proteins.  Beef, chicken, fish, and dairy are among the top. [6]  Of course, grains do have protein too, and wheat is included with these as a common dog food allergen. [6]  However, grains can’t all be lumped together as one thing.  Most grains do not make it into the top 10 list of pet food allergies.  Why leave out barley, rice, rye, oats, etc?    With all the benefits of eating whole grains, I’d hesitate to throw it all out the window.

So, as you can see, a lot of advertising money goes into making you believe the food you’re buying is the best.  I’m not trying to discourage you or make you feel like you can’t trust anyone.  I just want to make you aware.  In short, don’t judge a food by its package.

If you want to learn more about what you SHOULD be looking for in your pet’s food, keep watching for Part 2 of How to Pick a Pet Food.

Tanya Brown, CVT

tanya and norman

Works Cited

[1] AAFCO, “The Role of AAFCO in Pet Food Regulation,” AAFCO, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 September 2016].
[2] AAFCO, “Natural,” AAFCO, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 September 2016].
[3] AAFCO, “Human Grade,” AAFCO, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 September 2016].
[4] VET Info, “Cat Taurine Requirements,” VetInfo, 2012. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 September 2016].
[5] AAFCO, “Byproducts,” AAFCO, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 September 2016].
[6] S. Eckstein, “Caring for a dog with food allergies,” WebMD, 27 April 2012. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 September 2016].