We all want to feed our pets the best food out there but with so many brands to chose from it can be awfully hard to choose. And we have heard clients say they bought their pet’s food because; ‘it’s the most expensive food at the pet store’, they ‘looked at the ingredients on the back and they’d eat those things’, or simply they ‘saw an ad and it sounded great’. But the truth is that many of these pet owners are merely pulled in by some flashy marketing gimmicks, exactly what the companies want. Pet food has become a very competitive market and companies are only too eager to jump in on anything that sells. And lately there has been a big push for grain-free, exotic, and human grade ingredients. Your veterinarian get it, you see your pet as family and want only the best, but as the FDA continues to warn about certain pet foods we just ask owners to do more research first.

Last year the FDA first released a warning about grain-free foods and a link to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). In June of this year they released an update and included exotic ingredient and boutique brand pet foods as foods that owners should reconsider giving to their pets. While there is no answer yet to the link the fact still remains that dogs are suffering from DCM and the commonality has been these foods. So what are veterinary nutritionists thinking? Well we did some research to see what nutritionists at Tufts University, Cornell University, and Hill’s Pet Food have to say on the topic.

So what is DCM? DCM is a weakening of the walls of the heart decreasing its effectiveness at pumping blood through the body. As blood flow slows tissues are deprived of the necessary oxygen they need while the backing up of blood can cause it to back into the lungs. These conditions can leave dogs short of breath, unable to tolerate walking or playing, coughing, and fainting from lack of oxygen. If left untreated it can eventually cause death.

So why are these foods such a concern, aren’t they suppose to be good for them? Well it stems from companies wanting to make a quick buck from the increase in consumers’ desire to treat their four legged family like their two legged family members. We all want to feed our pets the best food and often times we make the mistake of thinking that what is best for us is best for our pet. But the truth is that dogs and cats did not descend from humans, and that means their GI systems and nutritional needs are not the same as ours. To put it another way, most people love to eat chocolate but even one piece could kill your dog. And it’s because they can’t metabolize chocolate like we can, we take a mere 2-3 hours while dogs take 18 hours to metabolize it. And while we’re not here to talk about chocolate we are merely trying to stress that our pets just don’t digest things like us. But that hasn’t stopped pet companies from offering up products that mimic people’s need for specific ingredients or lack of others.

Grain-free foods came from the trend of gluten-free options that became popular for people. Suddenly grains became the enemy of dog foods and it left veterinarians baffled. The truth is that dogs break down grains better than people and get many nutrients and vitamins from them. This includes wheat, barley, corn, and oats to name a few. Many marketing ads began saying that grains were linked to all sorts of health issues including GI upset and allergies. But according to nutritionists at Tufts University, it’s all a lie. Grains have not been linked to health problem in dogs and less than 1% of food allergies are linked to grains, and most of those are linked to one genetic line of Irish Setters in the UK. And yet people believe the marketing gimmicks.

Exotic Ingredients include proteins like salmon, kangaroo, and duck as well as other ingredients such as legumes, potatoes, and peas. Some people believe giving their pets different protein sources reduces the risk of food allergies while others simply want their pets to have more well rounded diets like they have. According to veterinary nutritionists, while proteins such as chicken, beef, dairy, and egg are the most common food allergies (though they stress that food allergies make up only 10% of the cause of allergy issues in pets) switching proteins may actually trigger allergies. And as for legumes and potatoes? Well research is looking into their link with DCM because it is believe that dogs do not digest these foods as well as grain which means they may not get the nutritional benefits of them.

And what about boutique foods that promise human grade or high quality ingredients? According to Hill’s Pet Food, there is no legal definition of human-grade food in pet foods. So in other words the term can be used for just about anything and pet food companies don’t have to prove anything. Now, I’ll admit I’ve been caught reading the ingredients of pet treats before considering buying them but I discovered in my research that nutritionists say that’s the wrong way to go when picking out foods. The ingredients list tells you what is in the food and you can usually assume that the first few ingredients make up the bulk of the food but nothing tells you how much is actually in the food. Instead they recommend you look for the nutritional adequacy label or AAFCO Statement (Association of American Feed Control Officials). This label means that the food is complete and balanced for your dog. And while it does not say anything about the quality control testing of the food it can help you rule out other foods.

So now let’s get to the FDA’s latest warning. There are several brands of food that offer grain-free foods that have been linked to DCM. These brands are: Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature’s Variety, Nutrisource, Nutro, Rachael Ray Nutrish. We recommend you avoid these brands, or at the very least stop feeding their grain-free options.

Now that we’ve talked about foods to avoid how do you decide what foods to choose? Tufts recommends you do your own research to pick your pets food, don’t listen to the company marketing. First consider a big name company that has been in the pet food industry for years. Then look at whether the companies have their own nutritionist on staff, if they don’t, big red flag. Ask about their factory, do they own it? How is their quality control testing done? Do they do research on their food? Can they give you specific amounts of product in their foods, not just quote what is on the label? If a company can’t give you this information then consider taking a big step back. Don’t let them try and divert your questions, if they can’t give upfront answers it likely means they know you won’t like the answers.

Pet food can be a lot to consider but if you truly want to do right by your pet, do the work. Don’t be sucked in by the shiny lights and special effects of marketing campaigns. Your pet is worth the effort aren’t they? If nothing else ask our staff about our recommendations.

Don’t take our word on all this, below is a list of the sites we used to do our research. If you do your own research make sure you look for reliable sources. Just like school teachers told you to avoid Wikipedia and social media we recommend you look for veterinary schools, veterinary journals, and peer-reviewed research. Avoid sites with testimonials or opinion sections, these sites can be full of false information and lead you astray.

Want to do some research of your own? Here are a few good places to start looking.

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