Please Don’t Panic About the Grain-Free Thing

Are grain-free dog foods good or bad for your dog?

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Learn more about DCM in the September 2018 issue:DCM in Dogs: Taurine’s Role in the Canine Diet

Note: read our update on the FDA’s latest report from July 2019 here.

I’ve been getting calls, emails, social media messages, and countless forwarded articles from other websites and publications about the grain-free dog food warning – perhaps even from you! And the first thing I want to tell you is to take a breath!

The FDA issued a warning (linked here) that it is investigating a possible link between diet and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs.

The grain-free dog food warning spread like wildfire through social media channels, but unfortunately, it also rapidly got dumbed down to a ridiculous level; it quickly evolved into something like “grain-free foods cause canine heart disease,” or worse yet, “boutique foods might kill your dog. The FDA characterizes the issue as a “potential association” between diets with very specific attributes (and certainly not ALL grain-free diets) and canine DCM – not a cause.

Please note that the FDA’s headline did not say anything about “grain-free diets” causing heart problems – though almost all the blog posts and articles in other publications have been saying exactly that. If you read the FDA’s statement, you will see that they said there may be a link between some grain-free diets and canine DCM, but there are also many other things going on that may be responsible for an observed rise in cases of canine DCM.

grain free dog food concerns

Linda Case, long-time animal nutrition expert and author of Dog Food Logic, has written an in-depth article for WDJ’s September issue that goes into lots of detail about what is known about the dietary causes of DCM, including several issues regarding taurine and the amino acids (cysteine and methionine) that dogs use to produce taurine. Click here to read her article about the connections between diet and DCM in dogs. Hint: It’s not as simple as the possibility that the diets are lacking the amino acid precursors to taurine.

[Whole Dog Journal has covered taurine deficiency in the past, regarding vegetarian diets for dogs, low-fat dog foods, and canine congestive heart failure.]

But for now, hopefully to put your mind at ease, I’m going to briefly discuss some of the pertinent facts that make the story a little more complicated than the “grain-free diets cause heart disease” headlines.

What We Know About Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

The FDA received a report from Cardiac Care for Pets, a practice that employs 19 veterinary cardiologists in Maryland, Kentucky, Virginia, and Texas, that they had seen a spike in canine DCM cases – and not just in the breeds that have a genetic predisposition to developing DCM, but also in breeds that are not known for an inherited propensity for the condition. Their report also included the fact that all of the cases had something in common: all the dogs had been eating diets heavy in peas, lentils, chickpeas, and potatoes.

Other veterinary cardiologists were noticing the same thing. The FDA received reports recently of about two dozen additional cases, including three dogs that died of the condition. After reviewing the medical records of these dogs, the FDA felt it was prudent to issue a measured warning, in part to alert dog owners and veterinarians to be aware of signs of the condition in potentially affected dogs (which, it is hoped, will elicit more data). Its warning, specifically, stated that vets and dog owners should be alert for signs of DCM in dogs eating foods “containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients.”

That’s our emphasis, but it is repeated in the FDA’s warning:

“Diets in cases reported to the FDA frequently list potatoes or multiple legumes [our emphasis again] such as peas, lentils, other ‘pulses’ (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch, and fiber derivatives early in the ingredient list, indicating that they are main ingredients.” [Again, our emphasis.]

What is a “main ingredient”? There isn’t a legal definition, but in our book, it’s anything in about the first five ingredients on the list. As you probably know, food ingredients are listed on labels (by law) in order of their weight in the formula before the food is cooked. The first four to six ingredients generally represent the majority of what is in the food.

That said, the FDA’s warning also addressed “multiple legumes.” Our readers should be alert to the fact that food manufacturers sometimes list smaller amounts of several similar ingredients, or several constituent parts or “fractions” of the same ingredient. This not only visually minimizes the seeming presence of those ingredients in the food, but also makes the total of the ingredients ahead of these fractions seem to be present in more significant amounts than they actually are.

For example, it would appear that a food that lists its ingredients as “Chicken, peas, pea protein, pea fiber…” contains more chicken than any other single ingredient. But if you added up the total amount of pea-based ingredients, they would surely outweigh the chicken.  This is what the FDA is getting to with its warning about “multiple legumes” – foods in which the legumes, taken together, might outweigh the animal protein sources.

If You Feel Your Dog’s Food is Connected to DCM:

Based on the FDA’s report, here are our first take-away points:

  • No matter what your dog eats, if she has any signs of DCM – including decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing, and episodes of collapse – you should make an appointment to see your veterinarian ASAP, preferably one who can refer you to a veterinary cardiologist.
  • If you feed your dog a food that contains any potatoes, peas, lentils, or other seeds of legumes (such as chickpeas/garbanzo beans, soybeans, other types of beans, and alfalfa seeds), look at the ingredients list. If the food contains one or more of these ingredients high up on the ingredients list, has several of these ingredients, and/or is a limited-ingredient diet – typically, one containing only one animal protein source and one or two carbohydrate sources – the possibility is good that the food is one of the type that is being looked at as possibly causing a higher incidence of DCM.
  • In contrast, foods that are not limited-ingredient foods and contain just one of those ingredients, or that have one or two of these ingredients fairly low on the ingredients list (say, as the fifth or sixth or lower-level ingredient/s on the list), are not the kind of diet that has been connected with DCM.
  • If you feed your dog a diet that meets the description of the foods that have been described by the FDA as potentially problematic (foods that have potatoes, peas, lentils, or other seeds of legumes as main ingredients), consider these points:

– Are you feeding your dog this food because it’s the only diet you have been able to find that does not trigger other health problems in that dog? If so, continue feeding the diet, but carefully monitor your dog for any hint of signs of DCM. Also, discuss possible alternative diets and/or a blood test for taurine levels, with your veterinarian.
– Are you feeding your dog this food because you like the company, or it was recommended to you, or for no particular reason? Then consider switching to a diet that either contains fewer or none of these ingredients, and read on for more recommendations.

Not All Grain-Free Foods Are Under Suspicion

Within a matter of days of the FDA’s press release, we watched in dismay as the issue was reduced to, in the majority of cases, “grain-free diets cause heart canine heart disease. ”

Please understand that there are grain-free diets that do not contain potatoes, peas, lentils, or other seeds of legumes as main ingredients. For example, there are many raw diets, fresh-cooked/frozen diets, canned diets, and even some dry/kibble diets that are grain-free that do not contain potatoes, peas, lentils or other seeds of legumes.  Not all grain-free diets have been implicated as concerning as regards canine DCM.

But, as we have been saying for some time (most recently here), grain-free diets have gotten inordinately popular for no particular reason. Many dog owners buy these products because they have heard some vague argument that “grains are bad for dogs” – an ill-informed blanket generalization we have fought against for ages. There is no particular advantage – and actually, several disadvantages – to feeding a grain-free diet (of any kind) to a dog who doesn’t have any problems with eating and digesting grain.

Points to Consider About Grain-Free Dog Food

  • Grain-free diets are often far higher in fat and calories than many dogs require. In dogs who gain weight easily, there is a very real danger of having to reduce the amount of food that one feeds the dog so much (in order to keep him from gaining too much weight), that he is at risk to become malnourished. In other words, if you cut his portion of a super-high-calorie diet to a reasonable number of calories, he may not get enough of the vitamins and minerals he needs.
  • Commercial diets that contain grains have been around longer and have been more thoroughly tested (in clinical settings and through common use) for far longer than diets that use increasingly novel non-grain sources of carbohydrates.
  • As Linda Case explains further in her article in the September 2018 issue, certain types of diets (specifically, diets that contain lamb meal and rice diets, soybean-based diets, diets high in rice bran or beet pulp, and high-fiber diets heavy in soybeans), have been previously identified as possible dietary causes of low taurine levels in dogs – something that is known to contribute to the development of DCM.

Our advice has long been to feed a grain-free diet only to dogs who have a problem with digesting multiple grains. (And, if you know which grain is giving your dog problems, you could also find a food that contains different grains, instead.)

However, we would not want to be on the record as saying “all grain-free foods are bad.” That’s another ridiculous overstatement. There are some terrific grain-free foods on the market – and some dogs do far better on these products than any grain-containing foods they have been fed. Owners have to look for products that work well for their individual dogs – and be willing to change as their dogs’ needs change.

Overreaching by Those With an Axe to Grind

It was bad enough to see the FDA’s warning reduced by a combination of poor reporting, poor reader comprehension, and social media hysteria to “grain-free foods cause canine heart disease.” But some media outlets also included statements from an animal nutrition expert whose opinions on diets are consistent with those of the pet food industry corporate giants; she has repeatedly been quoted as implicating “boutique” pet foods in the current rash of reported cases of DCM. What’s a boutique food? She doesn’t define this, but we suspect it’s anything made by any company whose annual sales are less than umpteen million…

This same expert has also implicated foods that contain “exotic ingredients,” which she provided a partial list for in one article: “kangaroo, lentils, duck, pea, fava bean, buffalo, tapioca, salmon, lamb, barley, bison, venison, and chickpeas.” Hmm.

All in all, we have lost track of the number of times she has been quoted as saying that pet owners should avoid “boutique, grain-free, or exotic ingredient diets” – and, unfortunately, this over-broad and ill-defined description is finding its way into more and more discussions of this concerning issue.

We have one more bone to pick with this expert; one of her articles on this topic suggests that dog owners do themselves a favor and “stop reading the ingredient list!” This makes us absolutely see red, as it harkens back to the “bad old days” of pet food. Twenty years ago, the making of pet food was a black box. “You guys, we are the experts here, trust us!” was the message of Big Pet Food. Consumers could no more find out where a food was made or where its ingredients were sourced than find out where the company CEOs ate breakfast. A suggestion that consumers shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about what is actually in the food they buy for their dogs, and which is listed on the label by law for the protection of consumers and their dogs, is downright insulting.

We’d like to suggest that concerned owners keep reading labels and educating themselves about canine nutrition, and, for now, limit themselves to the facts that are currently known by the FDA about this spate of canine DCM cases (here is that link again!). Also, Linda Case’s excellent article in the September issue of WDJ will also help shed much-needed light on this complex and concerning issue.

135 COMMENTS

  1. The grains and corn gluten are gentically modified and linked to diabetes allergies and cancerous TUMORS IN LONG TERM STUDIES AS DRS AND SCIENTIST HAVE TRIED TO WARN US ABOUT ..THAT WORKED UNDER MONSANTO. THEY WERE FIRED BY MONSANTO EHO MAKES ROUNDUP AND FEEDS IT TOMUS IN THE GMO WHEAT AND CORN GROWN W/ BUG KILLER IN THE PLANT !!
    THE LOG TERM STUDIES OF GMO WHEAT AND CORN WHICH IS 80% OF OUR SUPPLY AND ALSO USED IN OUR COMPANION PETS FOOD Is what makes your dogs AND cats sick..
    SOME PEOPLE REPORTED THEIR DOGS BECOMING ALLERGIC
    TO MEAT ..THE REASON THISIS HAPPENING OS BECAUSE THE COWS ANS CHICKENS PARTS USED IN THE PET FOOD ARE FED THIS GMO CORN AND WHEAT . On top of that
    THE WHEAT AND CORN AND CORN GLUTEN THAT CAUSES SEVERE ALLERGIES ALSO IS THE MAIN INGREDIENT FILLER that is in all the cheap food AND CAUSE DOGS (CATS TOO SOMETIMES.TO BECOME ALLERGIC TO
    M E A T EVEN LOSE HAIR SCRATCH THEMSELVES BLOODY . GROW LARGE TUMORS Cause diabetes in cats and dogs. So you know its doing this to us
    ..I have taken care of dogs that had severe allergies and atarted them on chicken brown rice and they recover . They can habe taurine suppliment. I Startes making my grandmothers dogs food after she lost her hair and had just rW red skim on her back for few years and when taken Off of the Iams or
    regular cheap food and put on Grain free her hair began to.come back and she started clearing up!! BUT MUST HAVE A TAURINE SUPPLIMENT AND ASK a Knowlegeable holistic Vet HOW MUCH TO GIVE IN YOUR DOGS FOOD
    .H U M A N S
    .Dogs ans cats suffer from HORRIBLE ALLERGIES DIABETES TUMORS AND CANCER FROM THE GMO food that was snuck into our food in the 80s. This has bug killer grown into it so it tears us and our pets up. PUT YOUR DOGS ON GRAIN FREE ANS SEE THE DIFFERENCE IN THEIR HEALTH BEHAVIOR AND COAT.You can GET TAURINE SUPPLIMENT TO ADD TO THE DRY FOOD. LOOK UP HOW TO MAKE HOLISTIC GRAINFREE DIET AND WJTH TAURINE. I made my Gmas dogs food and she Perked up was happy and her hair grew back. She was scratching herself bloody . OR hairless on top of back AND depressed LIKE before I changed her diet. I Had my gma Change the vet to lakeview because the previous lady vet almost killed her . Over using steroids so much that she was bloated and her thyroid was messed up from the steroid injections. We took her to a vet that within a month had the bloat down and her hair fully back The previous woman vet had her on steriod shots for 7yrs+ by .And then gave her too Many vaccines at once did almost kill her .Now my gpa wasn’t helping the vet by not giving pills to the dog but.SHE did not offer the easily chewable flavorful easy to give 3 month flea pill or have him put her on a grain and yeast free diet free to stop scratching and yeast infection on her body!! All VETS SHOULD KNOW THAT (and know also too many vaccinations in one day kills small dogs or kittens!!!).

    Some won’t often tell you often about grain free dog food because they are paid or given something in exchange to sell food for certain companies like royal canin and science diet that are NASTY GMO corn gluten and wheat based food and are horrible for dogs .Science Diet has even had traces of Pentobaribitol found in it that is used to euthanize animals because euthanized animals are rendered into cheap dog foods . (EVEN IAMS AND EUKANUBA ))And Used As “Animal protien “”and “Animal fat” This was snuck under our noses also. I fear to know what else we are not told about.
    To be safe look up organic diets if you want to make your pets food but.make sure to talk to holistic vet about proper vitamins and taurine amount Just LOOK FOR GRAIN FREE NO ANIMAL BI-PRODUCT CHICKEN BISON BEEF TURKEY WITH SWEET POTATOES OR NO POTATOES OR CARBS FOR DOGS THAT SUFFER WITH YEAST INFECTIONS.

    OR FIND HOLISTIC FOOD YEAST FREE W/TAURINE. online
    .

    • It’s very important to work on formatting, punctuation, capitalization, and overall sentence structure if you want your points to come across and be taken seriously.

    • What a ridiculous alarmist comment this is. First of all, we get it. You hate Monsanto, but just to prove how ignorant you are, you called Round-up a bug killer, when in fact it is an herbicide. Step away from the keyboard please.

    • Hi Lisa

      I thought grain food was better than grain free? Please clarify. If not kibble would you recommend Ollie?

    • Did you ever think about the fact that the animals used to make your dog food were probably fed those GMO grains…. where is the pass on? And do you not eat? I don’t like the GMO stuff, but it is everywhere, and even stuff that says it isn’t GMO is turning out that it is, as the farmers are using it, and it cross pollenate to fields were the farmers haven’t used it.. and then those farmers are sued for producing GMO produce…It is a real mess….. But feeding grain free doesn’t keep GMO out of your dog’s diet….as there are non-grain products like beets, peas, ect that are also now being Genetically Modified. And not ALL Genetically modifying is dangerous.. All it means is that genes are scientifically modified. Doesn’t always mean chemically, like most of Monsantoes is..

    • Dear Lisa, no one likes to be shouted at, even in print. Over-use of capital letters is HARD TO READ. I’m guessing most people are going to skip right over your comments, which make you look rather unhinged.

    • Let’s squash this rumor that vets or anyone else are paid a kickback to sell a certain food. It simply is not true. Also there is no need to type in all caps and scream at us to get your (incredibly long) point across. Proper grammar and punctuation go a lot further than capital letters. If a taurine supplement were the answer, don’t you think they’d know that by now?

  2. My poor 2 year old great dane just died of CHF due to DCM (Diagnosed Christmas Eve) and had been fed all the major grain free foods under suspicion since we got him, several varieties of grain free Orijen and Taste of the Wild. His bloodline had no history of DCM or any cardiomyopathy. Make sure you do your research and that the brand your feeding your dog has a team of nutritionists and does nutritional testing that follows WSAV guidelines.

    • Hi Samantha! Sorry to hear about the loss of your puppy. Were
      You aware of the class action lawsuit against TOTW for traces of carcinogenic metals in their food? It may be old news but thought I’d say something!

  3. If your dog has no allergies or issue with grains, there is no reason to put them on grain-free. Problem is… 95% of the better quality foods found in pet stores, is grain free, and this is very upsetting to me! I am having a difficult time buying a good quality food that isn’t grain free. My dogs are healthy on non grain free food, and have been for years. I don’t want to it, but yet I’m forced to buy it, because I don’t want to feed my dogs a lesser quality, i.e. purina, iams, science diet, etc. And I am very upset about this…

    • Hi Cheryl – I understand your frustration. I do want to let you know that most Purina One or Pro Plan diets are high quality foods. I am feeding my Doberman Pinscher Purina One Chicken and rice kibble, and he’s doing very well on it. He seems to be sensitive to fish and pork, and it was not easy to find an affordable diet for him that didn’t include potatoes or legumes as a main ingredient. His coat looks great, he’s energetic and eats it eagerly. It doesn’t have to cost twice or more as much to feed most dogs.

          • DId you ever notice that almost every single “list” out there has Grain Free foods as the “best” foods yet this article was written because the FDA said there could be a link to DCM from Grain Free diets? Take every list with a grain of salt. And by the way, Purina Pro Plan is their top of the line food and it’s very good. Chevy makes a Cobalt and a Corvette right? You can make lowern end products and superior products all under the same umbrella.

          • Lynn, one of the problems with these lists that you find on all these non-scientific blogs is that they are always crippled with affiliate links to more expensive grain free pet food.

            I would LOVE to see a list from someone who really scientifically knows what they are testing and then don’t sell the food it then lists as better than others…

        • I have fed Purina to my dogs and cats for years. I usually feed Pro Plan to my dogs and indoor dry and wet food to my cat. Most of my dogs have lived past 12 with no health issues. I know everyone says Purina is trash but no one says why.

    • Look into Fromm or Nutrisource. Both of these foods are very high quality and have both grain and grain free options.

      • Raw is a lovely notion, but not at all practical for a great many people. You must have good access to a healthy range of different meat products, a freezer with enough room to store it in, and the knowledge of nutrients in each type of food you are feeding to get all the proportions of vitamins and nutrients necessary for optimal health of your pet. Some of us lack said storage space, and some of us lack all the knowledge needed to do it correctly. Feeding raw may be evolutionarily correct, in terms of what wolves and other wild dogs eat, but if you look at the average lifespan of a wild born wolf, you might think differently about processed pet foods. Our dogs typically live much longer than wolves do.

        • IIRC, wolves fed their natural diet in a sanctuary tend to live as long or longer. For wolves it is tougher for them to live longer because life in the wild is tougher.

    • Grains cause most dogs to poo a lot more because they body doesn’t digest it. When I get my puppies and change them from the beeder grain food to grain free, their poo regulates. Oh, and I have a dog who will be 15 in September, a 12 year old and a 4 month old. Choosing quaility food would be the reason my oldest dog has been so healthy up until last year with aging he is now starting to slow down and have age related health issues.

    • Cheryl, I’ve been researching First Mate grain-friendly formula. Gluten-free and best whole grains. Only problem is they don’t add probiotics but you can always supplement. They also suggest using a variety of protein as to not promote sensitivities to anything. The grain-friendly options they have seem like plenty to rotate from. I hope my new puppy likes it!!!!!!

    • There are, imo, good quality foods made by reputable manufacturers, not Nestlé Purina, Mars, etc that make both grain free AND grain containing foods. I’ve always shared my oatmeal with healthy additives with my four legged daughters. Never an issue. I chose a Complete Health diet and add extra common animal freeze dried raw protein. I prefer common ones like poultry, and save others for the off chance of allergies.
      No allergies since the dark ages of dog food in the 1960’s. But today’s choices are far superior to what was available commercially back then.
      Talk to a Veterinarian who does not push food brands.
      PS I only supplement with whole food, like nonfat Greek Yogurts, raw fruit, etc.

  4. Please oh please tell me which kibble I can buy that does not have the suspicious ingredients! I am striking out over and over trying to find one online. My dog sometimes gets this chest heaving thing that scares me. I thought maybe heart worms but she’s been on grain free for years because grain gives her a rash. Even rice! So I can’t do grain, but she’s used to kibble and I’d prefer to keep her on that if possible. Worst case, I’ll cook her food with ours and feed her that! Thank you!!

      • Unless you take your dog for regular dental cleanings, I would not do wet food. It contributes to plaque build-up. Dry food helps clean the teeth as they eat it.
        Also, you must make sure your dogs eat the food right away since it can’t be left out too long.

        • Roxy that information is incredibly outdated. There’s no proof kibble cleans teeth, it actually causes a majority of your pet’s plaque and tartar build up. You can do wet or dry food just be sure to keep up on other dental heath products. Best is raw meaty bones, if you can do that the do daily teeth brushing with a good toothpaste.

        • Kibble does not clean teeth. What do you think kibble is made of? Mostly carbohydrates, which leave sticky residue on teeth that promotes bacterial growth. Gnawing on bones helps to keep teeth clean, but not kibble.

        • Roxy dry food does not clean a dog’s teeth any more than potato chips clean ours. This is an unfortunate old wives tale. Kibble sticks to their teeth causing more plaque.

    • Sport Dog food brand does not have peas & Legumes. The Elite series does not have grains. Just started this brand and have been really happy with it.

      • I have my lab on that as well. So far, so good!And… it smells good and he loves it! Other foods either stink, he isn’t that interested in, or has terrible ingredients.

      • Correct. However, It does have potatoes. On the Sport Dog food I feed my dogs (Elite 2.0 sled dog), the ingredient list has potatoes are listed 3rd, after buffalo and sweet potatoes– which are not the same thing as potatoes.

        My dogs get grains from other sources.

        • Rusty you bring up a good point. I have a lab mix who is on Natural Balance venison and sweet potato LID. Like many labs, he has mega allergy problems. I was able to figure out that he has a food sensitivity to chicken, which takes out a lot of food. He’s actually doing pretty well on the food he’s getting now but I’m wondering if I need to be concerned about possible DCM trigger from the sweet potato. But RU saying that sweet potatoes are not potatoes and therefore are safe?

    • Is you dog a small breed? The chest thing could be a collapsed trachea – something that usually does not need medical intervention. Some breed are just susceptible. The episodes are self-limiting. Sound scary but usually not a problem.

  5. So which grain free dry dog foods don’t have the suspicious ingredients? It’s hard to find yourself….please help.

    • These are the foods that are safe to feed and have been researched and tested by WSAVA: Hills, Iams, Royal Canin, Eukanuba and Purina.

        • What is wrong with Iams, Purina, or Royal Canin? Do you have a degree in Veterinary Nutrition? If you don’t, then your opinion is just that……..an opinion.

        • MDP, what foods that are safe to feed and have been researched and tested by WSAVA can you recommend as you are slating those brands?

          The problem here is to find good food that doesn’t cause heart problems….

      • Royal Canin and Nestle Purina funded the “study” that was published in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine. This is an attempt to undermine independent-only foods and get people back to big-box foods. Quote: “For dogs in which possible diet-associated DCM is diagnosed, we recommend the owner change the diet to one made by a well-established manufacturer…” The term BEG is used numerous times in the document; BEG stands for Boutique, exotic-ingredient, and grain-free. Please do your research before making a judgement; you might just see something different.

  6. “BEG” diets, don’t even get me started on how many otherwise sane, intelligent, love-their-dogs people are sharing and re-sharing these ridiculous articles! WHILE at the same time saying things like, “people shouldn’t vilify the big pet food companies who put so much money into research,” especially in response to the question of why foods that have by-products as the main ingredients are so expensive!
    I don’t have a problem with some grain in the diet, but I don’t want to hear that corn is a miracle food…
    On another note, I have been subscribing to WDJ for over 10 years and I seem to remember that this publication was at the forefront of recommending grain-free foods… I remember I originally subscribed for the annual dog food issues, and it feels like most of the recommended dry foods were grain free or companies who made grain free formulas. It’s how I learned about foods like Taste of the Wild, Acana, etc

  7. I’m surprised that people are not talking about the gmo/herbicide/pesticide connection. My first dog died of cancer in 2015. Later, as I had health problems, I made the connection to our processed food. (Starting in the 1995 with corn) I am now better, and I feed my current dogs foods that I Hope don’t have the poisons. Stay away from corn, beets, potatoes, soybeans, ( and the list keeps growing) unless it is organic. Fish oil is good. Rice is probably an ok grain. Exotic meat is used to try to get away from animals that have been fed the “poisons”. Currently, I am using salmon dog food. And praying for God’s discernment. Best wishes for you and your pets!

    • All rice naturally contains a trace amount of arsenic on its outer layer. For the reason, it is vitally important to thoroughly rinse rice before cooking. Asians know this. Westerners weren’t necessarily taught to rinse rice thoroughly before cooking!

    • Linda…..thank you for bringing up the GMO/herbicide/pesticide connection. I believe that is ALSO causing a GIGANTIC problem in animals AND humans. But, people don’t like to talk about that at all. Processed foods and GMO’s, etc. are problems but people love it and don’t want to face it is a problem.

      What dog food do you use?

        • Where is you get your Veterinarian Nutritionist degree from? Oh….you don’t have one. Once you get one and can prove that those foods are shit, then you will have support behind your opinion. Otherwise your opinion is shit too!

        • Where did you get your Veterinary Nutritionist degree? Oh…..you don’t have one. Once you get one and have the research to support your opinion, then you can make claims like that. Until then, your opinion is shit!!

      • Most veterinarians probably mean well, but like most doctors, they have little training in nutrition, and that training they get is all too often tainted by incorrect information that has the fingerprints of companies that grow and sell lots of processed foods (made primarily from corn, wheat, soy and sugar plus bad oils). Read the labels of Royal Canin, HIll’s and Purina. Then check them against recommendations from Whole Dog Journal: actual named meats and named meat meals should be the highest (several) spots on the ingredients list. Grains may be safe for many (not all) dogs to eat, but highly processed ones that are in these brands, taking the place of meat, or combined with meat byproducts etc, are not your best bet. Soak and cook your own grains and meat and some veggies. Or feed raw, even better.

    • I have a 9yo Maltese that was fed Orijen for 7 yrs. Last year he started having coughing spells and was diagnosed with heart problems. I immediately changed his diet and tried several other brands of food. He simply cannot have grains as he literally starts scratching almost as soon as he swallows the last bite. I also put him on a taurine supplement. Finally, after much research, I found a food that he is not only loving but doing well on. It’s Brothers brand (I had never heard of it) and unlike most brands it includes taurine. It is a bit pricey but has given me peace of mind that he’s on the road to recovery. Recently his last echogram showed no signs of heart issues. YAY!

  8. With all due respect, I subscribed to WDJ for the food reviews. I fed my dog Acana based on those food reviews. He dropped dead at age 7. His necropsy showed evidence of cardiac scarring, though not DCM. Never again. BTW, I did not renew my subscription.

    • Why? No one with whatever theory ever makes a statement of better than/found not to cause/safer than to mean that your pet will never die….there ARE exceptions, always.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. However, I don’t think you should blame WDJ. They may have recommended Acana, but the connection between some dog foods and taurine deficiency and DCM has not been understood for all that long, and is still not completely clear. If you read WDJ’s food recommendations, you should also be switching up your dog’s food regularly: different brands, formulations, and types of food. Doing so will help to prevent inadvertent deficiencies. And you should also consider raw feeding (covered extensively in WDJ) or a homemade diet, with or without a commercial mix such as Honest Kitchen.

    • No offense, but what companies regularly send sales reps to visit vet offices? I appreciate good marketing but would rather watch from a distance .

    • T: I do not feed these foods to my dogs. However, I sincerely appreciate you mentioning them. The research that these companies have conducted is unparalleled. I am considering switching to one–Royal Canin is looking likely to me. Thanks,
      Meredith

    • I’m a licensed vet tech – I have always fed Science Diet and Royal Canin to my Danes – they have done fantastic and lived healthy lives. You cannot imagine the research these two companies put into their foods. Those are the two we recommend. But for those who think Purina is not a good line – their pro plan line is a very good food.

  9. “What’s a boutique food? She doesn’t define this…” Pretty sure that boutique diets are manufactures that dont follow WSAVA guidelines. It’s really not that complicated and yet this article makes that feel very “conspiracy” like.. Its not.. its simple…

  10. You have lost my trust. The latest mailing to renew my subscription plastered with scare tactics sealed the deal. ” Shocking” “urgent” “dirty truth”. I’m going back to trusting science and choosing a WSAVA approved food. I’m on my second dog with a heart issue. I will never know if my ill informed choices to feed the “best” food I could buy based on my knowledge as an avid reader of your publication contributed to their heart disease. I will continue to follow you for your advocacy humane training principles, but I can no longer trust your nutrition or vaccine recommendations. I’m so disappointed.

    • Thank you, Tracey. Someone needed to say it! I”m so sorry you’re going through heart issues with your dog.

      Sounds a lot like the tobacco companies after reports started coming in about cigarettes causing cancer. Don’t panic, everything’s fine, we’re sure there is a reasonable explanation!! How about taking some responsibility for a change and stating you and your colleagues were wrong, Nancy?? I hope there are some class action suits against all of these dog food companies who claim to know what nutrition a dog needs while they are killing them from their lack of knowledge and research. My last dog was fed Royal Canin and lived to be 15 years old. I’m so tired of people talking shit about the big companies – they do feeding trials and have nutritionists on staff.

      • I’ve read the ingredients lists of the big brands and they’re subpar. I’m glad you’ve had a good experience.

  11. I am feeding Wellness Complete to my small breed & Wellness Original to our two larger breeds. My vet says it is an excellent diet. Their coats are beautiful & they are healthy.

  12. Wow! What a hot topic and one that has most of us scratching our heads in confusion and our hearts torn between our gut instinct, some history with at least one pet fed their entire life on a corn free product made by a company who is not one of the big mega food producers. That dog was healthy and lived a good life. And now the stories of the 500 documented in this vague article has us wondering what we should know. While one gf dog food producer responded to my information request with the comment ‘there are 800,000 dogs diagnosed with DCM at any given time in the US’ that is a large number of dogs who are ill. Like human chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high cholesterol, etc., our diet, human make up, environment make us predisposed to these illnesses. How much of this is more information because of knowledgeable pet owners taking their animals for vet care verses the previous days when we had companion animals that really weren’t that well cared for or truly family members. I’m torn by all the information. I have two that I want to feed appropriately and I have fed Acana for years without issue. I have fed other non-corn products and had very healthy dogs. But…. what if these two aren’t as lucky. By the time there is more research it might be too late. I guarantee I am not alone in being concerned about the what if question. There are no guarantees. We must use the information we have, seek out good vet care and filter the hype. Thank you for sharing this article.

  13. Is Nancy Kerns a veterinarian? Listen to your veterinarian first of all. If your pet is not supposed to eat grains because wolves don’t eat grains, I’d like to know if anybody has seen a wolf eating peas, garbanzo beans, and pumpkin.

    • If you watch carnivores feed in the wild they will eat the contents of herbivores stomaches. Natures way of a balanced diet

      • sorry, total bs. this is a fairy tale that keeps popping up over and over. totally not true. this was taken from a study by wolf expert david mech,

        ‘Contrary to popular belief, wolves do not consume the (partly fermented) vegetable matter in the rumen of ungulates( 18 , 19 , 28 – 33 ). During removal, however, the rumen can be punctured and its contents spilled( 29 ) of which some can be consumed along with other body tissues( 30 ). Furthermore, the rumen lining and the intestinal wall can be consumed( 29 , 30 ). Based on these studies reporting data on the foraging ecology, wolves can be considered true carnivores in their nature with vegetal matter being a minor to negligible component of their overall diet.’

  14. PLEASE DO YOUR RESEARCH. This is WHERE it all started, because at a Veterinary Medicine teaching college something odd was being observed.
    https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-investigates-link-between-dog-diets-and-deadly-heart-disease

    This was close to 5 years ago now. It was being noticed by other Veterinary Medicine Specialists across the country. It was starting to be seen in the Golden Retrievers enrolled in the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. Puppies and YOUNG dogs were dying from a cardiac disease normally seen in older, elderly dogs.

    It has taken 3 and half years to get the FDA to pay attention to what was being found. It is perfect? No. Is it a start? Yes. Are there differences between the foods that had caused Nutritionally Caused DCM in many dogs and foods that have not? YES!

    That is the take away. We were lucky — our dogs were not on grain-free, one of the offending brands long enough to develop DCM. Others, including one dog belonging to a friend, have not and died from DCM, even after improvement was occurring.

  15. From what I have read, it seems to be any kibble that has peas, legumes or potatoes high up on the ingredient list. The type of Cardiomyopathy seems to be linked to Deficiency in Taurine. It would be really helpful to know specifically which foods were linked as I wanted to feed one of my Dogs Taste of the Wild, but this brand is on the list. After a lot of research, I am currently transitioning them over to Victors.

  16. On facebook a great resource to learn more is the group “Taurine-Deficient (Nutritional) Dilated Cardiomyopathy”

  17. So…cat food is high in taurine…so if your dog is constantly pinching the cat food… LET THEM!!!!! 🙂

  18. Fortunately I heard about DCM a few years ago. My English Labrador suddenly became sluggish on our daily hikes, and I was wondering why. I took her in for blood tests and yes, she was taurine deficient. I immediately changed her diet from a Grain-free Salmon & Potato type to a Grain-Free Lamb & Rice diet, because taurine is added into the kibble mix AFTER the processing. With some doggie vitamin supplements with taurine, and lots of sardines as treats, she bounced back to her old self within a few months. Yes, taurine is also high in cat food. It is sad that so many pets suffered when their owners thought they were doing a recommended good thing – the new grain-free foods. FYI – I found that all of my Labradors were in overall better health without a chicken based diet – not sure why.

  19. if the legumes cause a lack of absorption of taurine, than i am not so sure added taurine would help. legume free food would help more.

  20. Could not find any specific information; whether the legumes interfered with the absorption of taurine, or the synergistic reaction of the processing of the legume ingredient kibble destroyed the taurine. Speculation is just that. However, my understanding was the latter, that somewhere during the processing of these foods the taurine was lost. My dog did a great recovery with some sardines, a dog vitamin supplement that had taurine in it, and a switch to lamb and rice dog food that has taurine as a listed ingredient. My understanding is that with the lamb and rice the taurine is added after the processing. Yes, maybe it does have something to do with “bad” synergy between legumes and taurine – but who the heck knows for sure – either “they” don’t yet know, or don’t want to tell. To be safe, In My Opinion (I’m not a scientist or vet, pet food maker, etc.), only serve your dog food that has taurine on the ingredient list, supplement with some taurine or taurine rich food, or raw food (for you raw foodies – if you know it has taurine…).

  21. I have more research to do but at first I strongly suspected “grain free” targeting to be another eat more gmo camp. Nope, the new case histories are very real, detailed, can look up on FDA site.
    More researching and not yet done: many more products in our food chain besides grain are now “dessicated” with different forms of Roundup. So I am thinking while we are trying to limit the amount of glyphosate given to our dogs, (since a lot will die of cancer), we are not truly aware of how many pulses and bean products are also being doused with Roundup just prior to harvest (i.e. dessicated). Possibly all dried pulses? (that aren’t organic)
    Potatoes: if not organic, also sprayed at harvest?
    And do the pulses somehow chelate out the taurine?
    Or read Stephanie Stennif of MIT on glyphosate: It chelates out vital nutrients: minerals etc.
    That’s really the only reason I was looking for “grain free”; looking to feed less Roundup and hoping to avoid encouraging cancer since my dog is now 12 and going strong but aging.

    • Saponins, trypsin inhibitors, phytates and lectins. Good nutrition needs to look at how the ingredients are processed. Soy for dairy animals, that is not first roasted, is a known nutritional inhibitor.

      Peas and potatoes, added to dog kibble, are high in lectin. Lectins are a known anti-nutritional factor. If, however, they are first processed in a way that neutralizes the lectin, then important amino acids like taurine, will not be bound, inhibited from absorption.

      Humans always fermented potatoes, whether they were waxy (Yukon Gold) or starchy varieties. I teach anaerobic fermentation for human nutrition, and how to reduce anti-nutrients. Many of my clients use the sane method to create pet food, although I am very pro-raw.

      What if you supplement taurine? The gut still cannot neutralize all the potential anti-nutrient chemicals in grains, legumes and tubers. Instead, the nutrients will be chelated, rather than absorbed. Again, the anti-nutritional factor goes beyond lectin. They are saponins, trypsin inhibitors, phytates and lectins.

      The issue may not be the pea, the garbanzo, the potato, but instead, their natural chemicals which must be neutralized before consumption.

      Also…..sorry to go on so long, but this is crucial….heat treatment of some high-carb foods which contain specific amino acids, causes a chemical reaction producing acrylamide, a known neuro-toxin and cancer-causing compound, etc., etc.

      Look beyond the raw ingredients. Dairy and beef nutrition science has learned that raw grains, legumes must be pre-treated. Of course, that adds greatly to the cost. So instead, they use chemical additives which earn them a patent, if they develop it.

      There are some additives used in kibbles, too halt the negative reactions. These can backfire, creating health issues or death. It’s a huge topic and I am trying to articulate by finger-typing…..please forgive typos, or odd words my swype feels like throwing in….

  22. Does anyone have a recommendation for a good GF Dehydrated food? Currently feeding my 10 mo. Aust. Labradoodle Spot Farms. The 2nd ingredient is ‘Dried Potatoes’ and the 10th is ‘Sweet Potatoes’. No peas or lentils. Should I be alarmed that the 2nd ingredient is dried potatoes?

  23. I’m crushed that my attempts to care for my baby could have harmed her. She struggles with beef allergies and has had difficulty with chicken meal, so I tended to go limited ingredient or single protein diet. Almost all of those are grain free.

    We tried a hydrolyzed protein diet recently at the suggestion of a second opinion vet. We tried science diet years ago and it was odor and colorless and she wouldn’t eat it. This vet gave royal canin and she loved it. $50 a bag, 8 lbs, so given we still had to use allergy meds I went back to regular food. Acana. Happens to be grain free, but I buy because it was lamb.

    I balked at corn being in that hydrolyzed diet and the vet said royal canin is beyond reputable and does extensive studies. She believed in the food, and wasn’t trying to sell me anything. So, I’m going with royal canin Chihuahua. With corn, and chicken meal. And if she doesn’t scratch her face off we will stay with that. If she does, Chewy will give me something else. I thought about going back to Nutro Ultra, small breed. But, I did see they are on the list so I’m glad I ordered the RC last night.

    The visit to the vet was for back pain and she felt she had an enlarged heart. The radiologist said “unremarkable.” So she didn’t schedule a follow up. Now I’m scared. They are small and completely dependent on us, and they deserve the very best. If only we knew what that was…..

    • For many reasons I avoid all corn and soy in the food I feed. I understand why hydrolyzed proteins are recommended, due to allergies.
      I haven’t feed beef in decades because of the games the FDA allows manufactures/sources to play with antibiotics and growth hormones in human beef supply. It also tends to have a higher fat content. I also read recently concern over limited ingredient foods, which originally sounded good. I believe it was in a WDJ article, but not positive.
      There was also a reference to avoiding the 3 L’s, which I think we’re lentils, legumes and definitely Lamb.
      I fed Science until 2003, and wasn’t happy with it, Switched to Wellness Complete Health and keep adding to it with healthy food I eat. Within less than a month, my girls coats more than doubled and we’re shinier and healthier.
      It’s difficult to know what to do. I trust WDJ. Not Fb groups.

  24. I subscribed to WDJ for a long time – I believe over 20 years. But this year I let my subscription expire. This article supports my reason for not renewing my subscription. The author of this article is not an expert on canine nutrition, yet gives advice on feeding your dog. This is wrong. You should consult with a veterinary nutritionist and possibly a cardiologist for an article like this. I have fed my dogs based on information from WDJ for over 20 years. I always felt good about what I fed. Then, one of my dogs developed DCM and the cardiologist told me to take him off grain-free. I later learned that the food he was eating was manufactured by a company that did not employ experts to formulate the food, nor make any effort to determine if the recipe was digestible, etc. I was shocked. In all my years of reading WDJ, I never saw an article on dog food that discussed what expertise a company has in formulating dog food and what sort of analysis they do to determine digestibility,etc. – yet this is a very important consideration when choosing a dog food. Suggest consulting with experts when discussing canine health and nutrition.

  25. I have fed Purina to my dogs and cats for years. I usually feed Pro Plan to my dogs and indoor dry and wet food to my cat. Most of my dogs have lived past 12 with no health issues. I know everyone says Purina is trash but no one says why.

  26. A lot of the brands the FDA identifies as eaten by dogs with DCM are on Whole Dog Journal’s best foods list, such as Orijen, which is what I feed my dogs. It would be helpful for Whole Dog Journal to address this and to put things in a larger context. It seems to me that, while the likes of Ol’ Roy and Purina Dog Chow are not implicated in this, surely my dogs are better off eating Orijen than either of those. And food is just one ingredient and DCM is just one thing that can go wrong (albeit a big one, but not the only big one) in a dog’s overall health.

    While keenly interested to see what FDA ultimately concludes is going on here, I suspect one factor may be that dog owners who spring for premium foods are also likelier to pay for the medical care that can confirm a DCM diagnosis. So FDA is looking at a self-selecting, very limited pool. It would be like saying Orijen caused my 13-year-old dog’s brain tumor just because I happen to be a one-in-a-million owner willing to pay for the $1,200 MRI to confirm it.

    I also have to wonder about the dog food industry ties, if any, of some of the “experts” mainstream media quotes. It would be helpful if articles included relevant financial disclosures or stated when there are none.

    For now, I plan to stay the course with my dogs’ diet. Kibble is one part of their diet and one factor in their overall health. The food they get has never been caught up in any melamine or other contaminant recalls, which is a lot more than can be said for many of the brands not on the FDA’s “DCM dog foid” list.

  27. Funny people call Purina garbage and say its just awful food ….but is it killing dogs?? It is one of the few that does not have any reported nutritional dcm cases. Anyone who tells someone they should be ashamed of themselves for recommending it should actually be ashamed that they’re not. Purina has had no issues in years and years and these other companies like TOTW are being sued over and over…fromm has reported cases in both grain free and grain exclusive….and it is more then a taurine deficiency….some dogs levels were fine…adding more it will be blocked as well. The numbers just began coming in Im sure we’ve lost many many from this issue without being properly diagnosed….these companies shoul be held accountable…Its clearly a issue and theyve known for years and have yet to warn people or take their product off the shelf while they figure it out but no they only want to feel their pockets and at what cost…the cost of our furbabies…I would never buy from. them again…

    • Generally excellent advice. Except like all professionals, they are not equally trained. 50% were in the bottom of their class with limited practices.

  28. My Golden is three yrs old and has allergies (itching and scratching till bleeding sores). I have tried several foods and now he’s on Canidae Pure which is grain free. I have a vet tell me “no grain free”. Another said not a big deal yet. It’s hard to find a food without chicken and mixed tocopherols that isn’t grain free…

  29. Thank you Nancy Kerns, but you’re NOT a Cardiologist nor in a position to judge all the warnings or have you seen the data. I KNOW from vets who call out against “grain free” that they believe there is a link. I will trust them over you. And besides my Rottweiler was recently diagnosed with DCM because I fed her Taste of the Wild for 7 years. I know my girl’s lines 4 generations, not one episode of heart issues in any of them.

    Grain-Free almost killed my dog.

  30. My Vet just advised me switch from grain free to either Purina Pro Plan, Iams, Hills Science Diet or Royal Canin because of recent findings related to Cardiomyopathy and grain free food.

  31. I’ve had the food discussion a handful of vets, and I’ve read multiple credible sources regarding food. The grain-free movement was not based in medicine. Quacks who believe THEY are gluten free or anti-GMO (most of whom are not — that’s a fact) believe that this same diet must be better for their dog as well.

    Just like in some people, some dogs cannot tolerate grain. Bring your dog to the vet and have them make that decision. Grain-free food is available only for supply and demand. There is no science behind it

  32. Oh my gosh. What has happened to the world? After not owning a dog for 18 years, we got a rescue mutt. Some of this comment section is madness. Worried about GMO’s in dog food?? After so many years without a dog, imagine my surprise when I go to purchase dog food. Everything is grain free, and much of it is very expensive! There is online hysteria. I am old now and over the years we had a total of 3 dogs that we fed everything, from the old time Penny canned food ( the cheapest stuff ever) to Gravy Train (yum said the doggies) to Kibbles and Bits and some leftovers from time to time. Dogs lived long, good, lives. My gosh. Bet some of you never ate a hot dog. Good luck because I know you want the best for your doggies. I just intuitively knew this grain free business sounded like a fad. Seems like it should be a specialty food for special needs. When I see veggies in dog food, I laugh. Never had a dog get excited over veggies. I think they make dog food to appeal to the humans. I was considering giving my dog a little bit of pumpkin and one site said to make sure it is organic. LOL Suddenly our dogs need organic food! Heck, I don’t buy myself organic. After much confusion, I decided to mix 2 brands of dog food. LISA, TAKE A BREATH.

  33. Along with the general consideration of grains as foods for dogs, we should consider the presence of micotoxins, which come from the fungus frequently found in cheap grains, not allowed to be used in human grade foods, but purchased by pet food manufacturers.

  34. I feel like this article is a misleading of some truths.

    A year after the FDA warned about “grain free” diets possibly being linked to canine dilated cardiomyopathy, “Heart Disease” they have gone a step further and have identified 16 brands to be associated with the disease.

    One of the arguments supporting grain free diets for dogs is the fact that wolves, the ancestors of dogs, don’t eat grains in the wild. However, dogs aren’t wolves, they’re dogs, and that over time they have evolved to be able to consume grains and carbohydrates through living alongside humans. Evolution of generations of breeding changes things. Like a dog’s genetic makeup.

    The real reason grain free diets for dogs have become so popular is not because they’re necessary, but because “they’re easy to market”. If it sounds logical it must be true, right?

    Many brands that sell grain free dog foods are replacing nutrient dense meats with “plant based proteins” like potatoes, which are an inadequate substitute for real meat.

    The other issue at the heart of the grain free debate is “Taurine”, an amino acid found “only in animal tissue”, which plays a vital role in maintaining cardiac functions in dogs. Since many grain-free dog foods are using these real meat “alternatives”, dogs aren’t receiving the proper protein to produce the taurine they need.

    Your dog must have “Taurine”, if your dog food does not have it, don’t use it. A select few “Grain Free” include it, but not many. They claim “all meat and no grain”, they fail to tell you they are using “nutrient dense meats” no good!, They use worthless meats so they can advertise that their food is “meat based”, but their food’s protein is “plant based proteins”.

    There are over 500 grain free dog food brands that are currently being investigated by the FDA for their effect on Heart Disease in dogs, and the FDA has recently released their first list of brands to be directly linked to Heart Disease.

    The full warning list:
    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

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