The FDA warns that certain Grain Free Diets can lead to heart problems

Buyer Beware: 

Recently the FDA sent out an announcement concerning the use of certain grain free diets from small boutique pet food manufacturers.  The concern is there may be a link between a specific heart disease known as cardiomyopathy in dogs eating these foods. 

Recently, cardiologists have recognized an increased amount of cardiomyopathy in dogs that normally were not associated with this disease.  Many of these dogs were on grain free diets manufactured by small boutique pet food companies.

The FDA did not report which grain free diets were associated with this heart problem, so we cannot tell you a particular diet to avoid.  It is also important to note that this potential link has not been proven and the FDA has not recalled any diets. 

Here are two different links from the nutrition departments of two major U.S. veterinary schools that discuss this recent announcement by the USDA.  Article 1   Article 2 

The brand Blue Buffalo, can be credited with the start of the category of all-natural pet foods and many other pet food marketing fads. This diet was created by a great marketer named Bill Bishop. After being very successful in advertising and marketing, Bishop became co-founder of SOBE the natural tea drink. They were successful in building a huge natural brand. So much so that Pepsi co bought the brand for over $300M. Seeing a need for a more natural pet food Bishop decided to start a natural pet food company in 2002 with his two sons. His diets focused on what market research said pet owners wanted to see on pet food labels: Meat, no grains, and no meat by-products. He marketed his creation in major chain pet stores asking shoppers: Which pet food would you feed your dog? Using only ingredient labels to compare products the average consumer, not understanding labels and nutrition quickly picked the Blue label. Why? Because it had chicken as the number one ingredient, it had no meat by-products and no grain.  Sales rapidly grew and soon they built a name brand so strong they sold out in 2015 to General Mills for over $8B.

Here is the Truth

 All- Natural

Multiple smaller boutique manufacturers are now marketing all-natural specialty diets they claim are healthier for your pet.  Many of these foods contain ingredients such as peas, legumes, sweet potato, and unusual proteins such as kangaroo and bison; some formulations can even be vegetarian.  Many of the labels say that these are all-natural diets. It is important to remember the term all-natural means nothing (wood and rocks are all-natural, but would you put that in your pet’s diet?).  It is just a marking term used by manufacturers on both pet food and human food labels

No By-products

By-products are not beaks and feathers.  Meat by-products are mainly the organ meats that are the most nutritious source of protein available for your pet. Its use in pet foods also ensures we use as much as the animal’s body as possible. Not wasting our agricultural and natural resources. Through testing Blue was found to contain meat by-products and they settled a law suit from Purina and changed their label.

No Grain
Dogs do very well with diets that contain grain. There is no research that shows different. In fact, there is research that shows dogs prefer diets that contain grain over those that don’t. Blue lost a class action multimillion-dollar lawsuit over false advertising because their food did contain grain. Currently their website discusses the needs for carbohydrates in pet diets and the use of whole grains in their all-natural diet.

The Number One Ingredient Is Meat

Ingredients on the label are placed in the order of the weight of the ingredient prior to manufacturing. The difference between chicken meal and chicken is water. Chicken is 80 % water and chicken meal is 15% water. You turn chicken into chicken meal when you make a dry dog food. A food that has chicken on the label first might have less chicken protein in the food then a food with chicken meal even as the third ingredient.

We cannot allow marketing trends and marketing fads to determine which diets are the best diets for pets.  We also must be very cautious about websites, internet articles, and even magazine articles that rank pet foods.  (Even articles written by veterinarians). Just because an individual owns a boutique pet food store or has pet nutritionist on their badge at Petsmart does not make that person an expert on what to feed your pet. Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionists or individuals with a doctorate in animal nutrition are the real experts.  These individuals have the education and nutritional research that gives them the credentials to be the only real experts.

Which diets should we feed our pets? Look at foods that have been tested and verified through the Association of the American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO ensures that manufactures meet the group?s minimum requirements for protein, fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. I think it is best to choose from manufactures that apply rigorous quality control and testing. There are two companies I have had the opportunity to see the research on, experienced how their products performed, observed the quality control of both the ingredients and final product and toured the manufacturing sites in which their foods are made. These two companies are Hills (Science Diet and Prescription Diet) and Royal Canin (Royal Canin and IAMS). These are not the only good manufactures. I believe Purina has some good quality diets. Not the BENEFUL diets but their PROPLAN and Purina ONE diets are solid products. Blue has been the king at making false marketing claims, but they now are bringing the right people on board. They have hired veterinary and animal nutritionists to make the required changes. Keep in mind the following marketing claims and tactics do not make a diet a great diet for your pet:  Grain-free, limited ingredients, all-natural, no meat by-products, and organic. Nor does being named for a famous actor or cook-book writer, nor costing more per pound then the steak you eat make it is a great diet.

Also, it is important to remember that new research may find that even diets from the best manufacturers are lacking in required nutrients. For example, in the 1980s animal nutritionists and veterinarians working together discovered that all manufacturers were deficient in providing the required amount of taurine an essential amino acid needed by cats. Action was quickly taken and since this discovery we have seen a dramatic decrease in feline cardiomyopathy.

What Do I Feed My Pets?My wife and I have two chocolate labs. One has a severe food allergy and we feed her Royal Canin Hydrolyzed Protein and limit her treats to those that contain either no meat protein or a hydrolyzed meat protein. Our cats are on a combined diet of Royal Canin dental and satiety formulas. We keep them on Royal Canin Satiety to manage their weight. We don’t free-feed either the dogs or cats, timed consistent feedings help keep them from over eating and becoming overweight.