I do feel bad for our parents. There are so many decisions they have to make regarding our health. Just when they think they have made the right decision the information changes.
After years of eating the same food, two months ago, my parents decided to switch my sisters to grain free food. River Song had several feet, and ear infections and Pocket often has a bad tummy. Since they made the switch River hasn’t had any allergies and Pocket’s belly has been better.
Then the stories started. Grain free food, long promoted as the gold standard of the pet food industry was the common thread in some dogs who were suffering from DCM or dilated cardiomyopathy which makes the heart weaken and become enlarged causing some dogs to suddenly go into heart failure.
There are dogs who are prone to DCM like Doberman pinschers, Irish wolfhounds, boxers and Great Danes. But recently veterinarians have seen DCM in golden retrievers, doodle mixes, Labrador retrievers and Shih Tzus. The common factor in many of these cases has been grain free diets, and, in a few cases, a raw diet.
It is not the absence of grains but what is substituted. Peas, lentils, chickpeas, and potatoes, which replace the grains in grain free food is being looked like the possible culprit. Some researchers believe that the carbohydrates are blocking the body’s ability to either make taurine or absorb taurine. Many of the most popular grain free brands, including Blue Buffalo, which my sisters eat, contains taurine, an amino acid used to break down fat, which is good, unless the carbohydrates are blocking the taurine, which is bad. Right now researchers don’t know. Many of the dogs with DCM have low taurine levels, but some have normal levels, deepening the mystery.
No researcher has named a specific brand of food. They have mentioned the term “boutique brands” meaning those that are made in small batches and not sold in major retail stores. They also have said exotic proteins like buffalo, kangaroo, and alligator Poultry and beef does contain taurine which helps keep taurine levels up if taurine is the problem.
Dog food companies have been trying to outdo each other by raising protein levels for years. Many consumers think protein equals meat, but often protein equals peas or potatoes. Many dog food companies, will split the carbohydrates up and list a few different types of peas or potatoes under ingredients. This could mean the main source of protein in your dog's food comes from carbs and not meat.
There are millions of dogs who eat grain free food and below one percent are showing symptoms of DCM. The vets are still not certain if it is a problem for all dogs or for certain ones who have rare biological issues causing the body to react poorly to peas and potatoes. The research is in the early stages. But the FDA was concerned enough about grain free food that they issued a warning to consumers.
My parents haven’t decided if they should switch back to food with grains. The vet tech they talked to said she feeds grain free food and sees no reason to stop. My parents are weighing the possible benefits of grain free for Pocket’s tummy problems and River’s allergies. They are going to monitor the research and make a decision when it is time to buy the next bag.
Being a dog parent is hard, and with this new controversy about grain free food, it has got harder.