Grain-Free Pet Food Products and the FDA

HEALTH ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH GRAIN-FREE PET FOODS

I’m sure that by now you’ve probably heard at least a whisper about grain-free food and an article the FDA released in late June of this year.  The FDA doesn’t release a lot of warnings about pet food, so when they do the veterinarian community takes notice.

Boston Terrier Giving a High Five

GRAIN-FREE PET FOOD LINKED TO HEART DISEASE

To sum it up, there does in fact appear to be an association with cardiac disease and grain-free type varieties of pet foods in dogs and cats. You can find the full article on grain-free dog food and the health risks associated with at the FDA.

PET FOOD INDUSTRY REGULATION

I think it is important to first say that the pet food industry is not traditionally made up of veterinarians.

Just take a walk down aisle 7 at your local grocery store, and you’ll find products branded by celebrity chefs, non-veterinary animal behaviorists, and heck, if you’re in a small town or at a co-op, you might even find a locally made product.

Essentially, if you can make it, package it, and get people to buy it, you’re in business!

Dog Food Box
Photo by Daniel von Appen on Unsplash

Wait a minute… So just anyone can make pet food?

YES!!! And that is why it is crucial that you discuss your pet’s diet with your veterinarian. I promise we didn’t go to school for 8 plus years, and never learn a thing about nutrition. It’s just not possible.

WHICH PET FOOD SHOULD I BUY?

Here is the deal, as a veterinarian, I personally only trust 3 companies:

Here’s why – These companies not only employ and consult with veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists in all aspects of their organizations, they also meet AAFCO requirements, AND they perform food trials.

PET FOOD TRIALS ARE IMPORTANT

Food trials are the most important part, and we are unfortunately seeing side effects because some pet food companies have elected to skip this.

Had these grain-free products gone through a food trial, and the animals were followed for any length of time, I suspect they would have noticed something wasn’t going according to plan.

Please do not think that these companies are the go-to products among veterinarians because we get some type of compensation or kickback.

If that were true, I wouldn’t be paying nearly $80 every 2 months for my personal cats’ prescription diets. Between my two small furchildren we are managing IBD, lymphoma and urinary crystals, so I’m right there in the trenches with you.

SHOULD I CHANGE FROM GRAIN-FREE PET FOOD?

Here is my best advice if your pet is currently on one of the named products from the article, or any grain-free type food products – get them switched over to a non-grain free variety diet.

I would stick with the 3 companies I mentioned earlier, and find a product that is appropriate for your pet’s life stage by checking the AAFCO statement on the packaging.

For example, if you have a puppy, look for a product that is for the growth life stage or for all life stages. Remember, you don’t have to purchase the most expensive food on the market.

If you looked up some of the product names in the article from the FDA, I bet you would be shocked at the prices of some of those bags!

Cat Eating from a bowl
Photo by Konstantinos Feggoulis on Unsplash

WHAT IS AAFCO

Some of you are probably asking yourselves, what the heck is AFFCO, and I’m so glad you asked!!!

It is the Association of American Feed Controls Office, AAFCO for short, and it is a voluntary membership association that essentially sets standards for animal feeds.

As a veterinarian, I look for these statements because it means that the product meets minimum requirements for vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients for healthy pets.

When owners are asking me about what food to buy, I always direct them to these statements, to make sure they are feeding the right food for the appropriate life stage of their pet.

TRANSITIONING TO A NEW PET FOOD

Transitioning over to a new food product is also something that needs to be done in a controlled fashion.

I know it’s super easy to switch over to the new food completely right away, but this is just asking for your pet to have a case of diarrhea pretty quick.

TRANSITION SLOWLY

I recommend transitioning over to the new food slowly.

For example, if you feed your dog 2 cups of food per day, I would recommend for each feeding a 1:3 ratio of new to old food.

Do this for a few days, then increase the new food to a 2:2 ratio, increasing the ratio of the new food over the course of let’s say about two weeks until you have switched over fully to the new product.

DON’T SWITCH STRAIGHT TO A NEW FOOD

The point is, don’t just go immediately to 100% new food so we can avoid adverse side effects, which some people will misinterpret as an “allergic reaction”.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR PETS HAVE BEEN EATING GRAIN-FREE FOOD

If your pet has been on a grain-free diet over the past few years, I would recommend getting a check-up from your veterinarian as well just to make sure everything looks and sounds good on a physical exam.

CHANGES THAT REQUIRE AN IMMEDIATE VET VISIT

If you are unable to get them to the vet, some possible changes that you might notice at home that may indicate something is abnormal include, but are not limited to:

  • decreased activity level
  • tiring quickly/easily
  • lethargy
  • difficulty breathing
  • excessive/chronic coughing

If you notice any of these things or anything else that causes concern, please take your pet to the veterinarian immediately for evaluation.  Make sure you tell them that your pet has been on a grain-free diet and provide them with the name of the food they have been eating.

German Shepard Lying on Wood Walkway
Photo by Fineas Gavre on Unsplash