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Is Your Pet’s Food Doing More Harm Than Good?

Is Your Pet’s Food Doing More Harm Than Good?

If you feed your pet a grain-free or “boutique” diet—such as home-cooked meals or food with unusual ingredients and proteins from a small manufacturer—you may want to reconsider. While the diets might sound “healthy” by using words like “natural”, “organic”, or “human-grade”, research has shown that many of these grain-free or “boutique” diets are actually not nutritionally balanced for pets’ needs, and they can instead cause serious health problems.

In June 2019,  veterinary cardiologists, nutritionists and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that they are currently investigating a possible link between grain-free and “boutique” diets and the development of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. DCM can result in abnormal heart rhythms, congestive heart failure and even sudden death.

Initially it was thought that those diets might be responsible for a deficiency in taurine, an amino acid essential to heart health in pets. However, most of the pets who have been diagnosed with DCM are not lacking taurine—but all of them were being fed grain-free diets with alternative fillers, home-cooked foods, or a kibble made with a more exotic protein such as kangaroo, duck, or bison. This leads researchers to believe that the uptick in DCM cases is related to a grain-free or unusual diet.

Even more concerning than the link to DCM is a problem seen firsthand by our veterinarians at Garden Oaks Veterinary Clinic. Since our hospital opened in May 2015, we have seen an alarming trend in both gastrointestinal other severe, systemic health problems linked to these diets as well.

In the life of a veterinarian, it’s common to regularly see patients for vomiting and diarrhea. But what is not normal is seeing young pets (1-2 years old), presenting for these symptoms on a chronic basis. Many of these pets vomit on and off every week or always have soft stool. Or they might go through periods of “picking” at their food without interest or constantly eating grass. Once the doctor performs a physical exam, often times the first thing they notice is that the pet’s abdomen is tense. This signals that the pet is in pain or uncomfortable for some reason and needs treatment.

As an AAHA-Accredited practice, our team always performs our due diligence to rule out other medical causes. However when all diagnostics come back negative, we start to look at what’s going into the pet’s body.

Over the past few years, Dr. Chmaitelli has seen an exponential increase in these visits, and once he started looking at the food these pets were being fed, he noticed that they were all on some form of grain-free or boutique diet. In many cases, the symptoms don’t always appear right away but can instead appear months or even years after being on the food.

One potential cause Dr. C thinks might be to blame is the complex salts that are used in these “organic” or “preservative-free” foods. The meat and other ingredients still have to be preserved in some way in order to maintain a proper shelf life, so instead of using traditional preservatives, they sneak in complex salts and flavorings. In addition to chronic GI upset, we have seen these ingredients lead to an increase in thirst and urination because the salts wash out the kidneys and can eventually lead to chronic renal failure. Similar to humans eating “fast-food” consistently, the long-term health ramifications of eating a poor diet will eventually catch up.

So what is the solution to these problems? Transition your pet’s food to one that you can trust to be complete, backed by years of research, and proven to improve your pet’s quality of life. According to Dr. C,  “The healthiest dogs that we see day in and day out are eating Royal Canin, Science Diet, Purina Pro Plan, Iam’s and Eukanuba”. Within days of transitioning their pets from “boutique” foods to one of the Big 5 upon Dr. C’s recommendation, pet owners reported that their pet’s symptoms were nearly or completely resolved.

“Personally, I feel much better about my job as a veterinarian if I see more patients for wellness visits than sick visits,” added Dr. C. “The current state of the pet food industry makes that nearly impossible, especially because many pet food marketing tactics encourage owners to be swept away by the latest trend, rather than trust sound science and years of clinical experience in their veterinarian.”

Our hospital was founded on the premise of building relationships with pet owners through education, and both Dr. Chmaitelli and Dr. Day will continue to share their knowledge and experience in the hopes that it can help even more pets. If you are considering a change in your pet’s food–or want to know if you should be–set up a nutrition consultation with one of our veterinarians. You can also order your pet’s food online and use the promo codes to save!

  • Purina Pro Plan: Free Shipping on All Orders + SAVE 30% on your first automatic shipment with Promo Code TAKE30
  • Royal Canin & Hill’s: Save 25% on your first order with Promo Code HURRAY25

Do you have a pet nutrition success story since transitioning your pet’s food to the Big 5 that you’d like to share with other pet owners? Let us know about your experience, and you could be featured in our next blog!