Fielding D. O’Niell, DVM, MS
How often I hear this question. Recently, several “buzz words” have appeared in the media; “grain-free," “natural”,“organic” or my all-time favorite “raw diet, that’s what they eat in the wild”.
Road kill is what they eat in the wild these days but I wouldn’t recommend a steady diet of it even if it is “natural, organic and grain-free”. Studies of homemade and commercially prepared raw pet diets have shown an imbalance in the calcium-phosphorous ratio, deficiencies in vitamins A and E and excessive amounts of vitamin D (more harmful than a vitamin D deficiency). Commercially prepared raw diets were found to be contaminated with salmonella in 20 to 40 percent of those sampled. Freeze-thaw doesn’t eliminate salmonella contamination. Interestingly, raw chicken for human consumption also has a salmonella contamination rate of 21 to 44 percent. I wouldn’t advise feeding your pets, or your family, raw diets unless you are on one of those Reality TV shows. They have an ambulance waiting off-camera, but do they take pets?
Now let’s talk “grain-free”. First of all, a grain-free diet is not hypoallergenic. A truly hypoallergenic diet must be completely devoid of beef, chicken, soy, eggs, dairy, as well as, corn and wheat. Most of us think of dogs as carnivores. The broader group of canids are carnivores, but the domestic dog’s eating habits have evolved over a long period of time to become omnivorous. Complex carbohydrates (grains) are actually needed for normal stool production in domestic dogs. A recent study aslo linked grain-free diets to a nutrional deficiency in the amino acid Taurine which leads to the life-threatening heart disease, Dilated Cardiomyopathy.
If you want to know the quality of your pet food, check the label. Does it say “manufactured by” or merely “distributed by”? Who makes it and where is it made? Does it have an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) feeding trial statement? Do they have a board-certified veterinary nutritionist on staff? Now that you’ve read the label, don’t always believe the listed ingredients. A recent study tested 52 pet foods for specific ingredients. Twenty of those had discrepancies between labeled ingredients and what was actually in the food.
Do not believe everything on the internet! “The things that you’re liable to read in that bible, ain’t necessarily so.” For instance, the recent class-action suit against Beneful is completely without merit! So were the last two which were dismissed by the courts. Call the 1-800 consumer information number and ask the questions in the previous paragraph. Also, Whole Dog Journal publishes an annual report on the best dog foods. It’s good.
Please don’t listen to slick prime-time TV ads or internet misinformation. Do your homework.