Let’s Talk About Feeding FIDO A GRAIN FREE Diet.
Historically dogs’ natural feeding pattern was expending energy as scavengers – snacking when they could on whatever they could, including dead and/or decaying animals (or more politely “carrion”). Sounds appetizing, right? But hey, it’s survival. They also went hunting together in a pack, scarfing down as much as they could swallow in big toothy bites before another pack member shoved them aside. In the wild, dogs cycled between these pack-style feedings, and opportunistic snacking, and not just on the carrion, but also fruits and grains. Just like other carnivores – feeding also means stopping in the middle of that berry patch and eating the good stuff because it’s there; or digging up root plants/veggies if they could sniff ‘em out – it is calories in and that’s the name of the survival game. Not much that’s edible gets left behind because the consequences are too great. Now, I’m generalizing here but the point is that dogs have always eaten meat, and they’ve always eaten grains and fruits too – truth is, just like our bodies need a well-balanced diet, so do theirs. Makes sense, right? A balanced diet is the best diet.
So why feed a grain free diet? If your veterinarian recommends it. That’s it. Full STOP. There’s no other real reason to do it; and the only reason a vet would recommend this eating style is because your pup was allergic to grains. And even then, supplementation of the diet is required to minimize the potential adverse effects from the loss of the nutrients in this style of eating. Your vet would no doubt want frequent checkups to monitor Fido’s health. Grain free diets have emerged over the last several decades as a more “healthful way of living” and the latest fad for people – and some people mistakenly think that because it’s ok or even better for them, it must be true for Fido as well. Well folks, I’m here to tell you that is absolutely not a safe assumption. Read on, friends.
I have yet to find a reliable scientific study that shows a grain free diet, in an otherwise healthy dog, that truly benefits from this eating style. Neither can I find a vet that recommends it outside of a medical reason to make this switch. Of course, it goes without saying that you should always consult with your vet. Especially if you’re noticing lethargy, a failure to thrive, or physiological changes with Fido.
Feeding A Grain Free Diet Can Be Detrimental To Fido’s Health.
When you cut out grains your dog can miss out on fiber, fatty acids and protein. Grains are good for skin and coat, and aid in digestion. Corn for example, has anti-oxidants to help with eyesight. When you cut out grains you are removing vital nutrients and fiber your dog needs. Potatoes, rice and corn aren’t evil – each has their own positive contribution to Fido’s health. Potatoes are a good source of energy absent animal protein or fat, Vitamins C and B6, and Magnesium; rice has a small percentage of protein but is largely a complex carbohydrate which is also nutritionally a good source of energy. Each of these three ingredients are considered starches.
The main ingredients in “grain free” dog foods vary, but typically they are 50-70% “premium animal ingredients” (what that means could be a subject for another blog!), and added to that can be oats, or millet because even “grain free” loyalists recognize that Fido’s diet shouldn’t strictly consist of animal protein. Ironically enough, millet is a grain. It’s part of the Poaceae family, commonly known as the GRASS FAMILY. It is, however, gluten free, unlike wheat, and is similar to sorghum and other cereal grains (which are also sometimes used in “grain free” diets). Millet contains high protein, fiber and anti-oxidants. It’s also a great source of calcium for developing bones, blood vessel and muscular contractions and even nerve function. The bottom line it is a whole grain, and it’s added to a “grain free” diet, which is a very good thing. You’ve got to add fiber and vitamins from other sources that simply don’t exist in animal protein. Historically dogs don’t only eat their kills – sometimes hunting wasn’t fruitful, so what did they do? They ate other stuff! So there’s a bit of a generalization happening here, and it is vitally important with a “grain free” diet that the kibble/raw diet is supplemented – “grain free” only means free from potatoes, corn and rice. It does not mean free from other, and in my opinion, necessary supplementation. The debate can be boiled down to potatoes, rice and corn.
Dog food kibble manufacturers bombard us with ads to sell their animal protein product and have villainized these starches, with claims that by merely adding potato, corn or rice to kibble somehow makes it a shitty, worthless filler. It’s just not true. More often than not, most kibble is processed and baked using incredibly high temperatures that degrade all nutrient content. Choosing this processing is a direct trade for a longer, more stable shelf life for their product; rather than choosing what’s in the best interest of Fido, but they don’t tell you that. You can’t just listen to the glitzy tag lines, because I promise you, the dog food industry is not as wholesome as they want you to believe. In addition, If you are buying kibble, consider switching to an extruded kibble brand because the process omits high temperatures, allowing retention of all that’s good about the kibble in the first place. Google it. 😊
Of course, too much of any one thing can be bad. You can’t just feed a slab of meat, just like you can’t just feed potatoes. As just one example, too much starch in a dog’s diet can cause all these conditions: pancreatic problems, endocrine disruption, indigestion, diarrhea, gas, leaky gut, immune dysfunction, inflammatory issues, allergies and skin issues. And guess what? If you keep feeding the starch then the issues just keep happening over and over again. I don’t know about you, but the idea of my dog having diarrhea and having to clean it up on the regular makes me want to barf. Not to mention how bad he probably feels.
The bottom line is know your dog; feed a complete and well-balanced diet. Corn is good, potatoes are good, meat is good – moderation and balance are key. I am not saying to feed a bowl of potatoes or a bowl of corn, or a pile of chicken. I’m saying that balance is everything. If you notice conditions like itchy, dry skin, lackluster coat, a snotty nose, digestive issues like overly stinky and frequent gas (both farts and burps (pew!)) don’t hesitate to talk to your vet. But please, don’t feed fad diets just because it’s the latest craze. Your dog could pay with its life. I cannot imagine anything worse than inadvertently causing health problems or even the death of Bart or Biscuit. I would never forgive myself. And in case you just don’t think bad things happen because of diet, check out this tragic experience (link used with permission) – https://www.facebook.com/TiffanieSchley/posts/10229497725136313 All the more reason to follow the science, consult with your vet and make informed decisions. Fad diets are rarely the answer for you and me, and neither are they for Fido!
I’ll just say straight up that this issue touches the nerves of some and has been hotly debated, even in the link above. There are zealots on both sides of this issue. I am neither. But my experience has been that more often than not, a balanced diet including meat, veggies, fruits and grains is the way to keeping Fido healthy. I believe in, and feed Bart and Biscuit a balance of all these food groups. I discuss it here because it’s important to me to do everything I can to extend the life of Bart and Biscuit. I want them around for as long as possible. Afterall, even then, their life expectancies are relatively short, and I don’t want to lose one snuggly glorious minute. What I hope your takeaway is that what you feed them is important; and that it’s your responsibility to do what is best for your dog. Just make it an informed decision based on real data and recommendations from your vet.
From one Dogma to another; my sincerest wish is for Fido to live his longest and best life! Renee
 If you want to be totally grossed out check out what might just be in your dog’s commercial kibble here: https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-industry-exposed/shocking-truth-about-dog-food/