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  • Writer's pictureKnollwood Hospital for Pets

It's OVAH...grain free foods do NOT kill pets!

Still freakin' over the OLD "grain-free kibbled dog food causes heart disease & death" news?

Not to worry, because all the data since the initial scare a few years back supports the news that unless you're feeding a dirt-cheap brand with very little meat protein and lots of bean and pea protein, your pet is safe. Rest assured, if you are feeding a good quality grain-free diet with mostly meat protein, or (even better) a fresh raw meat-based diet, or even are supplementing a kibbled diet every 2-3 days with fresh meat, your dog or cat will NOT develop heart disease at any higher frequency that would happen with any other food!

FACT #1: Pet food is STILL regulated by the same industry that makes the food - exactly like the fox guarding the chicken coop. AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials can and does set its own standards for what is acceptable in pet foods, regardless of whether their decisions stand up to scientific scrutiny. Despite National Research Council data (based on independent scientific data) showing how much protein dogs & cats need in their diets and which amino acids can be found in which foods, AAFCO allows pet food manufacturers to replace meat protein - a natural protein source for dogs and cats - with vegetable-based proteins, which can be deficient in amino acids such as taurine that our pets need to have on a regular basis. Taurine levels in such foods can be much lower than needed by both dogs and cats. Or higher, which is not helpful, either.

FACT #2: Removing inexpensive grains from pet food made a pet food more expensive - until some pet food companies discovered that beans and peas allowed a food to be produced as a kibble just as well as did grains, AND to also serve as a plant-based protein. Plant-based proteins are much cheaper than real meat. So, companies wanting to produce a cheap grain free diet could and did start reducing real meat in their pet food & loading up on plant-based proteins in their foods. Taurine levels in such foods were typically much lower than needed by both dogs and cats.

FACT #3: The best place for your pet to get ready-to-assimilate taurine, as well as practically any other nutrient? From meat and meat juices. And ideally, in as close to the natural form as possible. Does this mean that a real meat-based raw diet (frozen or dehydrated) is better than a real meat-based canned diet which in turn is better than a real meat-based kibbled diet? We'd say: Generally yes, but specifically, it depends upon the patient, because pet nutrition is not "one size fits all".


  • Kibbled foods are extremely low in moisture (kinda like YOU eating a complete balanced breakfast cereal for all of your meals, minus anything except water). Given the extremely high temperatures and pressures under which most kibbled diets are produced, the vitamins, minerals, and trace elements required as part of a healthy diet are often artificially added at the end of the production cycle. And nope, kibbled food does not result in cleaner teeth.

  • Canned diets have closer-to-real-meat moisture, but their production process also results in a loss of many fresh nutrients. Plus, many brands are famous for using those "with" labels, featuring a cute pet and the title "with (pick your protein) - leaving the question of what non-meat item is the majority of the food?

  • Dehydrated raw foods are easy to prepare, closer to a natural carnivore's diet, and reconstitute to a moisture level much like real meat. But choose carefully - some have pieces so large that the "add water and serve" label doesn't come close to permitting full rehydration of the food. However they are great for traveling since no refrigeration is required, and they can always be blenderized while dry to reduce rehydration issues. Plus, they smell like real food, an extra bonus for picky pets.

  • Raw fresh or frozen foods are closest to a natural carnivore diet and are ideal for many pets. Most result in a pet's ability to maintain a lean healthy body weight, a glorious coat, strong healthy teeth and a generally lower incidence of most nuisance health challenges. But they're not a panacea and traveling with them can be a challenge, since they must be kept chilled. Plus, ideally, they should be served at the body temp of the animal they came from, never cold or even room temperature.

  • One of the lectures Dr. M is most often asked to deliver to veterinary audiences is when a raw diet ISN'T a good choice to jump to. The answers? Some sick pets, some very young pets, many senior pets who have eaten kibble their whole lives, and pets with a whole variety of digestive issues that limit their ability to absorb nutrition from their food. ALL of these pets may require a very slow, possibly even glacially slow, transition from kibble to canned to cooked to raw foods. And for some of them, a balanced home-prepared cooked diet (with appropriate supplementation) may be best.


Think carefully about your healthy goals for your pet, and make an appointment to talk it over with your vet. Don't tag it onto an existing medical appointment the next time you visit the office. Developing a good diet for your pet takes time and involvement on your part. It takes time and involvement for your vet, too - so unless you want cookie cutter answers, DON'T expect to simply send your vet a long list of what you're currently feeding and expect specific answers on what to do and how to supplement. And DO expect to compensate your vet for their time. We find that most vets want their patients to be healthy and are glad to help as best as they are able. After all, appropriate nutrition is a good place to start instead of waiting until a pet is sick and you are desperate.

Yours in good pet health,

Dr M.

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