The Grain Free Pet Food Fallacy

The grain free pet food craze has stuck in my craw as an integrative veterinary medical practitioner for years, but the final straw for me to post this article was a 5 year old female Labrador Retriever that presented for her well visit a few days ago.  The previous year at 72 pounds, I had listed her as overweight and recommended “portion control, and/or weight loss diet, increased exercise to facilitate weight loss.”  The owner had asked me for dietary recommends at the time and I gave her a few options.

This year, my Lab patient not only failed to lose weight, but presented at a whopping 84 pounds, progressing her body condition from overweight to “morbidly obese.”  The owner was noticeably frustrated, so I asked her which diet she had chosen.  As it turns out, some time after last year’s visit, a friend of her’s convinced her that grains were the root of obesity and most other diseases that occur in dogs, and that her best way to get weight off her dog would be to per her on a grain free dog food.  When the owner saw the pretty wolf on the bag and its fantastic label claims, then even saw that the diet had its own TV commercial airing during prime time, she was sold…and succeeded only in transitioning her dog from a fat dog to an obese dog.

This grain free pet food craze that is pulling pet owners in hook, line and sinker, reminds me of the fat free craze in the early to mid 90’s.  The thought process was that if fat is eliminated from food items, we could eat the things we wanted and stay lean.  Like the grain free pet foods, the opposite actually occurred and people eating fat free foods only found themselves getting fatter and less healthy.

The problem was that in order to take the fat out of cookies, muffins, etc., sugar was added in its place to maintain its taste appeal and consistency.  Sugar, or glucose, is absorbed and utilized much more readily as an energy source than fat, resulting in the intake of a food additive that resulted in a great deal more calories per unit volume than fat.

Like the fat free human foods of the 90’s, grain free pet foods are also commonly loaded up with glucose to make up for the lack of grains.  But the grain free pet foods are even worse, because without the grains, the foods lack adequate amounts of soluble fiber.  Why is dietary soluble fiber important?  There are several reasons!

Soluble fiber unlike simple carbohydrate is not itself absorbed by the gut, but attracts water as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract.  This helps to control hunger by filling the bowel and contributes to regularity by bulking the stool, thereby facilitating bowel health and increasing the basal metabolic rate.  Soluble fiber also reduces the reliance on simple sugars in the diet, offering the pet more stable blood glucose metabolism, reducing obesity, and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, pancreatic disease, and other diseases.

Truly, the only thing that is impressive about grain free pet food companies is their marketing departments.  With images of wolves and wildcats and proclaiming that your domestic pet should be fed more like its wild ancestors, the message is hitting to millions of pet owners.  Let us set aside from for one moment that our domestic dogs and cats are different from their wild ancestors physiologically and metabolically (that is a whole other topic for another day), I am quite certain that after killing their prey, a pack of wolves did not add a pound of sugar to their fresh kill.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

Tips For Natural Support For Treatment Of Asthma And Allergic Bronchitis In Dogs And Cats

Natural, dietary and holistic management of asthma and bronchitis in dogs and cats.Asthma, chronic allergic bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), all fall under the category of inflammatory airway disease. In cats, we more commonly see asthma, which is an inflammatory disease of the respiratory airways that leads to episodes of spasm of the smooth muscle that controls the diameters of the airways; resulting in narrower airways that cause labored breathing and spasmodic cough. In dogs, the more common inflammatory airway disease presentation is of chronic nature, where inflammation leads to chronic cough, which tends to worsen during allergy prone seasons. Inflammation can be so severe in some dogs, that inflammatory products and debris can actually create a blocking or obstructive influence within the airways, leading to the term, “chronic obstructive airway disease.”

 Since inflammation is the driving force behind all of these presentations of inflammatory airway disease in all of its forms, natural treatment for all of these variations of disease must include natural anti-inflammatory therapy. Nutritionally, nature’s most effective molecule that naturally blocks inflammatory pathways that lead to deleterious health effects, is omeg-3-fatty acids. Omega-3-fatty acids can come from plant sources that are rich in omega-3, such as avocado, or from fish oils. High quality omega-3-fatty acids do not only reduce inflammation at the level of the airways, but also reduce inflammation in virtually all of the tissues of the body.

Another important area where inflammation may be reduced is at the dietary level. For any pet that is experiencing inflammatory disease of any kind, I recommend a grain free, preservative free diet, preferably with a novel protein source (that is, a protein source that the pet has never been exposed to). Starchy processed carbohydrates are pro-inflammatory, and thus should be avoided. Proteins that are common in foods and therefore a pet has had long term exposure to – such as beef and chicken – sometimes lead to allergic sensitization in dogs and cats, thus my recommendation for a novel protein source.  However, just because a diet is grain free and preservative free, does not mean that it is necessarily nutritious, so be certain to confirm any dog or cat diet’s reputation for nutrition by first checking with your veterinarian and choosing diets with strong positive reviews.

For any dogs and cats that have inflammatory airway disease, it is strongly recommended that air conditioning and heating filters are frequently changed. Ionic air purifiers are also very helpful. Keeping filters clean and reducing allergens and pollutants through ionic attraction help reduce the amount of reactive airborne allergens are being inhaled by your pet, thereby reducing inflammatory triggers.

 Lastly, if anyone smokes in the home, STOP. Smoking in the home creates constant assault to the airways, and no amount of management, alternative or otherwise will effectively control disease if smoking occurs in the home.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.