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I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the studies linking grain-free dog food and heart issues.
If you’ve been chilling around these parts for a while, you’ll know my dogs and I have been on an interesting dog food journey.
Felix was a delightful hot mess of food intolerances, allergies, and diet problems. Our quest to help him get healthy led us to try almost every diet model currently available. When we adopted him, he lived on grocery store kibble. We started with a quality grain-based kibble. Then corn-free. Then wheat-free dog food. Then soy-free. We tried grain-free and novel proteins. We’ve tried vet formulas and hydrolyzed protein foods. We tried dog foods with additives and without additives. We tried foods that were high-temp extruded kibble and baked kibble. We tried freeze-dried dog food and dehydrated. We tried low carb and high fat and low glycemic dog foods. We currently feed a mix of franken-raw and pre-made raw dog food. We’ve fed it all.
As we’ve tried so many different diet models, I think I have a somewhat unique perspective on dog food. And I’m gonna lay it on you right now:
Every single dog food out there is the wrong food for your dog.
And that’s the tea.
Let me explain:
When we talk about the human diet, we often talk about eating a variety of foods and ensuring we have a balanced diet. We’ve recognized that the key to getting everything we need is mixing it up.
And yet, when we look at our dog’s diet’s, we are always in search of the ONE TRUE FOOD that is nutritionally complete and that we can feed our pets every day, forever and ever.
In my opinion, this brand loyalty and lack of diversity in the canine diet can contribute to the development of health problems.
Too much of a good thing is still a bad thing, guys! Case in point: legumes in dog foods.
8 years ago, all the best advice out there suggested that grain in dog food was doing our dog’s harm – or at best, that it was a really bad option for a good number of dogs. I’m a firm believer in the idea that when we know better, we do better. And wanting to do the best for their dogs, a lot of people switched to grain-free dog foods.
Flash forward, and now we’re learning that grain-free, legume-based foods made from pea, lentils, chickpeas etc. may be a bad option for a good number of dogs too as they may lead to heart problems.
One thing really jumped out at me from the announcement that heart disease and grain-free dog food may be links:
“Among the dogs that developed disease and ate a single primary food, 90 percent had been fed a grain-free diet.”
Oh hey. 90%. NINETY PERCENT. (Qualifier: The study had some flaws. The data can be interpreted a lot of ways. This stats is a part of the story, but it’s not the whole story.)
What jumped out for me was this: “and ate a single primary diet”
Could this problem be mitigated if legumes weren’t the core of their diet? Could the effects of grain in dog food be reduced if they weren’t what your dog was eating most of? Would Felix have turned into an itchy mess when he ate chicken if I hadn’t fed it to him every woofing day?
Is the problem here TOO MUCH of a good thing and not that any one thing is…bad?
I don’t know. I’m not a vet. I’m not a veterinary nutrition expert. I’m not a veterinary researcher. I’m a dog mom who cares a lot and want to do the best for their dog. That’s it.
But I believe that where there is smoke, there could be fire.
I am a big advocate of rotation diets and nutritional diversity for dogs.
But what does that mean?
For me, it means rotating the brands, carbohydrate and protein sources I feed my pets AND adding fresh, healthy foods to their diet.
I always get a strange look when I suggest this to people. Almost mock horror BECAUSE IT GOES AGAINST EVERYTHING WE’VE BEEN TAUGHT ABOUT DOG FOOD.
We’ve been taught that dog food brands are either “good foods” or “bad foods”.
We’ve been convinced that we can boiled quality down to a star rating system that is universally true.
We’ve been told that changing your dog’s food has to be done VERY CAREFULLY or you’ll make them very sick.
We’ve learned that people food is poison.
How many times have you been in a Facebook group and someone asks “What is the best dog food for my beagle?” and people ACTUALLY ANSWER like there’s one true food that will work for every beagle?
How many times have you heard someone say “oh that food killed my dog?”
It’s all a farce.
There is no one answer and no one food that every pet is going to thrive on.
And it’s my opinion that we potentially have so much to gain by recognizing there are a lot of good foods on the market – and embracing them all.
Will rotating your dog food prevent illness? REAL TALK: I don’t know. But for most dogs? It’s not likely to hurt.
There are so many potential benefits.
You are no longer counting on ONE brand to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time reducing the risk of a nutritional deficiency or excess affecting your dog’s health.
You are introducing your dog to a more diverse (and therefore more complete) nutrient base. For example, each protein has a different amino acid profile.
You are teaching your dog’s intestinal tract to expect change. This is particularly helpful during food shortages, formula changes or emergencies where your favourite dog food brand may not be available.
Food intolerances, often to common dog food ingredients, can develop over time. This was particularly true of my Felix. By rotating his foods, we were able to help keep his itchy skin and yeasty ear infections at bay without medications.
Adding fresh, dog-friendly vegetables and dog-friendly proteins not only creates a delicious meal your dog will enjoy more, but it offers another nutrient boost. Most (but not all) kibbles are made using a high-temperature extrusion method. While this works great to create a dense, dry kibble, high heat can also degrade nutrients which is why many foods add a vitamin mix.
So, if I’ve convinced you: how do you start your dog on a rotation diet?
After all, while I am a huge advocate of a rotation diet for dogs, I’m not a fan of stomach upset. It’s not a benefit if it makes your dog sick in the process.
- Pick a few brands that use different protein and carb sources.
- Transition your dog from your current food to your next choice of food over 7 – 10 days. (KOL’S NOTE: If you have a dog prone to stomach upset or who is a senior and has not previously had diversity in their diet, you can absolutely go super slow and transition over 10- 15 days.) Need tips on transitioning? Check out this post from Preventative Vet.
- When you get near the end of that bag of dog food, choose a new food and transition to that.
- Repeat transitioning to new foods every bag or at least every 2 – 3 months.
- Keep a log of the foods you use and what you liked/didn’t like about each, so you know what to use again and what foods you would skip.
- Add fresh dog-friendly foods on top of the kibble varying the type. Keep in mind that in order to digest and absorb nutrients in food and veggies, dogs require them to be pureed. (Pro-tip: most high-end boutique pet stores sell veggie mixes in their freezer section.)
It’s that simple. Rotation diets for dogs don’t have to be hard.
Bark back: Do you feed your dog a single food, a mix or a rotation? Why? Do you have any questions about rotation diets?