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Recently, the dog food industry has seen a huge demand for grain free dog food diets and, unfortunately, I don't see the market trending in the opposite direction anytime soon.
We see it in the Deli all the time. People suspect a grain allergy and—99% of the time—their dog does not have a grain allergy and shows no symptoms when they are exposed to human-grade and inspected grains.
Unfortunately, even after we explain this to clients, many are reluctant to even try any formulation that contains grains.
Seeing the increase in demand for grain free diets, the major pet food manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon and creating several different lines of grain-free foods. But without grains, these companies are struggling to provide enough calories without doubling the price.
Seeking a grain alternative, manufacturers have turned to affordable ingredients like peas, legumes, or potato starch to bulk up the calories in their foods. These grain-free ingredients are extremely hard for a dog to digest and should not make up more than 15-20% of a dog's diet, if at all. Some manufacturers will use 60-70% of these ingredients in their formulations to get the higher protein number, even though the protein is probably not digestible.
Since these ingredients are broken down by the body and basically turned into sugar, the pancreas is put into overdrive trying to digest them. If a dog's pancreas is under stress, it is most likely not producing enough of the necessary amino acid taurine.
Dr. Christine McCully, DVM of the Downtown Pet Hospital in Orlando told us, "[T]he problem is when [...] starches and legumes are used to increase protein content (likely for cost savings) instead of meat, thus creating low taurine."
In fact, this issue was serious enough to catch the attention of veterinary cardiologists. Suspecting a link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), veterinarians reported this information to the FDA, who is currently performing an investigation.
DCM causes an enlarged heart, which makes it harder to pump blood through the body. It also can cause valves to leak, which can lead to congestive heart failure.
Rather than pointing to a brand or formulation of dog food, the FDA believes the main culprit in dogs afflicted with DCM to be grain-free diets. Namely, dog foods that have legumes (peas, beans, lentils, peanuts, soybeans), pulses (the dried seeds of legumes), and potatoes (including sweet potatoes) as the main ingredient.
Taurine supplementation has helped or even reversed symptoms in many sick dogs, but one cannot ignore the role that diet plays in your dog's health. If a dog is fed properly, the pancreas and digestive system should be humming along and taurine supplementation should not be necessary.
All of these exotic ingredients and boutique diets are not supplying the dogs with what they need and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a thousand years behind the curve.
For example, Ol' Roy dog food is one of the worst respected dog food brands on the market, but is AAFCO-approved as "complete and balanced." Even though they can meet the nutritional requirements on the bag, the dog's body does not uptake any of the nutrients.
Rick's Dog Deli has been in business for 7 years and never had any of our customers mention that they suspected a taurine deficiency on one of our diets.
One thing I learned in this business is there are no shortcuts. Garbage in = Garbage out. We have tried every angle to keep our costs low but inferior ingredients simply do not work and there is no substitute for quality ingredients, especially when it comes to your dog's health.