After FDA warning about grain-free pet food, what's safe to feed our pets?


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  last year  •  22 comments

 After FDA warning about grain-free pet food, what's safe to feed our pets?
Veterinary nutrition specialists say pet food labels often focus on ingredients rather than nutrition.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

By   Linda Carroll

The Food and Drug Administration’s investigation of   grain-free dog and cat foods , highlights how hard it can be for pet owners to figure out whether they are buying the healthiest products for their beloved four-legged friends.

Consumers used to reading ingredient labels on their own foods might think that checking the corresponding labels on pet products will tell them everything they need to know. But veterinary nutrition experts interviewed by NBC News say those labels won’t provide much enlightenment.

“The food label is not designed to provide the information they are looking for,” said Dr. Jennifer Larsen, a professor of clinical nutrition at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. “And a lot of the pet food ranking lists available on the internet rely on the label and focus inappropriately on the ingredient list.”

Since 2018, the FDA has been investigating more than 500 reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy that appears to be linked to dog foods marketed as grain free. But for the majority of dogs, it's not yet clear what is causing the heart disease, experts say.

What’s important is the nutrients in the product, said Dr. Kathryn Michel, a professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “And those nutrients need to be bio-available, meaning they need to be in a form the pet can utilize.”

A much more informative part of the labeling is the nutrition adequacy statement, Larsen said.

“That has to be on all pet food sold across state lines,” she said, adding that this important part of the label can be hard to locate. “And the fonts are really small. Once you find it, you’re looking to see if it has a ‘complete and balanced claim’ and what species it’s for and what stage of life.”

Of course, on those criteria, many of the grain-free pet foods would have passed muster since they were “complete and balanced,” Michel said.

But the question pet owners ought to have been asking was why they should be avoiding grains in the first place.

That’s where the internet could have helped, Larsen said. While there is a lot of misinformation online, there are some reputable and trustworthy sites that help pet owners learn the facts. Both Lerner and Michel point to the website for the   World Small Animal Veterinary Association , which has a page for   nutrition guidelines .

The site also has a page that   answers common nutrition questions and dashes myths . It’s there that owners can learn that cereal grains are not bad for dogs or cats, that so-called byproducts are not bad for pets, and the potential dangers associated with raw diets and bones.

Another good source of information, experts say, is the   Petfoodology blog   run by nutritionists at Tufts University. The blog has recently taken up topics such as   “red flags”   on the ingredient list and terms such as   “human grade.”

According to the veterinary nutrition specialists at Tufts, it's not only grain-free foods that have been associated with heart disease, but also foods containing   "exotic" ingredients for dogs   such as alligator, venison and ostrich.

Cost doesn’t necessarily reflect quality. You don’t always get what you pay for.

Often owners are shopping for pet foods the same way they shop for their own, Michel said.

“Pets are more and more considered members of the family,” she said. “That is one of the reasons why, when we look at trends in pet foods for the last decade or so, they mirror what is seen in the human sector. So, while I don’t know 100 percent where the grain-free idea started from, it started cropping up when people started embracing low-carb diets and gluten-free foods.”

As much as a dog or cat might feel like a member of the family, they often have different needs, Michel said.

In general, it’s probably best to buy pet foods from big companies with long track records, Michel and Larsen said.

That’s because they’ve got lots of scientists and nutritionists on staff with plenty of experience, Larsen said. Beyond that, the bigger companies sell more pet food and if there’s a problem, it’s likely to surface sooner, she added.

And remember, Larsen said, pricey pet foods may not be best ones.

“Cost doesn’t necessarily reflect quality,” she said. “You don’t always get what you pay for.”


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Perrie Halpern R.A.
1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.    last year

Well now I feel better about not serving my Wally any of that stuff. I never saw a cat eat carrots. 

1.1  Ender  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @1    last year

My dogs love the little baby carrots. That is their treat.

1.1.1  sandy-2021492  replied to  Ender @1.1    last year

My dog loves baby carrots, but he hates the dried carrots that are in his dog food.  He picks them out and drops them on the floor.  Brat.

Perrie Halpern R.A.
1.1.2  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  sandy-2021492 @1.1.1    last year

Well my Cinnamon loved carrots but preferred broccoli. Then again, he was a rabbit, LOL.

2  Kavika     last year

Excellent links to help determine what foods are best for your dog/cat. 

Perrie Halpern R.A.
2.1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Kavika @2    last year

Thanks Kavika. I know it's important for us pet lovers to have good info on these issues. 

Buzz of the Orient
3  Buzz of the Orient    last year

After FDA warning about grain-free pet food, what's safe to feed our pets?

Filet Mignon? smoked salmon? chicken breasts? pork chops?

Buzz of the Orient
3.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3    last year

Actually both my cat and my dog lived 17 years on only dried food - no canned foods.

3.1.1  Kathleen  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1    last year

Mine too. Maybe a piece of chicken and ham for a treat.

3.1.2  katrix  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1    last year

My vet recommends canned food for my cats - especially the males, since they are more prone to cystitis and the dried food often has a high ash (magnesium?) content. But I think that really depends on the brand.

He also said the dried food is tastier so there's more chance of them overeating - which I haven't found to be the case. My cats like the taste of the canned food much better, as long as it's shredded.  They don't like the pate style.  Perhaps they're a little spoiled?

3.1.3  katrix  replied to  Kathleen @3.1.1    last year
Maybe a piece of chicken and ham for a treat.

I do give my cats people food as treats sometimes - I want them to like things like cheese and liver, so when I have to give them pills, I can sneak them into treats rather than going through that nightmare process.

3.1.4  Kathleen  replied to  katrix @3.1.2    last year

There is a special food for male cats for that. My male cats had the same issue, that is why we went with the Hill’s brand. They also have dried food for cats with urinary problems. They never had a problem after that.

3.1.5  Kathleen  replied to  katrix @3.1.3    last year

Yes, mine would still find some way to pick the pill out. The little stinker.

3.1.6  sandy-2021492  replied to  Kathleen @3.1.4    last year

Yeah, I had a male who needed special food for his urinary problems.  I just used the Purina version, and he got along fine.  His brother ate the same thing, even though he never had problems, so it must have tasted ok to them.

3.1.7  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1    last year

My dachshunds lived on Pedigree dried food for small dogs their whole lives and all lived to be 15 to 17 years old. Also no canned foods.

Buzz of the Orient
3.1.8  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  katrix @3.1.2    last year

Neither of my pets overate with dry food - often there were leftovers, and both remained slim throughout their lives.  I think it was better for their teeth as well.

Perrie Halpern R.A.
3.1.9  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  katrix @3.1.2    last year

My guy likes both wet and dry but I think he likes the dry more. You are right about why dry is bad for males, but not all male cats get crystals in their urine, which is the issue.

And he doesn't like the pate either. His fave is the gravy lovers. Licks up all the gravy before he eats the actual meat.

Perrie Halpern R.A.
3.1.10  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1.8    last year
I think it was better for their teeth as well.

For cats, that is very important. People are supposed to smell their pet's breath. If it smells bad, it is probably a dental issue. 

4  Kathleen    last year

My cats have always ate Hill’s Science diet. They were healthy and lived at 16, 18 and 20 years old. Willow is on it too.

5  Freefaller    last year

My cat (Tinkerbell) lived to 21 on whatever birds, mice and other critters she caught, she seemed happy and healthy

Buzz of the Orient
5.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Freefaller @5    last year

Is that an indication that eating only fresh wildlife leads to a long pet life?

5.1.1  Freefaller  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @5.1    last year

Lol I don't know, maybe.  I really only posted to say my old cats name (my daughters idea)


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