They claim grain is safe (it’s not) and have neglected to mention the connection of processed inferior ingredients to heart disease in dogs. Why is that?
Dr. Lisa Freeman – a veterinary nutritionist professor from Tufts University – has been very outspoken about grain free dog food’s link to dilated cardiomyopathy. She’s told everyone from the New York Times to readers of the Tufts vet school blog that “boutique grain-free” dog foods were responsible for the dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) cases.
2018 was a Busy Year in Pet Food
DCM Study Misses the Big Picture
Diet associated heart disease in dogs, “what we know”
Unless Dr. Freeman considers Royal Canin, Purina and Diamond to be boutique pet foods – she’s wrong on her assessment of the problem. The truth is many different brands, mostly from medium to large manufacturers are linked to low taurine levels and the DCM diagnosis in dogs. Why would a veterinary professor attempt to sway pet owners away from small pet food brands?
Hold that thought.
In another statement, Dr. Lisa Freeman told the New York Times:
“Grains have not been linked to any health problems except in the very rare situation when a pet has an allergy to a specific grain.”
This one is simply unforgivable. Grains most certainly have been linked to serious health problems over many decades – the risk is mycotoxins. Mycotoxins – even at low levels – pose a serious risk to pets. Further, mycotoxins are an on-going problem. Earlier this year Biomin.net published the the 2018 Global Mycotoxin Threat stating grains in North American tested as “Extreme Risk“. Where do you think those ‘extreme risk’ grains end up? Hint: it’s not human food.
Telling pet owners to switch to a grain based pet food is just switching out one problem for another. So again, why would this veterinarian try to direct pet owners away from small pet food brands towards grain based pet foods when grains are a certain mycotoxin risk?
Again…hold that thought…there’s more…
Poor Digestibility of Ingredients
In 2003, the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine published “Taurine status in normal dogs fed a commercial diet associated with taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy”. This study found that processing and “poor digestibility” of ingredients played a role in canine heart disease. Why hasn’t any veterinary nutritionist investigating the DCM cases today discussed the risk of processing and inferior ingredient link to canine heart disease?
Perhaps it is because no veterinary nutritionist wants to talk about law being violated in pet food. Even though it is a direct violation of US Federal Law, pet food is allowed by FDA to contain ingredients sourced from “diseased animals or animals which have died otherwise than by slaughter”. Isn’t it common sense that sick, decomposing dead animals would provide inferior nutrition in pet foods? Add numerous processing stages to these inferior ingredients – is it any wonder the necessary amino acids are destroyed?
There is one more significant issue…
Endotoxins and Heart Disease
Briefly mentioned in the New York Times article was a clue to a completely different group of DCM diagnosed dogs; “But taurine levels in other affected dogs, including mixed breeds, are normal, which puzzles researchers.” In other words, some sick dogs have low taurine levels linked to DCM – but other dogs diagnosed with nutrition related DCM have normal taurine levels. Why are these dogs with normal taurine sick with heart disease? It might be endotoxins.
Endotoxins are ‘toxins’ that are released on bacterial death. Gram-negative bacteria such as Salmonella and or E. coli killed through cooking or processing of pet food ingredients ‘get even’ with their killers – they release a toxin that can be more dangerous to dogs and cats than the live bacteria.
Waste pet food ingredients such as “diseased animals or animals which have died otherwise than by slaughter” are certainly sources of massive levels of Salmonella an other gram-negative bacteria. When cooked/processed into pet food ingredients – they become sources of massive levels of endotoxins.
From “Endotoxin Effects on Cardiac and Renal Functions and Cardiorenal Syndromes” –
“Endotoxin plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of multi-organ dysfunction in the setting of gram-negative sepsis. Indeed, heart and kidney impairments seem to be induced by the release of circulating pro-inflammatory and pro-apoptotic mediators triggered by endotoxin interaction with immune cells.”
From “Low level bacterial endotoxin activates two distinct signaling pathways in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells” –
“Bacterial endotoxin, long recognized as a potent pro-inflammatory mediator in acute infectious processes, has more recently been identified as a risk factor for atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.”
In 2016, myself and an educated pet owner whose dog died from endotoxemia had a meeting with FDA. For more than an hour scientific evidence was submitted to FDA regarding the dangers to pets of endotoxin levels in pet food. FDA openly dismissed the risk. (To learn more about the risk of endotoxins in pet foods, Click Here.) Will FDA admit the link of heart disease to endotoxins in the pet foods? Doubtful.
Why are veterinarian nutritionists telling pet owners false information?
Why is no scientist, veterinarian, or FDA representative discussing the multiple links between inferior ingredients and high processing of ingredients to canine heart disease?
The blinders need to come off – a biased investigation does not benefit pets. Will investigators intentionally ignore issues as not in the best interest of industry? And how many more dogs will die because of what they ignored?
It’s a concern.
Update to original post. Dr. Michael W. Fox sent the following statement adding several good points:
“I would urge Dr. Lisa Freeman – a veterinary nutritionist professor from Tufts University, to reflect on the instances of dogs with seizures and inflammatory bowel, skin, ear and anal gland problems who return to good health when their diets no longer contain corn, cereal glutens and byproducts, and soy, many being GMO and contaminated with glyphosate among other agrichemicals and aflaxoxins.
Glyphosate blocks manganese uptake, a nutrient essential for many organ functions.” See: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274005953_Glyphosate_pathways_to_modern_diseases_III_Manganese_neurological_diseases_and_associated_pathologies
And “Aug 13, 2018 – Rachel Ray’s Dog Food, Nutrish, is marketed as being free of “[No] artificial flavors or artificial preservatives” and being a “Natural food for dogs” …
The current epidemic of DCM in dogs may have a multi-factor, pluricausal origin, genetics not withstanding. Lectins in GMO potatoes and in conventional pulses/legumes, when not properly processed are of concern. They may also play a role in the genesis of kidney failure especially when put in manufactured cat foods since cats are obligate carnivores, and in the development of autoimmune diseases.”(Editorials. Do dietary lectins cause disease? BMJ 1999;318:1023-1024 ( 17 April ).joanne lMember
You make a good point, however since these recent cases were seen in dogs with the grain free diets and the FDA is on this we have to wait and see. If people want to avoid all “fillers” than you can’t feed dry dog food. Which in some cases that is not feasible for some people. These cases were found in a University Hospital so we have to trust what they are observing. Since their observation was found in dogs being feed grain free we have to trust what they are seeing. We can assume a lot of things but observation is key.
Now I do agree that you need to feed a high quality food that you trust, without cheap ingredients, I feel a good wholesome grain in diet with a trusted brand is fine. With their findings I think I would still prefer grain in for now. On the other hand you can choose a brand that has grain in and grain out and rotate so the dog is not getting grain free all the time. What I do believe is that dogs should not consume legumes on a daily basis because of the Phytic acid that legumes contain. Plus they are so far out of a canines diet!! More far out than grains.
Furthermore, some of the dogs that were feed grain free and had DCM, when they switched their diet back to grain in their results improved. And those results were from the University Hospital. So I would suggest not to be ignorant to what they are finding, they are doing their best to help these dogs. Again we have to wait and see before we assume anything. To me when the FDA gets involved it is a sign of concern.
We all have our eyes on the pet food industry and are breathing down their necks to finally get this right.
For now I’m avoiding kibble of any kind. I have small dogs so it’s affordable to feed freeze dried.If you go to Stella’s or Primal’s f/b page, chewys you’ll see there are thousands who feed this to their pets and are doing very well. There are also many posts there questioning their food regarding DCM . So they are very aware that we are holding them accountable in them providing a nutritionally safe product for our pooches. As of now they are not implicated as one the offending foods. At this time we really just don’t know.
I always rotate several brands they have gotten used to and do well with. However I will now eliminate (until this dcm is settled) the protein rabbit and lamb. These “exotic proteins” contain little natural taurine. Will stick with turnkey/sardine, beef, chicken etc. They also get boiled eggs, lean steak, boiled fish, boiled chicken when we have it. When given the all clear I will again give the very little kibble in-between of Stella Chewy’s.
I believe adding taurine-rich fresh foods would be the safest and most beneficial method of introducing more taurine to your dog’s diet. Decreasing the risk of dietary DCM will be one of many benefits of introducing more fresh foods to your dog’s diet! The following table contains a list of food items and their taurine content [15,68]. Seafoods, dark meats, and organ meats generally contain the most taurine. Each food item in this table is raw unless otherwise noted.
Tuna (albacore) 176-200
Tuna (canned) 42
Tuna (whole) 284
Mackerel (whole) 207
Clam (fresh) 520
Clam (canned) 152
Herring (whole) 154
Capelin (whole) 144
Smelt (whole) 69
Chicken (light meat) 18
Chicken (dark meat) 83-170
Chicken breast 16
Chicken leg 34
Chicken liver 110
Chicken hearts & livers 118
Chicken necks & backs 58
Chicken (whole) 100
Turkey (dark meat) 306
Turkey (light meat) 30
Turkey (ground, 7% fat) 210
Duck leg (meat) 178
Duck leg (skin) 62
Rabbit (whole, ground) 37
Beef (ground, 15% fat) 40
Beef (ground, 25% fat) 28
Beef heart 65
Beef kidney 69
Beef spleen 87
Beef lung 96
Beef tongue 175
Beef gullet 80
Pork loin 50-61
Pork lung 78
Pork gullet 65
Pork liver 86
Pork kidney 77
Lamb leg 47
Lamb kidney 24
Did you know that dogs being fed homemade and raw diets are also turning up with DCM? And that many of the dogs with diet related cases are not taurine deficient?
The two recent major peer-reviewed studies from UCDavis and North Carolina State University Colleges of Veterinary Medicine findings are implicating diets that are from boutique companies that do not have much research, contain exotic ingredients and/or contain legumes and/or potatoes. They also do not employ full time veterinary nutritionists. It’s not just about taurine. They know it is about the diet though because when taken off this type of diet and fed a WSAVA approved food, the dogs DCM was cured.
Check out this link for more info:
- This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by crazy4cats.
I am aware . I wrote Primal with my concerns. Also why I rotate .
Wanted to chime in, Lindsay here, thank you for your concern!
If you haven’t read my blog on the Primal website, please check it out:
All of our balanced diets contain a ton of the powerful amino acid building blocks for taurine, well over the AAFCO minimums. In addition, we don’t add any grain free legumes or starchy ingredients that might impact the absorption of these amino acids. That being said, I did have our diets sent back to the lab to be tested for taurine content as well and I will post the results for you here in a moment (our website will be updated with these values by formula soon). Please feel free to shoot us an email to customer service if you want to chat about this further! [email protected] Just ask for me, and they’ll forward it my way.
Thanks again for being a so diligent with your pet’s health. We appreciate you!
Lindsay Meyers CVT
Again, it’s not just about taurine. I’ve read issues about this company before. Do they have a full time veterinary nutritionist on staff? Do they do testing or feeding trials? I would keep it to no more than 10 to 15 percent of total calories if you really want to feed. Do a search up top on this company. It’s been discussed before. Pay close attention to Aimee’s posts. She is the most informed and educated poster on this site by far!
Best wishes. I know you are trying to do what you think is best! I’ve done a 180 on my way of thinking when it comes to dog food. I realize I cannot rate a food by it’s ingredients. I’m sticking to the brands that employ the experts who can. 😊
Yes..they do have feeding trials. They can’t put for All Life Stages on their label without feeding trials. Unfortunately feeding trials are also flawed.
How do you reconcile that feeding trials are the best way, imperfect as they are, to determine if a food is nutritionally sound, with the fact that hardly anyone (or their foods) does AAFCO feeding trials? My favorite dog food companies (aka the ones I learned about through your yearly reviews, like Merrick) don’t seem to have any AAFCO feeding trials under their belt.
I’m not trying to question your knowledge or recommendations (because I love both), more just hoping I’m not the only one out there thinking about this stuff so much.
Thanks for your question! I’ve discussed feeding trials in a lot of different articles over the years, and I’m happy there are others “thinking about this stuff” as avidly as I am.
It’s true that in the article you mentioned in your note, I said that the “nutrient levels” method for establishing the nutritional adequacy of a food was flawed:
“Feeding trials are considered by most veterinary nutrition experts [emphasis added] to be the ‘gold standard’ for proving nutritional adequacy claims – superior to the ‘nutrient levels’ method of proof. That’s because it’s quite possible for a laboratory analysis to confirm that a food contains the amounts of various nutrients judged to be necessary for maintaining a dog, but for the product, in practice, to fail at that very job.
This is possible because not all nutrients may be in a digestible (‘bioavailable’) form. Most nutritionists agree that feeding trials offer the most reliable confirmation of a food’s ability to deliver nutrients in a form that will benefit the target species.”
However, as I’ve mentioned in many of my other articles on commercial diets, the feeding trial method of establishing nutritional adequacy is flawed, too.
The above-referenced article didn’t assert that feeding trials are the best way to prove the nutritional adequacy of a food. Its purpose was to clarify what feeding trials are, and describe conditions for dogs used in the studies.
In that article, I did call feeding trials “important” – and I still think they are. It absolutely is important to know whether a food that may well be fed to a dog every day for years on end is, in actuality, capable of sustaining dogs over time, without causing gross deficits leading to illness, weight loss, or abnormal blood chemistry.
I’m not going to go so far as to regard them as requisite, however, because they aren’t perfect. For one thing, they really aren’t long enough. Just because a diet can sustain a dog in a laboratory environment for about six months without causing illness or abnormal blood values doesn’t mean it will perform the same way for dogs who may lead a much more active and stressful life, and for years on end.
Also, as I explained in my 2007 dry food review (/issues/10_2/features/Dry-Dog-Food-Review_15897-1.html), foods that acquire the right to use a nutritional adequacy claim based on feeding trials need not be formulated to meet the other standard for nutritional adequacy: the “nutrient levels” criteria. Here is an excerpt from the 2007 article – but I’m going to boldface and correct a big mistake I made there:
“Foods that pass feeding trials are not required to contain minimum or maximum levels of any particular nutrients. Therefore, it’s possible for a food to sustain dogs long enough to ‘pass’ the trial, but fail to demonstrate an ability (in real-world, long-term use) to promote optimum health. As one example, mineral excesses may take a year or more to cause noticeable health problems, but a food that claims to provide complete and balanced nutrition for adult dogs (a ‘maintenance’ claim) may have passed only a 26-week test.
“There is also an AAFCO feeding trial (at least 13 weeks long) for products intended for dogs during gestation and lactation and another that tests puppy diets (10 weeks). To earn the right to claim nutritional adequacy for dogs of ‘all life stages,’ a food must undergo all three trials sequentially, for a total of 49 (or more) weeks. [Actually, to earn the ‘all life stages’ claim, the food must pass the ‘gestation and lactation’ and then the ‘growth’ (puppy) trials, sequentially, for a total of about 23 weeks. The ‘maintenance’ trial is not actually included.] If it passes, its label can state, ‘Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages.’
“Many experts regard the ‘all life stages’ feeding trial as the best proof we have of a food’s ability to perform. But again: Even a year-long [nope, only six-month!] feeding trial may fail to reveal faults that can cause serious health problems if fed as a sole diet for a long period.”
However, as I said in the 2007 article, the “nutrient levels” claim is flawed, too:
“Foods that meet the ‘AAFCO nutritional profiles’ qualification can lack palatability and/or digestibility. If dogs don’t like the smell or taste of the food, they won’t eat enough of it to gain its nutritional benefits. Also, the nutrients contained in a product may not be present in a form that the dog can digest. The AAFCO nutrient profiles themselves contain a problem: Not many lay people are aware that the profiles allow for a wide range of values. Far from being some sort of industry ‘standard,’ or offering suggestions for optimum nutrition, they actually offer only broad guidance.”
The fact is, both methods that a company can use to “prove” the nutritional adequacy of a product are flawed. Here’s an excerpt from a 2012 article I wrote about the research conducted by pet food companies (/issues/15_6/features/Pet-Food-Company-Research_20546-1.html):
“Many people consider AAFCO feeding trials as the ‘gold standard’ for confirming the nutritional adequacy of a canine or feline diet. However, because the products that met the ‘feeding trial’ test of nutritional adequacy do not have to meet the ‘nutrient levels’ criteria, there is the possibility that these products may contain excessive, deficient, or unbalanced nutrient levels that may contribute to the development of health problems if fed as a sole diet for periods that are in excess of the testing period. An ideal test would encompass both a feeding trial and meeting the AAFCO nutrient profiles, but no such standard currently exists [emphasis added].”
Veterinarians are taught in vet school (with texts underwritten by pet food companies) that only foods qualified by feeding trials should be fed, ever. And the vast majority of veterinarians believe this. Maybe it’s because of all the blood tests a dog in a feeding trial is subjected to . . . But six months! It’s not enough to base a lifetime of feeding on, in my opinion.
That’s why I don’t say in our pet food reviews that one ought to use the type of nutritional adequacy claim as a selection criteria. I do think, however, that this information is worth knowing –that dog owners should always keep in mind which test was used to prove the adequacy of their dogs’ food as they monitor their dogs’ health and condition closely. If it’s a “feeding trial” product – ask the maker (or better yet, look for yourself) to find out if it DOES meet the “nutrient levels” standards, or do some nutrient values deviate from the AAFCO Canine Nutrient Profiles? If it’s a “nutrient levels” product, ask the maker what sort of informal feeding trials they use, how long the diet is fed to its test dogs, and what sort of tools are used to monitor or evaluate the dogs used in the trials. Some companies use their employees’ dogs or the dogs in a shelter close to the company headquarters as informal test dogs, but don’t follow up with any sort of health tests. These informal tests really only give the company information about the palatability and digestibility of the product; they don’t address long-term health consequences. But then, neither do the AAFCO-protocol feeding trials, unless you consider six months to be “long term.”
- This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by Patricia A.
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