What to feed my dog?
February 2, 2019 2:49 PM   Subscribe

I currently feed my dog, Gatsby Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy food (he's on puppy food for another 6 months, then we'll go to dog food). It's grain-free, with protein from high-quality sources (not weird byproducts). But I've recently read an article that says that, not only is grain-free not doing anything to help dogs, it could hurt them. So now I'm confused. Please help me figure out what food is the best for him.

According to the article, a grain-free diet can cause an increased risk of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (FDA statement). The Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University agrees. They say to just make sure that the food has an AAFCO statement which is based on the nutritional profiles that that the Association of American Feed Control Officials publish annually. But they ALL have that statement! Is there really no difference between the cheap grocery store brands and the fancier ones?

I never really cared about the grain-free thing, but all of the high quality dog foods seem to be grain-free. I still want the protein to come from the high quality sources, but apparently, I DON'T want grain-free food. How can I find that? Any suggestions?

(I currently pay around $50 for a 30 lb bag of his grain-free fancy food. I'm okay at that price point, though I wouldn't be sad if it were cheaper for something with grain in it.)
posted by Weeping_angel to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, Dog Tax!
posted by Weeping_angel at 2:50 PM on February 2, 2019 [15 favorites]

The FDA statement doesn't say "grain-free" is the problem. It says DCM seems to be associated with foods that have legumes or potatoes among the main ingredients. Dogs are basically wolves and wolves didn't evolve to eat grains, so it's hard to imagine that a diet free of grains would generally be a bad thing. But it does sound like it might be smart to look for a food that doesn't feature a lot of legumes or potatoes. TOTW High Prairie does list those fairly high on the ingredient list. That's what we feed our dog too. I hadn't read about this before and now I'll have to think about whether I want to consider switching. But if I do switch to another food I'll be looking at the prevalence of legumes and potatoes, not whether or not the food has grains.
posted by Redstart at 3:06 PM on February 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

We read the same info and recently switched our pups from Taste of the Wild to Hill's Science Diet. Recommended by our vet. The dogs are doing well on the new food and their, uh, .... output.... has improved in consistency as well. YMMV.
posted by gnutron at 4:59 PM on February 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

DCM is much more prevalent in some breeds than others and your dog doesn’t look like he has much (if any) is the most affected breeds as part of his mix.

I fed my previous dog Orijen, which is grain-free, and was incredibly happy with it. My dog never smelled, has solid stools, and had a beautiful coat.

My new dog is a Golden Retriever and since they’re prone to DCM, I decided to choose a food with grains in it. He eats Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin & Stomach (the salmon formula) because he has a sensitive stomach and sensitive skin. I’m very happy with it and would recommend any of the other Purina Pro Plan formulas, but specifically the Pro Plan as I feel it’s higher quality than the other formulas. I also really like Fromm and Anamaet for grain-inclusive dog food. It’s going to be hard to find a grain-free food that doesn’t have legumes or potatoes as one of the top ingredients. I did a TON of research in the last six months into the available dog food on the market, so let me know if you need other recommendations (I am in no way a vet. Just a very intense dog owner.).

However, if your dog is doing well on TOTW, I don’t see any reason to remove him from it.

(Apologies for any odd formatting - I’m on mobile.)
posted by vakker at 5:17 PM on February 2, 2019

Wolves eat the guts of what they kill and there is grain in there, as their prey are grazers. Dogs are scavenvers and eat a lot of different things. Diamond naturals makes good pet foods, they are mid higher priced. When I switched my cats to Diamond, they came after it like it was whatever it is that cats love. This is dry food.
posted by Oyéah at 6:00 PM on February 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

biscotti is busy with RDR2 helping people who die anyway and then passersby think you did it so you have to go murder them a little bit, but she's been following this for a while. Her takeways are that you want food that was developed by nutritionists and tested with AAFCO feeding trials and that meet all wsava criteria, about which I know nothing. Right now only Hill's, Eukanuba, Purina Proplan, Purina One, and Royal Canin, and some Iams, fit that.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:37 PM on February 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

Thanks, guys! I was already thinking about switching his food before I read about the grain-free thing, because he's not terribly excited about the Taste of the Wild. He'll eat it, but begrudgingly. I think we're going to try the Hill's Science Diet. It doesn't list any byproducts on the ingredient list and it's made with chicken and pork, both of which he LOVES in treat form, so hopefully he'll like it. (Bonus, it's a little cheaper than TOTW!)
posted by Weeping_angel at 8:16 PM on February 2, 2019

Please note that there is a current voluntary recall on Hills food, so check product number!

posted by Riverine at 8:42 PM on February 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Dogs are basically wolves and wolves didn't evolve to eat grains [...]

Being able to digest starches may be exactly what made wolves into dogs. Not entirely relevant to the question, but most dogs can eat grains or carbohydrates.
posted by runcibleshaw at 11:19 PM on February 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Dogs are basically wolves and wolves didn't evolve to eat grains [...]

Being able to digest starches may be exactly what made wolves into dogs. Not entirely relevant to the question, but most dogs can eat grains or carbohydrates.

Quoted for truth. I’d like to stop seeing “dogs are wolves, so...” to justify decisions we make as owners of animals purposefully domesticated to depend on humans for thousands of years.

See all those dog breeds on the AKC chart? Almost all of them, if not all, were specifically designed by us humans, to do what we have needed them to do (pull a sled, fight a lion, find/herd/retrieve our dinner, sit in our royal laps etc), and to eat what we have needed them to eat. As a result, dogs eat what humans eat, for the most part, just in different ratios.

There was no Purina in 1732 or whatever year you want to pick in Days of Yore. But we still relied on dogs for work and companionship. Before commercial dog food was invented—rather recently in the history of domesticated dogs—our dogs got the less desired parts and by-products of our own food. Same as today.

All of that is to say that, in general, there is nothing wrong with grain in a dog’s diet. (Cats are different. They are obligate carnivores.)
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:20 AM on February 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Tons of great science-based info here.

I manage a veterinary hospital and as GCU says I've been following this issue since it was first formally identified. ImproviseOrDie is 100% correct, domestic dogs are not wolves any more than humans are chimpanzees, and if they "evolved" at all (almost all domestic dogs were selectively bred), they evolved to eat our leftovers, which are cooked, and contain grains. (as an aside, I have no problem with raw feeding, I include some pathogen-tested raw in my own dogs' diets, but most of the arguments for raw feeding are based on zero actual science. If you want actual science about raw feeding, start here, which is a research project being done at the University of Helsinki) Raw food is hard to track when it comes to DCM though, since many people just feed a home devised diet. I just use it as an occasional addition.

There is an excellent Facebook group about this issue, which is soundly science based.

I feed my own dogs Pro Plan. After over a decade of being a dog food snob, I realized that I was a hypocrite in using science for all my decisions except what I fed my dogs. I switched from the "better" dog foods to Pro Plan (which is developed by veterinary nutritionists, tested in feeding trials, including the longest feeding trial ever performed, and has NO cases of dietary DCM associated with it), and my dogs have never done better. There is a reason the overwhelming majority of show dogs are fed Pro Plan.

People have a real emotional attachment to their dogs' foods (I did), and will make all kinds of arguments and excuses about why they shouldn't feed one of the "big four" foods. But THOSE are the companies who actually put big money into research and development, not just marketing, whereas Champion and Blue Buffalo and Fromm spend their dollars on marketing and trying to convince people that their food is better because of the ingredients list rather than scientifically-verifiable things like, you know, actual feeding trials and veterinary nutrionist input. The ONLY diets I am aware of currently which meet ALL WSAVA criteria are Hill's Science Diet, Purina Pro Plan, Purina ONE, Eukanuba, Royal Canin and some IAMS diets. Any prescription veterinary diet will likely be fine because those diets MUST be feeding trial tested to show they actually do what they claim to do. JUST AAFCO certification is not enough, since ALL the diets the dogs with dietary DCM were eating meet AAFCO certification requirements (through ingredients lists alone, NOT feeding trials).

(as an aside, ignore sites like Dog Food Advisor like the plague, DFA is a human dentist with no formal animal nutrition training, he bases his recommendations on ingredients lists, which is useless in terms of actual nutrients being provided)

(as a second aside, one of the WORST offenders in the Facebook group in terms of dietary DCM is Acana, and Champion pet foods, who make Acana and Orijen, are one of the worst offenders in terms of talking around the issue, obfuscating, and generally not seeming to give a shit that their diets are harming dogs)
posted by biscotti at 8:49 AM on February 3, 2019 [36 favorites]

Have you considered raw food?

I've fed my dogs raw food for the last 18 years and have never had problems. They're healthy, their teeth are great, they don't have bad breath, don't fart, have clean coats, consistent bowel movements (like clockwork), and bright eyes, never need bathing (unless they roll in something foul), and love their food.

I don't quite understand the appeal of kibble -- any kibble. The heat and processes that must be applied to the food to get it to be kibble are enough to scare me away. I feed my dog human-grade food from a farm. It comes in frozen patties like hamburgers. Simple. Why would I feed my dog low-grade food that I myself wouldn't eat?

Here's the before and after of my current dog. On kibble (when I adopted her at 2 years old) and now, on raw food and 8 years old. The differences are striking -- straw-like coat vs lustrous sheen, flakey-skin vs healthy inner ears, dead versus gleaming eyes, miserable versus engaged demeanor.
posted by dobbs at 3:24 PM on February 4, 2019

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