Anyone who grew up with a dog in the house knew the rule about feeding your pup “people food” – only do it under the table when your parents aren’t looking. You didn’t know exactly why the furriest member of your family couldn’t enjoy Thanksgiving like everyone else, but you knew it was unfair. But what if your parents actually had the right idea?
If you were guilty of food smuggling as a kid, you might have grown up to be one of the dog owners that are part of the target market of grain-free dog food companies. These boutique dog food blends read like the labels at Whole Foods: lentils, chickpeas, and potatoes, and are carbohydrates that are meant to replace grains, plus exotic proteins like kangaroo and wild boar.
The appeal of these blends is that they sound like the pantry of a health-conscious human, so many believe that they are safer for their fur babies than traditional dog foods with incoherent ingredient lists. But a recent investigation by the Food and Drug Administration revealed a possible link between these boutique food diets and dilated cardiomyopathy, or D.C.M., a type of canine heart disease. D.C.M. leads to weakening and enlarging of the heart, with symptoms including fatigue, coughing, fainting, or even congestive heart failure, yikes!
While D.C.M. is not unseen in larger pups with genetic predispositions like Great Danes and boxers, but, veterinarians have been altering the F.D.A. of the presence of the disease in unlikely breeds like Labradors and Shih Tzus. The commonality between these poor pups was a grain-free diet heavy in peas, lentils, chickpeas, and other carbs used as alternatives to grains.
But don’t freak out just yet if you have a legume-munching pet. Though the FDA has recorded more than 250 of cases diet-linked DCM, no dog foods have been taken off the market yet, and there are still tons of dogs that live happily grain-free. Still, it may give you peace of mind to stay on the side of caution and find less risky but equally healthy dog food options.
Veterinary experts suggest consulting a vet before putting your dog on less than traditional diets. They may be able to recommend a food that has gone through rigorous quality control, unlike many of the options from small brands that do not have the resources to test their products for nutritional balance. Products with a “complete and balanced” notation are associated with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), and although they are not a regulatory authority like the FDA, their quality standards do have some merit.
While we may feel the urge to spoil pups with all of the fancy human food that we enjoy ourselves, it’s best to establish some boundaries. You can still take them with you to that vegan food festival – just do your research before you take anything home to put in their food bowl. Your labrador’s forest-dwelling forefather may have been able to devour wild boar without a second thought, but it may not sit well with your domestic friend.