Canine Conundrum

Controversy ‘Dogs’ Grain-Free Diet



Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

Just like their people, dogs are prone to allergies, and pinpointing a cause and cure can be complicated. The maddening itching and scratching that allergic dogs experience can emerge from many factors, including changes in cleaning supplies, chemically treated grass at the park or sensitivity to food—with corn and wheat being common culprits, says Roberta Gleicher, a Purina-certified pet advisor in Long Island.

The possible role of these grains in pet food allergies has given rise to an explosion of grain-free products. “Most dogs don’t need grains. They need nutrients,” says Gleicher. “Some of these foods were well-researched, but others were created solely to exploit fads. That’s often why some have better quality ingredients and better nutritional profiles than others.”

Many dog owners have found grain-free food to be the answer to their pets’ frustrating health woes. “Our 4-year-old rescue terrier-mix had redness and itching on his belly to the point of bleeding from scratching. It flared up almost immediately after eating food or treats with grains,” says Allison Radkay, a blogger at LooksLikeHappy.com in suburban Chicago. “Trial and error, combined with a lot of antihistamines, kept his redness and hives to a minimum while we figured out his allergies: He can handle brown rice, but not corn or wheat.”

Grains aren’t evil, says integrative veterinarian Marty Goldstein, DVM, of South Salem, New York, and author of The Nature of Animal Healing: The Definitive Holistic Medicine Guide to Caring for Your Dog and Cat. “There is not a real requirement to feed them. The absence of grains isn’t a problem. What’s substituted for the missing grain is what can be the problem,” he notes. “Foods high in beans, peas and potatoes can block taurine utilization ...”

That could be unhealthy for some dogs, according to an alert issued last summer by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It notes that taurine is an amino acid that’s lacking in dogs that develop dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The condition, which can lead to heart failure if left untreated, has long been associated with certain large and giant-sized dogs. Concerns about grain-free foods were raised when reports of DCM surfaced in breeds not typically predisposed to the disease.

While the FDA investigates the potential link between taurine deficiency in some grain-free foods, dog owners and veterinarians ponder the best ways to approach a healthy canine diet. Opinions are divided.

Justin Shmalberg, DVM, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist based in Gainesville, Florida, and chief nutrition officer at the pet food company NomNomNow, says there’s a longstanding debate about the necessity of carbohydrates for dogs. “Metabolically, a carb-free, meaty diet, including proteins for necessary blood sugar, works.”  Still, dogs absorb many carbs just fine, he says. “Carbs are part of our dogs’ evolution. People eat carbs, and as dogs were domesticated, they adapted to eating more carbs.”

The absence of grains isn’t a problem. What’s substituted for the missing grain is what can be the problem.
~Marty Goldstein, DVM, author of The Nature of Animal Healing

Some food formulas substitute potatoes for grains, which are high in starch, says Gleicher. “Too much starch can raise blood sugar levels, which can be especially harmful for dogs with obesity or diabetic issues.”

Goldstein, founder of Dr. Marty Nature’s Blend freeze-dried pet food, headquartered in Woodland Hills, California, favors a predominantly meat diet for carnivorous dogs. “The addition of a small amount of cooked, whole grains is okay, especially for a healthy dog. My golden, eating food that contained some brown rice, lived to 19-and-a-half, much longer than today’s life expectancy of 8 to 10 years.”

In some cases, it may not be the grain itself that’s creating the problem. “A chemical residue on the grain or a genetically modified variety might trigger an allergic reaction,” Gleicher says.

There’s no denying that for some dogs, removing grain has led to significant relief from allergy symptoms. If it helps, there’s no reason to panic over the latest controversy, say the experts. On the other hand, take care in jumping on the grain-free bandwagon without due diligence, careful consideration and consultation with a vet.

“The best diet is individualized,” says Shmalberg. “Feed quality foods, rotate protein sources and ask where ingredients come from. Dogs are adaptable. Do what’s best for each of your dogs. Don’t just follow a trend.”


Connect with Sandra Murphy at StLouisFreelanceWriter@mindspring.com.


This article appears in the January 2019 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

News Briefs

The S P A C E Sanctuary Opens in Chappaqua

The S P A C E Sanctuary Opens in Chappaqua

“It was created as a place to gather, rest, breathe and heal.”
Bernadette Bloom Discusses Esoteric Healing on The Transformation Show

Bernadette Bloom Discusses Esoteric Healing on The Transformation Show

5 to 6 p.m. on March 7
Ward Off Spring Allergens with Nettle Leaf Tea

Ward Off Spring Allergens with Nettle Leaf Tea

Something as simple as drinking nettle leaf tea prior to and during early spring can be a helpful preventive practice.
Fresh Organic Becoming ‘Go-To’ Salon for Hair and Scalp Issues

Fresh Organic Becoming ‘Go-To’ Salon for Hair and Scalp Issues

Petition Demands Environmental Impact Study of Cricket Valley Project

Petition Demands Environmental Impact Study of Cricket Valley Project

Davenport is urging people to sign the petition asking New York leaders for an updated environmental impact study of the Cricket Valley Energy project.
Feeding the Future in Yonkers

Feeding the Future in Yonkers

Feed Your Future is part of a larger mission to empower communities to reclaim and revitalize environmentally and economically under-served neighborhoods.
Riverkeeper Film Screening and Panel Discussion

Riverkeeper Film Screening and Panel Discussion

5:30 to 9 p.m., March 5, at the Newburgh Brewing Company
NewLife Expo Returns to New York City in March

NewLife Expo Returns to New York City in March

March 22 through 24
Rhinebeck Pilates Plans April Conference at Jacob’s Pillow

Rhinebeck Pilates Plans April Conference at Jacob’s Pillow

April 26 to 28
Hilltop Hanover Farm Holds Maple Fest Weekends

Hilltop Hanover Farm Holds Maple Fest Weekends

March 23 to 24 and March 30 to 31
CBD Info Talks in Bedford Hills

CBD Info Talks in Bedford Hills

Free informational session on CBD products every Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m.
Juice Detoxes Work Better and Faster

Juice Detoxes Work Better and Faster

“The body doesn’t have to break down the solids, and the results are faster and better.”
Karen Drucker: Live at the United Palace

Karen Drucker: Live at the United Palace

7 p.m. on April 8
Free Spirit Holistic Expo Coming to Area

Free Spirit Holistic Expo Coming to Area

June 2, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Center for Green Building Opens in Mamaroneck

Center for Green Building Opens in Mamaroneck

Grand opening, including complimentary food and drinks, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 23.
Chef Alex Raij Serves Up Glynwood Farm Dinner

Chef Alex Raij Serves Up Glynwood Farm Dinner

6:30 to 10 p.m. on March 9
Equilibrium Studio Opens in Pawling

Equilibrium Studio Opens in Pawling

Equilibrium offers yoga, Pilates and Barre, as well as stretching and strengthening classes designed to help people rehabilitate from injuries and improve their athletic performance.
Dance the Weekend Away in Saratoga

Dance the Weekend Away in Saratoga

February 15 through 17
Natural Remedies Can Boost Immunity in Winter

Natural Remedies Can Boost Immunity in Winter

There is scientific evidence that acupuncture has a positive effect on the immune system.
Facial Massage Has Holistic Benefits

Facial Massage Has Holistic Benefits

“A well-performed facial massage is a glorious treat that will reduce puffiness, improve skin tone and enrich complexion."
Opioid Crisis Focus in Somers

Opioid Crisis Focus in Somers

1 to 3 p.m. February 7
‘Grandfather of Integrative Dermatology’ to Teach His Methods

‘Grandfather of Integrative Dermatology’ to Teach His Methods

“I encourage anyone living with unsolved chronic skin conditions to make an appointment and see how we can help you.”
Valerie Nivar Offers Natural Solutions for ‘Invisible Illnesses’

Valerie Nivar Offers Natural Solutions for ‘Invisible Illnesses’

“I am passionate about empowering my clients to achieve motivation and confidence and to live their best life.”
Sugaring Program at Sugar Hill Farm

Sugaring Program at Sugar Hill Farm

February 23
Holistic Chamber of Commerce Adds Poughkeepsie Chapter

Holistic Chamber of Commerce Adds Poughkeepsie Chapter

The new chapter will promote and support holistic and sustainable professionals and business owners in the Hudson Valley.
Synchronicity Brings Healing through Psychic Readings

Synchronicity Brings Healing through Psychic Readings

“These readings help offer guidance and insight into life situations.”
Microdermabrasion Now Offered by Daniela Hortencio

Microdermabrasion Now Offered by Daniela Hortencio

“It’s basically an exfoliation and skin rejuvenation procedure that leaves skin looking softer and brighter.”
Alternatives to Violence Project Seeking Workshop Facilitators

Alternatives to Violence Project Seeking Workshop Facilitators

The next Basic workshop in Westchester will take place March 8 to 10.

Add your comment: