Aloha! I’m Dr. Shannon Nagasako, I’m the other “new” doctor lucky enough to recently join the team here at Columbia City. I was born and raised in Hawaii, completed my Bachelors in Portland, went to veterinary school in Colorado and glad to be back in the Pacific Northwest where I’ve been a veterinarian for the last eight years!
Being in an urban, inquisitive, well educated community, I often get this question- are grain free diets really better for my pet? Well, let’s dive in. Over the past 10 years, the pet food industry started marketing grain free towards our companion pets. Although grain free diets (those that contain wheat, corn, sorghum, etc) have been shown to be beneficial to people with grain/ gluten intolerances, there has been no well documented research to show that these diets are beneficial for dogs or cats. The small exception may be for those pets with skin allergies or gastrointestinal disease. But for the vast majority, these grain free diets have no advantages. In fact, in 2018, the FDA issued a statement that grain free diets are being linked to a severe form of heart disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, most specifically the golden retriever. DCM is where the heart becomes very enlarged and can’t pump blood effectively resulting in coughing, exercise intolerance, difficulty breathing or even sudden death.
Dr. Josh Stern, a veterinary cardiologist and geneticist at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, began finding that dogs being fed grain free diets (those containing peas, lentils, potatoes or other legumes as the main ingredient), exotic ingredients (containing kangaroo, bison, buffalo, etc.) or “boutique” diets made by smaller manufacturers (ie Acana, Nutrisource, or really any company claiming their diets are grain free) have low taurine levels in the blood. Taurine is an amino acid necessary for heart function that is commonly found in grains. To make it more confusing, not all these dogs with DCM are showing low taurine levels. This makes us think that although there is adequate taurine levels, there may be another component to how dogs are not able to metabolize and utilize the taurine for adequate heart function. So we can’t simply just give taurine as a supplement to dogs on a grain free diet. More research is being done to investigate this hot topic.
Well then, what should I feed my dog? At Columbia City Vet Hospital, although we generally do like to support small, local businesses (obviously, we are one!), for dog foods we recommend Hills, Science Diet, Royal Canin or Purina according to your pets age and lifestyle. These companies have been producing pet foods for decades, they have the funding, research and capabilities to ensure their food meets all AAFCO and FDA standards, and they have board certified veterinary nutritionists on staff.
When doing your own online research, here are a few tips: Ensure the website’s author is a veterinarian, has a PhD in animal nutrition or a board certified veterinary nutritionist. Be wary of anecdotal information and ratings based on opinions. Ensure that the source of the information has references to scientifically conducted research study.
That was a lot of information regarding dogs, but what about my cat? Taurine has been a well known amino acid for cat heart function for the last 30 years so it is in many commercially produced cat foods, listed in the ingredients. DCM has been documented in cats, but not nearly as many as in dogs. Whether the grain free aspect is a risk factor in cats is unknown and still being researched.
Thank you for sticking with me! I look forward to meeting you and your four-legged family and friends!
Please visit these links for more information on grain free diets: