In recent years, there has been a trend towards feeding dogs grain-free diets. However, many veterinarians do not recommend this type of food for dogs. In this article, we'll explore why vets don't recommend grain-free dog food and why that's the case.
Firstly, what is grain-free dog foods?
Grain-free dog food is formulated without any grains such as wheat, rice, or corn. Instead, it typically contains ingredients such as potatoes, peas, lentils, and other legumes. The idea behind grain-free dog food is that dogs are carnivores and their diets should consist primarily of meat, rather than grains or other plant-based ingredients.
How do vets make recommendation?
Veterinary recommendations are essentially a risk-benefit analysis. Everything comes with some level of risk, and vets determine the option with the lowest risk in relation to potential benefits. For instance, daily walks can risk dogs being exposed to transmissible disease, motor vehicle accidents, and parasites. However, we can mitigate a lot of those risks with vaccination, lead walks, and parasite prevention without impacting the benefits, so vets recommend all these things. When we cannot mitigate risk, such as when puppies are not fully vaccinated yet, then vets recommend to not walk them until they are.
Another example is parasite prevention - these medications are not risk-free just like any another common human medication like ibuprofen or paracetamol. The risk of illness or death from parasites such as paralysis ticks, fleas, intestinal worms, and heartworm are much higher than the risk of an adverse effect with equal severity, and so vets recommend parasite prevention even though there is a low chance of adverse effects.
So why don't vets recommend grain-free foods?
This is because there is no benefit to feeding a grain-free diet unless your dog has a specific allergy to a particular grain, such as wheat or corn. If so, there is no need to avoid all grains, just those that they are allergic to. Grains are a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and removing them from a dog's diet can lead to deficiencies in these important nutrients. In addition, many grain-free dog foods are high in fat, which can lead to weight gain and other health problems. Protein allergies to common proteins like chicken, beef, or egg are much more common than grain allergies, but unfortunately grains tend to get a much worse reputation. There is also a potential risk to feeding a grain-free diet, including a possible association between grain-free diet and a type of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy. It is unknown why there is an association, or if there is a cause and effect relationship, but due to unknown level of risk coupled with no real added benefit, there is no reason for vets to recommend a grain-free diet.
Some misconceptions as to why grain-free isn’t recommended
"Vets know that grain-free makes dogs healthy, and they want to have sick dogs so they don’t recommend it"
Vets feed the same foods they recommend to their own pets. Contrary to some beliefs, vets are in the business to help pet owners keep their pets healthy, not making money from customers. Any extra income vets bring in for a clinic doesn’t go to the vet - it goes to the business.
The big pet food companies pay vets to recommend their products
This is certainly a MYTH- the biggest benefit vets get from big companies is a discount on food for their own pets.
Vets don’t know anything about nutrition
This is also a MYTH - all veterinary schools have a nutrition unit that runs for at least one semester, so vets are equipped on understanding pet nutrition.
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