Tag: dog food

Grain Free Diets and Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs: An Update

Ahead of the Pack

KC Pet Collective was ahead of the pack last year as we provided breaking information about the possible link between grain free diets and cardiomyopathy in dogs, particularly Golden Retrievers.  This post will give you the latest information about this developing topic.  We’ll help you understand the issue and make an informed decision about feeding your dog.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy  (DCM) is a condition caused by a weakening of the heart muscle that leads to poor contraction strength.  Ultimately, both the left and the right chambers of the heart become dilated, with thin walls.  The disease is most often progressive and fatal.  Dilated cardiomyopathy is linked to genetics, and some breeds are predisposed.  But in some cases, dogs with no genetic predisposition may develop this condition.  Although the cause of the disease is not fully understood, diet may be a contributing factor in some dogs.

Over the past few years, veterinary scientists at several prominent universities, including Dr. Josh Stern at the University of California, Davis,  have observed increasing incidence of DCM in breeds predisposed to the disease, like golden retrievers, and also in dogs with no genetic predisposition.  These investigators believe they have uncovered an association with feeding grain-free diets in certain cases.

What is the evidence for a link between grain free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs?

To date, there are no published studies that confirm a link between grain-free diets and DCM.  However, veterinarians have documented at least 150 cases where they suspect diet was the cause of DCM.  Owners and veterinarians have reported many cases to the to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).   As of July, 2018, the FDA had fully evaluated thirty of these cases. Many of these cases have occurred in dogs that are not genetically predisposed to the disease, and the affected dogs were fed grain-free diets. Specifically, these diets contain legumes like peas and lentils, potatoes, including sweet potatoes.  Derivates of these ingredients like pea protein, fiber, or starches, are also associated with DCM, according to the FDA.

Should dog parents avoid feeding grain free diets?

It’s important to remember that the ingredients found in grain-free diets are also present in other types of dog food. It’s still unclear exactly how these types of ingredients may lead to DCM in dogs.  These ingredients may lack certain types of nutrients, like the amino acid taurine, that are necessary for proper heart function in dogs.  They may affect how dogs process essential nutrients.

The FDA is not recommending that dog parents change their pet’s diet based on the available information.  The FDA is working with veterinarians and pet food companies that produce these diets to better understand the situation.  Always seek advice from a licensed veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet.

What are the benefits of feeding grain free diets?

Veterinary nutritionists are not convinced that there are real benefits to feeding grain-free diets for most dogs.  Grain-free diets are not necessarily more digestible for dogs.  And grain-free diets do not necessarily contain fewer carbohydrates than other types of dog food.  According to Dr. Angela Witzel of the University of Tennessee, about 1/3 of grain free diets are actually low carb, and 1/3 are actually high carbohydrate diets (Witzel, The veterinarian’s guide to alternative diet trends: Grain feree, raw, ketogenic, and more, abstract FETCH DVM 360 Conference, KC, MO, 2017).

Some grain-free diet advocates suggest that these diets are more natural for dogs, because dogs have evolved to be predators.  According to this theory, dogs are not able to digest starches very well.   In fact, scientists have discovered that dogs have evolved to produce more of the proteins associated with starch and fat digestion than their ancestor, the wolf (Axelsson et al, The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet, Nature, 2013: 495(7441)).

Where can I learn more?

You can learn more about this topic at the FDA website.  The FDA has also published a Question and Answer document about dilated cardiomyopathy and grain-free diets.

How Much Should You Feed Your Dog? Basic Steps to Estimate Energy Needs

How much should you feed your dog?

It depends on your dog’s age, breed, weight, activity level, and health status.  It also depends on the type and brand of food you are feeding.  Dog nutrition is complex, and that’s why you should always consult your veterinarian before starting any diet or exercise program with your pet.  Online feeding calculators and formulae for estimating your dog’s energy needs provide only a rough guide.  Only your veterinarian is qualified to make sound recommendations for your dog’s nutritional needs.

How much energy does your dog need each day?

There are many tools to help pet parents estimate how much energy their dog should get each day.  Whether you calculate by hand or use an online tool, there are two terms that you will need to understand.

Resting Energy Requirement (RER)

The resting energy requirement is the energy that your dog needs, at rest, to maintain current body weight.  The RER is calculated with the formula

70 x (body weight in kilograms)0.75

Where body weight in pounds/2.2 = body weight in kilograms (kg).

An easier way to estimate this is to convert your dogs weight in pounds  to kg (divide by 2.2). Multiply the weight in kilograms by 30 and then add 70.

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Maintenance Energy Requirement (MER)

The maintenance energy requirement is the energy that your dog requires daily based on health status, neuter status, activity level, and other factors that influence metabolism.  Veterinary nutritionists have established several multipliers to the RER.  You may find a good list at the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine .  Note that this list includes multipliers for weight gain and weight loss as well as maintenance.

For pets, it’s customary to refer to energy as kilocalories.  That’s equivalent to the Calories (with a capital C) that are listed on the labels for human food.

Online calculators

You may find online calculators that will help you make these estimates.  The most comprehensive calculator tool out there is provided by the Pet Nutrition Alliance.   To use this tool, you will need to provide basic information about your dog.   This tool is for adult dogs only.

How much food does your dog need each day

It can be hard to know how much energy is in your favorite brand of dog food. That’s because dog food companies do not have to provide on the label the energy content of the food.  However, your dog food company should provide this information if you request it.  Many premium brands, like Pet Wants, now voluntarily list the amount of energy per cup on their label.  You may also find information about the number of calories in your dog food online. Kurgo.com is one place to find the energy content of many brands and types of dog food.

Most veterinarians recommend feeding twice daily.  To estimate the amount you should give at each feeding, in cups, divide half your dog’s MER by the number of kilocalories per cup of your dog’s food.

Always use a standard measuring cup, rather than a roughly cup-sized household object, to measure the amount of food you are giving your dog.  Even a few extra kibbles can add up to a lot of extra kilocalories when they are given at every meal.  You need a consistent measure to help you keep your dog’s diet on track.

Don’t forget treats!

If you give treats (and who doesn’t?), don’t forget to include treats in your dog’s kilocalorie count.  Don’t be fooled.  Even treats like rawhide chews may have up to 80 kilocalories per ounce!  Don’t feed over 10% of your dog’s recommended MER in treats each day. Tiny training chews make excellent low-energy treats.  Give them as a reward in place of a larger biscuit.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be!

Still feeling confused about how much to feed your dog? There’s an easy way to get started that doesn’t require any calculations, web searches, or complicated math.  Measure the amount that you are feeding your dog each day in cups.  Look on your dog food label and find the recommended feeding amounts.  If your dog is overweight and you are feeding more than the recommended amount, gradually cut back over a couple of weeks to the lowest recommended amount.  If you feed this amount and your dog does not begin to lose weight, you may consider trying a weight loss (high fiber) diet.

It’s important to remember that dog foods are formulated to be nutritionally complete when fed as recommended.  This means that you should never decrease the amount of a dog food below the recommended amount on the label, unless instructed to do so when your dog is under veterinary supervision.

If your dog is underweight, make sure you are feeding at least the recommended amount.  Increase the amount gradually until your dog begins to fill out.  If your dog continues to be underweight, this could indicate an underlying health condition.  You should consult your veterinarian to rule out other problems.

PetWants Olathe is a sponsor of the Fit2BPawsome Challenge.  KC Pet Collective is not affiliated with Pet Wants and does not receive a commission on sales.

The Truth About Byproducts in Pet Food

What are Byproducts?

Few words on the average pet food bag evoke disdain and disgust like the word “byproducts.”  But is the fear and loathing deserved?  What are byproducts, exactly?  The definition published by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is not particularly helpful:

“Secondary products produced in addition to the principal product.”


This definition is broad and not very useful.  More specific terms are generally used on pet food labels, and the definitions are regulated.

Meat Byproducts

“Meat Byproducts are the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs.”  Unless the byproducts are derived from cattle, pigs, sheep, or goats, the source must be named.

It’s worth noting that indigestible parts of the animal like hair and hoofs are not included in this definition.  Although some ingredients, such as lungs and udders, are not considered “edible” for human consumption by the USDA, these types of meat may be very appetizing for dogs and cats.  Remember, that this definition of “edible” is based on US standards of consumption.  People in other countries often make use of these ingredients in their food, and some are considered delicacies.

Poultry Byproducts

Unlike meat byproducts, poultry byproducts may contain the head and feet.

Meat Meal

Meat meal is rendered, or cooked, to destroy any harmful bacteria, and it is finely ground.  Like meat byproducts, it does not include bone, intestinal or rumen contents, hoofs, teeth, or hair.  Meat meal does not contain added blood.  Unlike meat byproducts, manufacturers do not have to specify the species from which the meal is made.

Meat and Bone Meal

Meat and bone meal is similar to meat meal, but bones are included.  Bone meal may be added to increase the calcium content of a food.

Animal and Poultry Byproduct Meal

These are rendered animal or poultry byproducts and do not contain hair, feathers, hoofs, or teeth.

The choice to feed pet food containing byproducts or not may be based on personal aesthetics.  It shouldn’t be based on fear.  Byproducts in pet food can add valuable nutrients.  And using byproducts in pet food reduces waste by making use of parts of slaughtered animals that would otherwise be discarded.

Learn more.