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  • Writer's pictureDr. P

Veterinary Musings....The rise and fall of the doggy fad diet....

For years, we, as veterinarians, have watched as the dog food companies, large and small, have marketed their wares to welcoming pet owners, whose only goal is that they feed only the best to their pets. We have seen food fads come and go. As you described your raw/grain free/ no corn/ gluten free/organic/ freeze dried/vegan/ all life stage dog food, your vet was trying to hide his eye-rolling. This latest dog food fad is possibly the most dangerous and long lasting one yet....and doggone-it...they just won't go away.

Over the last 12 months, at our practice, we have seen a very subjective increase in middle aged dogs, usually smaller breeds, that have been diagnosed via blood laboratory samples, radiographs and ultrasounds with hepatopathies ( liver inflammation) and gall bladder disease; and we saw a possible correlation between the more rich, grain free foods and the intestinal and gall bladder problems. We have been suggesting the change from strict grain free foods to a more moderate protein, lower fat feeding program.

Over the last 6-9 months the FDA has been investigating the correlation between "Grain Free" dog foods and a very serious heart disease, cardiomyopathy. Canine DCM, dilated cardiomyopathy, is a disease of the dog's heart muscle, causing the muscles to fail and the chambers to dilate and become ineffectual in pumping blood forward, leading to fluid buildup in the chest or abdomen. The affected dog can develop congestive heart failure and can die from this disease. While some large breed dogs can be more predisposed to develop DCM, (Great Danes, Dobermans) the food related disease is showing up in breeds and mixes that are not in these breed groups.

The foods that are implicated are diets that have replaced grains with potatoes and legumes (peas and lentils). The public announcement was issued July 12, 2018 , and the investigation in ongoing.


While we see dogs and their wild cousins as obligate carnivores, the domestic canine has adapted to incorporate grains in his or her daily diet.

And.....wild kingdom alert....the wild dog species, in addition to feeding on the high protein muscle meat of their prey, instinctively first go after the entrails or offal of their prey, just eating what their prey eats. Yes, it is gross, but it is what is natural for these animals.


There is a myriad of dog and puppy foods available. In general, feed your new puppy an age and breed appropriate food for the first 12-18 months. I just in general suggest a good, name brand that you recognize. It does not have to be the most expensive, and it should be easily found in your store, so should you run out you are not waiting for a shipment or need to run to a specialty store. Small breed puppy or Large Breed puppy food, fed 3 times daily to 3 months , then twice daily. I generally add a little canned food to my babies, and you can wean them to just the dry food as they get a little older.

The method of feeding has changed over the years since I have been in vet school. Large breed dogs years ago were put on high octane / high protein foods that caused bone growth and joint abnormalities that could actually be seen on x-rays.... so we stopped the high protein puppy foods....the pendulum swung to the other side and we were taught to recommend that large and giant breed puppies be place on adult dog food at the age of 4 months to prevent these developmental problems. Some dog food companies sold "all stage foods"....really, should a human toddler eat the same nutritionally as a teenager or senior citizen? Just as adult food is inappropriate for a puppy, a senior dog does not need the fats, calories and protein level a youngster requires. Now, the pendulum has settled in the middle. Veterinary nutritionists recommend a size and age appropriate diet for the first 12-18 months of their little lives!

I do have some clients that have begun to cook their own dog food, particularly for finicky eaters or their senior pets or with their concern about product recalls. There is a great company called "Just Food For Dogs" ( based in Irvine, Ca) that formulates home cooked type diets for pets with medical problems; and one of our technicians cooks for her dog and orders their nutrition/vitamin supplements to make sure the diet is nutritionally complete.


While we all try to do what is best for our pets, check your labels, look for product and pet food recalls and, hey, be careful out there!

Bethany is studying with Willow at the dog show..... I think they are both pretty smart!

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