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Investigating the Grain Free Link to Heart Disease with Blinders On

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  1. Audree

    Awesome article, Susan! Thanks for much for exposing Lisa Freeman’s mis-information! She also states in the same article that pet parents should stop reading the ingredients! And i was send a link to her article by a rehab vet who I really respect. She’s a one-person wrecking machine.

  2. Tracy

    This is crazy. I jumped on the grain free.bandwagon quite awhile back. Thats all my shih-tzu ate for 6 years. Now when this latest news came out, what did I do-immediately, went out and got food that was not grain free.I’m so confused. I guess I need to just start making his food at home.

  3. Hope

    Lisa is a front for Royal Canin and the other big pet feed companies who are using consumer fear to attempt to drive sales back to crap pet food. This along with the class action lawsuits in process using their other front of Clean Label Project just makes life so much more complex for pet owners nowadays. I feel so bad for consumers who love their dogs.

    1. Zac Chernik

      Hi Hope,

      Please response to me privately regarding the class action lawsuit.

    2. Ira

      So is that who is behind the class action lawsuits? I would love to hear more details on this.

  4. Sandra Z Zellick, Ph.D.

    Good article, Susan. So sad that respectable sources are encouraging pet owners to go back to grain foods. This has to be about dollars.

  5. Penny

    I was briefly in a Facebook group about this and left when the advice was repeatedly “feed your pets a food with a long proven track record of good results, Purina, Royal Canin, Science Diet”. Then just last week my cat fell ill and she was on an expensive grain free diet and I mentioned that to my vet and got the same quote almost word for word. It’s hard to know what to do anymore. After looking at the food I was feeding, it’s mostly peas!! Cats don’t eat peas. They did seem to swap one problem for another.

    1. Dawn

      You’re right. Cats don’t eat peas! They’re the new fad in pet food. In human food also. Now there is powdered pea protein for sale everywhere. For goodness sake, just eat some peas!

    2. Andy

      @Penny, I hope your cat is ok, but to immediately blame the food is jumping to conclusions and speculative. There could be many reasons your cat got sick. However, cats are obligate carnivores. They don’t need to have any plant products. Having said that, their food does need to have some supplements, because what ever you buy, no matter how high quality, it does not have all the nutrients in it that a cat would get from a freshly killed animal. Some of the companies use whole foods from plants instead of artificial supplements to get those lost nutrients. The best thing to feed your cat is a balanced raw food diet. 2nd best is a canned food without any unnecessary starchy foods like peas. Kibble, which needs some starchy food to bind it together, is the bottom of the totem pole food-wise (same for dogs), but we feed it to our pets because a) it’s convenient, b) it’s less expensive than raw or cans, c) marketing in the last 40 years have convinced us that kibble is what we should feed them. Would you take everything you ate for Thanksgiving, put it in a blender, cook it until it’s all dried out chunks and want to eat it?

  6. Cindy

    Very good article, explains it all well. There is also the glyphosate factor in any foods with legumes or grains, what is that causing? Legumes and grains will be dessicated before harvest (sprayed with Roundup/carcinogen), which will be just one more thing that could cause a wide variety of health problems in addition to the problems already caused by grains or legumes.

  7. Karen

    Does this apply to dog food only or cats as well? I have been feeding Costco’s Kirkland Signature “Maintenance” for a while now. My opinion, it is excellent food for the price. It contains rice, but they do make a grain-free. They make a grain free for dogs too.

  8. Lori

    I had a toy poodle who I had on grain food for about 5 years he was having issues with diarrhea so his vet told to switch to no grain and no chicken, I did and he did wonderful, u see if u think about most cows, chicken , live stock are fed grain , corn and such , so organically fed animals are best for use in dog and cat food , they need to go back to feeding animals the basics. Healthy in it for all …

    1. Jane Democracy

      Organically fed cows and grass fed cows are 2 different things. Organically fed cows can be fed both grain and corn and grass fed cows are not necessarily organic.

  9. Gary

    I would urge Dr. Fox to publish the results of his clinical findings. In a respected journal. The industry needs this information.

  10. Jessica

    Most of these small and “natural/holistic” pet food companies don’t test their food at all and don’t have a full-time veterinary nutritionist on staff.
    I learned the hard way when one of my dogs died of taurine deficient DCM thanks to the grain free boutique brand Acana.
    Never again.
    I did a taurine test on my other dog and he also tested low in taurine, but now I switched him to Royal Canin and slowly he’s doing better everyday.
    My vet also prescribed meds for his heart.

    1. Susan Thixton Author

      I’m so sorry your dog died. I’m sure you are heart broken. Just as FYI – many small companies test their pet foods, and many are beyond brilliant at formulating their products. Not all veterinary nutritionists are working in the best interest of pets – if they were, it would be them speaking out against illegal waste ingredients allowed by FDA instead of consumers. Please don’t believe the hype some of the veterinary nutritionists are spouting. As discussed above, some are outright lying to consumers.

      1. Jessica

        My dog that died from taurine deficient DCM was only 4 years old.
        I thought I was feeding him and his brother the best dog food (Acana).
        I’d rather trust the advice from my veterinarian and a dog food that is thoroughly tested (Royal Canin) by veterinary nutritionists.
        My remaining dog is still alive thanks to those two things.

        1. Susan Thixton Author

          I understand. You have to go with a food that you trust.

        2. Dawn

          In March 2017, my cat Icky was diagnosed with a grade 3 (out of 5) her heart murmur. That’s quite a significant murmur. Cardiac ultrasound confirmed DCM. My vet (who also was my boss) said he not yet a candidate for medication. But being that I have been a vet tech for about 23 years, I know the road of cardiac meds and it’s not one that I was looking forward to. So I hit the books (and the Internet) & started doing my research. I read that in the cooking process, taurine can become bio-unavailable to some cats. It just passes through the digestive tract, not utilized at all. Now I had also done a taurine level on my cat. And it came back normal. But maybe, like magnesium, when blood levels are measured, it can come back as normal. What doesn’t show is that the body is deficient on a cellular level because the body takes what it needs from the cells to keep the circulating blood levels normal. So I read about raw diet, chicken hearts, CoQ10, and a plethora of other nutritional based treatments to help with this situation. I started my cat(s) on a raw chicken diet which I make myself. Vetri Science Cardio Support and Standard Process Feline Cardiac Support supplement. Guess what?? The murmur is 100% resolved. Gone. Non-detectable. I just supplement with raw diet, my cats also free feed on dry (I know, I know. In an ideal world, my cats would live on 100% raw but neither I nor they live in an ideal world at the moment). They are eating grain free Wyssong Uretic. they have all been on grain free for years. As my dogs have been. I question the grain free debate that’s been recently raised. Since when are grains biologically appropriate? And as far as the cardiac prescription diets are concerned, I just don’t agree with this. I prefer to approach it from the angle that I did. If it stops working, I will cross that bridge if I ever get to it. As Susan said, it’s all about comfort level. I just wanted to share my experience with you. Good luck. And keep your pup well!!

  11. Cynthia J

    I wasn’t aware that DCM in dogs had reached epidemic proportions? Especially in those breeds that are not genetically predisposed. I guess I haven’t been following all of this closely enough. And of course I have been feeding my dogs grain free their entire lives. Smh

  12. Enid

    In the 30+ years I’ve had Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, none have ever died from heart related issues. All my retrievers, some living 15 years, have died from cancer. My concern is the carbohydrate level and quality of protein and other ingredients in the foods I choose. So, the thought of feeding my current Golden and Lab a food loaded with carbs and questionable protein sources is not even an option.

  13. Jamie Legere

    I’m still confused. I read about the grain free diet causing heart problems, and poured over Thixton’s best dog food lists trying to find an acceptable brand WITH grain. I bought it, but he hasn’t eaten it yet.Previously, I fed my dog Blue Buffalo Grain Free.

    What about switching types between bags? (Grain free for one bag, with grain for the next?)

    Is it safer to feed your dog food on Thixton’s list WITH grain, or WITHOUT grain?

    1. Susan Thixton Author

      Unfortunately, no one knows the answer to your questions – at least not yet. There is a lot of people looking into it – and hopefully soon we’ll have an answer.

  14. Salomea

    I switched to grain free in 2003 and over the years my critters have consistently preferred it over more traditional options when given a choice.
    I’m feeding them Earthborn venture but when I saw the Taurine stuff on the news I added a multivitamin to their diet until I can figure out how verify the integrity of their feed.

  15. Carrie Waters

    As a consumer who also wants nothing but the best for our pets, this whole issue has really been a challenge to deal with. Since my sweet border collie was diagnosed with multiple myeloma back in 2012, I have fed my dogs nothing but high quality grain-free food. They’ve all done excellent on it and so far no health issues either. I joined a couple of canine “nutrition” and “holistic” groups on Facebook when the DCM/taurine issue arose, and that has made it even more difficult. Those of us that still choose to feed grain-free are shamed by those that don’t. I even had one person asked me “why are you feeding grain free? Dogs need grains too.” And there are the arguments from people who say that Royal Canin food is the way to go because it’s “backed by science” and has been tested for eons of years. I am no expert, but I know that dogs do NOT NEED corn and wheat in their diets!! There is no dog food, aside from some of the freeze-dried and dehydrated raw brands that does not have either some type of potato, legume or grain in it. Unfortunately I just cant afford to feed two 50lb dogs raw and I don’t have the time to cook food for them either, which doesn’t mean that I don’t want what’s best for them. I am currently feeding them Nulo Freestyle Adult Fit & Trim and have added some freeze-dried raw to their diets and also give them small amounts of veggies. I realize that research is still being done on this issue and I am not going back to grains until someone who has done the research can tell me for absolute certain that a grain-filled food is better for my dogs than grain-free. Even then I may have a difficult time believing it.

  16. JoAnna

    I’ve been in the independent retail pet industry a while now, almost ten years, and I’ve been lucky enough to reviver manufacturers training from all the pet food greats, from Stella and chewys to primal, orijen, open farm and ziwi peak.
    If you’re genuinely worried about taurine deficient DCM, the solution is simple: ADD MORE FRESH REAL MEAT TO YOUR PETS DIET!!! Taurine comes from meat – not kibble that has been obliterated and cooked at high pressures and high temperatures. Grain free (in my opinion) is fine, just make sure that the top 5 ingredients are an actual meat, and don’t contain too many starchy pluses. And always rotate proteins, textures, and even brands!! ((And don’t forget to SLOWLY TRANSITION FOODS over a course of 7-10 days! Duh))

    ✌️ Love this blog, Susan. You’re quite literally my hero.

    1. Janice

      I agree about adding real meat to your pet’s diet. And don’t forget fish, which is high in taurine and also in methionine and cystine, from which dogs make taurine (unless they have a special problem and for some reason cannot do this.

      1. Janice

        I should have mentioned that the fish should be cooked. You can research which are lowest in mercury and choose those.

        1. Mina

          Canned Sardines in spring water with no added salt. Low mercury. Small fish. Big benefits.

    2. Karen

      My cats love raw hamburger, I give it to them as a treat, so that can be an easy way to supplement the diet too. For whatever it’s worth, they like the fattier hamburger. If I buy the 92% meat/fat, they nibble; I buy the 85% and they scarf it.

    3. Ripley

      I too work in pet retail and I must say— I love the way you have worded this!
      So many people have come to our store now wanting to feed grain-based diets to dogs who suffer from food allergies… all because their vets have scared them into eating foods that will, and eventually do, trigger their food allergies. I have even heard customers say their vets have told them that allergies to grains are less common than allergies to proteins… ugh.
      It’s frustrating and disheartening to see the veterinary community reject what is common sense— feed more real meat! Rotate foods, flavors, and brands frequently! Add fermented fish stock or goats milk! God forbid— even try raw! Supplement with kelp, mushrooms, or green lipped sea mussels! All such simple solutions to a problem that they have made overly complicated to the average consumer.

      1. Andy


        Best foods for you pet a) Raw, b) Freeze dried/Dehydrated based on raw foods, c) Canned, D) lastly, Kibble. If feeding raw, just make sure your pet is getting the proper supplements it needs. An only meat diet will not serve your pet well for the long run. Even cats which are obligate carnivores need some supplements in their food.

  17. Raven

    My Coco had heart problems and I was fortunate enough to have an educated heart specialist and an internist -specialists- that did not encourage me to feed Big Pet Food Companies. After Feeding her with the nutritional criteria he gave me including minerals and sodium limits (notate that proper sodium intake can contribute to heart and kidneys and can be very high in kibble) Coco thrived and her heart improved. Honest Kitchen turned her around.
    Please do not believe they hype of the new grain free is bad – probably sponsored by big pet food. Feed your pet healthy and watch their intake of nutrients. Pets- all pets should not consume high doses of sodium which will hurt organs as well as lack of or low quality vitamins in food.
    That is key in heart and as a matter of fact kidneys. Big Pet is trying to strike again by confusing owners.

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