A Lunch Conversation: Pet Foods. Grains, Gluten & Allergies

Dr. Michael Forcier

As a warm-up for our lunch conversation on pet foods I consulted with the President of the World Association for Veterinary Dermatology, Dr. Ken Kwochka (DVM, Dip. ACVD). He is one of our favorite clients at the Animal Medical Center and he happened in with his kitties Elphaba and Lilly about the time I was writing this blog.  So, coincidence saved me a phone call and confirmed what I already knew.

Other than a Gluten Sensitive Enteropathy in Irish Setters, there is no evidence or support in any study anywhere that shows dogs have an aversion to grain or gluten.   Again, dogs are NOT allergic to grains… period.  End of conversation.  As easy as it would be to end the blog here, I can’t do it, can’t end the sermon because members of the congregation continue to approach the pulpit to preach to me the glory of grain-free diets.

Like most Veterinarian’s I have given up the battle of explaining that grain is not the reason the skin on your dog looks like he is suffering from radioactive fall-out. Canines are omnivores.  They have the digestive machinery to handle meat and plants.

Proteins are the culprit in most food allergies and GI intolerances.  In fact proteins in the oil of poison ivy makes us itch, proteins in the bee venom make our faces puff-up, it’s proteins in the peanuts that swell our throats shut and the protein in the foods our pets eat can make them miserable (if they are so susceptible).  In the later, proteins = the main meat source.

One day in recent history someone (curse them) in the pet food world put a bag of kibble on the Food Lion shelf that had in large letters “grain free” printed all over the front of the bag.  Wow, there must be something wrong with grain, we think as we walk past and “bam”… a new industry is born.  Marketing is a beautiful thing…

Suddenly every internet know-it-all, breeder, groomer and sales clerk is on the band wagon.  How bad has it gotten?  Some of the major players in the dog food industry, those discussed in our breakfast conversation, have thrown in the towel.  They have begun to manufacture grain free diets rather than fight the good fight.  Really! Thanks for the support.

Just guessing but, if a grain free diet has helped your dog, without knowing it you may have inadvertently changed the protein source or the quality of the protein.

Further, by taking the advice of the sales puppet to buy the newest fish, or venison diet to stop your dogs itch, you have officially hand-cuffed your veterinarian.  As he or she goes through their diagnostic protocols eventually they will arrive upon a food trial to determine your dog’s allergy source.  When he/she recommends a “novel protein diet” and …oh, you already tried the fish, rabbit and the koala bear diets?  Hmm, how about giraffe or Tibetan gazelle?  There are only so many novel proteins out there, don’t exhaust the possibilities.  Food trials are tricky.  Certainly you don’t want to feed them to a pup either, considering they may develop food allergies later.

A review:

Dog’s DO NOT HAVE allergies to grain.

Proteins are the most commonly implicated in food allergies in our pets.

Do not use novel proteins without consulting your Veterinarian.

Puppies are not good candidates for novel-protein diets.

Dr. Kwochka’s cat, Elphaba, is named after the Wicked Witch of the West.

Next:  our “dinner” conversation about pet foods …what foods are the best.

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