Grains: What's the big deal?
Updated: Feb 3
There is a lot of talk about what the best diet is for dogs and cats these days. Complicating this issue is that many veterinarians still hold differing opinions on the ideal diet for dogs and cats. One of the most common questions and concerns I encounter from pet parents is whether they should feed a grain free diet. So, I thought I'd share some information on that topic in the hope that it may provide some helpful information for pets with cancer and the people who love them.
In this Blog
Informed Opinions and Enlightened Action
I have my own opinions and recommendations based on the literature research I’ve done, as well as my clinical experience observing dogs and cats fed a variety of food types since graduating from vet school in 2002. For the sake of sharing this information so you can make your own decisions, I will share here my views and opinions on grains in processed dog foods, as well as the scientific literature which supports these views and opinions. It is your responsibility as a pet parent to come to your own educated conclusions and to work with your veterinarian to formulate a feeding plan that is appropriate to your pet’s individual situation.
Remember, the point of Metta Pets is to be a resource to guide you on a Path to Empowerment. This means, we focus not on fear, guilt or blame. We focus on positive steps we can take, on the enlightened and informed actions within our power, that can help us find a greater state of well-being for us and our loved ones.
So, with the understanding that food is one of the most powerful tools in our healing toolbox...one that we use every single day...and with an attitude of empowerment...lets take a look at some ways we can leverage what's on our plate, and in our dog's bowl, toward greater health.
In general, it has been my clinical experience that almost all pets exhibit behaviors associated with improved overall well-being, such as increased energy levels and playfulness, and obvious changes in hair coat quality when transitioned to diets containing less processed food. One of the most frequent comments I hear from my doggie parents after switching to a less processed diet is that their pet is “doing things they haven’t done since they were a puppy!” And remember, I am treating dogs with cancer, so this is a particularly big deal! I believe that this improvement is likely a result of feeding more high quality, fresher, bioavailable foods and providing a diet with less included toxins.
I am also a firm believer that there is not one diet or type of diet that is perfect for every pet, every family or every person.
There are many factors to consider when formulating a patient-specific dietary lifestyle that supports improved health and well-being. These are some of the factors that have informed my current opinions on feeding.
While I accept and agree with the statement that there are potential hazards to feeding raw foods or home cooked foods, there are also health hazards associated with eating highly processed foods, whether you are a dog, cat or human. So, as with all things, maintaining a balanced perspective on the issue of feeding is important.
Isn't Grain Free Low Carb?
Before I go on, I want to be clear that this blog is not about promoting "grain free" dog food as a low carbohydrate feeding option. "Grain free" has become an effective marketing strategy. Most "grain free" dog foods are still quite high in carbohydrates. These grain free foods substitute different high starch foods such as legumes or potato in place of grains. This allow manufacture of competitive lower cost foods in a pet food market where, lets be honest, most people choose foods based on the front of the bag and cost comparison. It also provides a way to formulate the convenient and shelf stable kibble diets many busy consumers prefer. These extruded diets require starches to "stick together" into a nugget. Consumer demand drives most, if not all, of the consumer market trends.
If you are concerned about carbohydrate content or the glycemic load in the food you are feeding your pet who has developed cancer, you need to read the list of ingredients and calculate the carbohydrate content from the macronutrient analysis on the bag (carbohydrate content is not required on the food label).
The Case for Avoiding Grains
While I am not categorically opposed to grains, here I am going to present some scientific information that may support the approach of minimizing or avoiding grains and some other crop foods. This has more to do with a focus on feeding as clean of a diet as possible rather than vilifying grains.
These are not the only reasons I discuss the option of limiting grains and other carbohydrate sources such as oats, lentils, beans and other legumes as an approach to feeding cancer patients, especially those receiving highly processed foods. But these are the ones specifically related to certain toxins we may be able to limit exposure to with mindful feeding.
Grains are the main source of mycotoxin contamination, fungal toxins that are harmful when ingested. Mycotoxins have been associated with both acute and chronic diseases in humans and animals. Low dose chronic mycotoxin exposure has been associated with kidney disease, liver disease and cancer. Many of the dry dog food recalls over the past 10-15 years have been due to mycotoxin contamination.
A 2019 study compared the amount of mycotoxins in grain-containing versus grain-free commercial dog foods. (College of Veterinary Medicine, Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, California) This study found mycotoxins in all tested dry kibble foods containing grains but none of the grain free dry kibble foods. No mycotoxins were found in any of the wet/canned foods tested, regardless of grain content.
(A list of mycotoxin-related articles from the past 10 years can be found at the end of this article.)
It is reasonable to consider whether the observed improvement in wellness seen in many pets after switching to a grain free diet could be, at least in part, related to decreased mycotoxin ingestion. It makes sense, then, that loving pet parents who observe positive changes in their pet after switching to grain free diets would conclude that grain free diets are healthier. And, regardless of whether or not that agrees with with current established conventional veterinary beliefs about the nutritional role of grains in pet food, they would not be wrong.
Acrylamide is considered a “process contaminate” and forms as a result of high-heat processing of carbohydrate rich foods, specifically those containing asparagine and glucose or fructose, but can also occur from gluten. This reaction, which typically occurs with heating over 250F, is called a Maillard reaction. Non-meat foods with high asparagine content include potatoes, beans, nuts, soy and whole grains. Acrylamide occurs most frequently in heat processed potatoes and grains. To date, numerous studies document acrylamide's toxic effects on various organ systems. Low dose chronic exposure to acrylamide resulted in adverse effects on lipid and energy metabolism and nervous system and liver function, as well as increased oxidative stress in rats. Acrylamide is a known neurotoxin which can cause neurologic issues such as peripheral neuropathy and megaesophagus due to vagal nerve damage in dogs.
In 1994, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified acrylamide as a potentially carcinogenic substance to humans. Additionally, acrylamide has been shown to adversely affect hormone regulation and nerve conduction and has demonstrated neurotoxic, genotoxic (toxic to genes) and carcinogenic properties. (reference)
Dietary Acrylamide was associated with increased risk of, or shown to contribute to development of:
If that isn’t enough, the British Medical Journal published an article in 2017 entitled: “Eating overcooked starchy food is linked to cancer, agency warns”
Here is a February 2018 article that you may find interesting regarding Dietary Acrylamides
Supplements that might help minimize adverse effects of Acrylamide toxicity:
Medicinal Mushrooms: Ganoderma (Reishi)
Glyphosate (found in the weed killer RoundUp) is widely used in crops including corn, soy, canola, wheat, barley, and edible beans. Chronic low dose exposure to glyphosate has been shown to cause liver and kidney toxicity in laboratory animals. Corn is one especially problematic source of glyphosate exposure. Additionally, numerous food crops, including but not exclusive to grains, are heavily sprayed with glyphosate throughout growing and prior to harvest. This is one main rationale for selecting organic (and non-GMO) foods whenever possible. Articles such as this one provide some interesting information on glyphosate and the increasing incidence of wheat sensitivity in the human population.
While there are clearly studies exhibiting the toxic effects of low dose chronic exposure to glyphosate, the role of glyphosate in contributing to cancer has come under heavy scrutiny, with many of the previous research studies being refuted in recent articles. It is important that we view the information which is made public in light of the possibility that corporate interest might influence public information and that the degree to which this occurs can be difficult to verify as a doctor or a consumer. It is our job as concerned and proactive pet parents and humans who are consuming these same foods to come to our own educated conclusions and make lifestyle choices that are in congruence with those conclusions.
Articles such as this one in the environmental health journal, “Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement”, can help us form our own perspective and opinions. Despite the debate on the role of this weed poison in human health, the article states the following facts:
(1) GBHs are the most heavily applied herbicide in the world and usage continues to rise;
(2) Worldwide, GBHs often contaminate drinking water sources, precipitation, and air, especially in agricultural regions;
(3) The half-life of glyphosate in water and soil is longer than previously recognized;
(4) Glyphosate and its metabolites are widely present in the global soybean supply;
(5) Human exposures to GBHs are rising;
(6) Glyphosate is now authoritatively classified as a probable human carcinogen;
(7) Regulatory estimates of tolerable daily intakes for glyphosate in the United States and European Union are based on outdated science.
Researchers out of the University of Florida published a 2018 article entitled "Environmental and health effects of the herbicide glyphosate". In this article they outline concerns regarding the potential health implications related to glyphosate related antibiotic resistance which could result in clinically relevant shifts in the micro biome. The researchers state, "We recommend interdisciplinary research on the associations between low level chronic glyphosate exposure, distortions in microbial communities, expansion of antibiotic resistance and the emergence of animal, human and plant diseases. Independent research is needed to revisit the tolerance thresholds for glyphosate residues in water, food and animal feed taking all possible health risks into account."
The Case for Glyphosate Safety
The EPA states on their website that "there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen." Based on their independent evaluation of data on glyphosate their website states (quoted)
1) there is no risk to human health from current uses of glyphosate
2) there is no indication that children are more sensitive to glyphosate
3) there is no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer
4) there is no indication that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor
5) residues of glyphosate on any food or feed item are safe for consumers if they comply with the established tolerances
6) there is potential risk to birds from acute or short-term exposure and to mammals from chronic or long-term exposure
7) glyphosate is of low toxicity to honeybees
An extensive review of the EPA's risk assessment on glyphosate can be found on their website here.
There are a number of articles published describing the safety of glyphosate in humans and animals. I am not expounding upon those here because each one I have found so far, for which I have access to the full article, is authored by individuals employed or financially compensated by Monsanto or Bayer, who produce RoundUp. I do not view these as unbias. However if you are interested to read those for your own balanced education they can be found here. I encourage that. These articles provide detailed scientific rationale and defense of the safety of glyphosate in humans and animals.
Evaluation of carcinogenic potential of the herbicide glyphosate, drawing on tumor incidence data from fourteen chronic/carcinogenicity rodent studies. (Crit Rev Toxicol. 2015 Mar 16; 45(3): 185–208.) Monsanto authors.
Glyphosate in livestock: feed residues and animal health. (J Anim Sci. 2019 Nov; 97(11): 4509–4518.)
The article states the following Conflict of Interest: The authors are employees of Bayer CropScience, a leading manufacturer of Roundup®. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup brand herbicides.
Examples of Published Independent Glyphosate Toxicity Studies in Animals
Two studies (2014 and 2019) evaluated rats given glyphosate orally at a dose of 375mg/kg (10% of the lethal dose of glyphosate) for 8 weeks showed the following toxic changes in their organs. High dose zinc and resveratrol supplementation protected rats from these toxic changes. This protective effect was thought to be due to antioxidant activity.
Kidney: glomerular degeneration, mononuclear cell infiltration into the interstices of the tubules and tubular necrosis, vacuolar degeneration in the glomerulus Bowman's capsules
Brain: neuronal degeneration
Pancreas: acinar cells degeneration
Spleen: decrease in lymphocyte and lymphoblast population (immune suppression)
Stomach: erosion of the mucosal epithelium
Liver: focal degeneration in the portal areas of the liver
Heart: death of heart muscle cells, bleeding in the heart muscle
These toxic changes were not seen in rats consuming a much lower dose of glyphosate (14.5mg/kg) over the 8 week period. However, a follow-up study (Tizhe, 2018) evaluating rats given this dose over a 36 week period showed moderate to severe degenerative changes to the pancreas. Additionally, a study (Alp. 2016) evaluating single dose oral glyphosate exposure (4mg/kg) in rats showed disruption of oxidative balance resulting in toxic changes in the liver and kidney. In both kidney and liver tissue total antioxidant status (a measure of antioxidant response to free radical reactions) was decreased and total oxidant status was increased after glyphosate ingestion.
These acute and sub-acute toxicity studies are generally performed to identify treatment options for acute high dose toxicity.
It has also been documented in a number of studies that the combination of ingredients in the weed killer RoundUp is more toxic than glyphosate alone. Some studies even show lack of toxicity from glyphosate but toxicity from RoundUp. For example, rats exposed to RoundUp accumulated more glyphosate in their kidney tissue and experienced severe kidney toxicity but these changes were not seen in rats exposed to glyphosate alone (Dedeke, 2018).
What About Long Term Low Dose Exposure?
Controlled long term ultra-low dose exposure toxicity studies have not been performed in humans or companion animals. These studies would most accurately reflect the biological impact of the levels of glyphosate-derived herbicide that most humans in the US are exposed to through food. This situation is commonly used to defend the position that there is no concrete proof of risk to human or companion animal health. One could just as validly conclude there is no proof that chronic low dose daily ingestion of glyphosate-derived herbicide residues is safe and results in no risks to health.
My personal skepticism regarding the ultimate safety of chronic glyphosate-based herbicide exposure based on the argument that the enzyme targeted is not present in humans and animals is that there are numerous reports of animal toxicity from higher dose glyphosate exposure, such as the studies cited above. This tells me that, while claims that state the substance is safe because it targets a pathway not relevant in humans and animals, and that it does not accumulate in mammalian tissue, there are clearly other factors at play which result in toxicity.
Although the exact pathophysiology has not been clearly identified, research suggests multiple potential factors including oxidative stress and interference with the body's ability to deal with other environmental and food-borne toxins and chemicals. These effects are cumulative over time. Although research is still highly controversial on this topic, recent publications are beginning to provide insight into the potential concerns regarding chronic ultra-low dose exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides like RoundUp.
I was able to find only one long term ultra-low dose glyphosate exposure toxicity study in animals. This study showed 4ng/kg body weight/day daily RoundUp intake for 2 years resulted in documentable liver toxicity. The rats exhibited multiple metabolite derangements characteristic of hepatotoxicity and liver dysfunction. Specifically, changes were similar to those seen with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease with similar progression to steatohepatosis. (Mesnage, 2017)
Another recent study evaluated ultra-low dose exposure to a combination of 13 chemicals including glyphosate over 18 months in rats. Toxic changes were noted in testes, liver, stomach, lung, and brain (Tsatsakis, 2019).
It has been proposed that some of the deleterious effects of cumulative glyphosate exposure may be related to its ability to act as a glycine analogue. This is so well recognized to occur in plants that scientists have used this fact to engineer genetically modified core-crops that are resistant to glyphosate herbicides. While researchers do not agree on the extent that glyphosate gets incorporated into mammalian cells, this genetic engineering results in crops that can withstand heavy glyphosate treatment and results in increased exposure to glyphosate when these genetically altered crop foods are sprayed and/or ingested.
Glyphosate's similarity to glycine has been implicated in the mechanism of the neurotoxicity seen in infant rats after glyphosate exposure by affecting glutamate uptake, release and metabolism in brain cells. Interestingly, and somewhat alarmingly, the concentration of glyphosate used in this study was 1/14 of the accepted NOAEL (no observed adverse effect level) for maternal toxicity in humans. A second study evaluating neurologic effects of maternal glyphosate exposure on infant rats showed neurological alterations that were, rather, due to significant alterations in gene expression associated with oxidant defense, inflammation and lipid metabolism and that this could result in lasting neurological effects. So, while the true role of glyphosate as a glycine analogue has been debated in other research, multiple neurologic alterations associated with glyphosate exposure have been identified.
A 2014 paper entitled "Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America" searched US government databases and correlated data for introduction of Genetically Engineered crops, glyphosate application practices and disease epidemiological reports and found statistically significant correlations with a rise in incidence of many chronic diseases in humans. Significant correlations were found between glyphosate applications and rise in the incidence of cancer (thyroid, liver, bladder, pancreas, kidney, myeloid leukemia), kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes, alzheimers and multiple sclerosis. Significant correlations were also found between percentage of genetically engineered corn and soy planted in the US and rise in the incidence of cancer (thyroid, liver, bladder, pancreas, kidney, myeloid leukemia), kidney disease, obesity, diabetes, alzheimers and multiple sclerosis, among others. Obviously there may be other factors concurrently at play during the examined years 1996 through 2012 and correlation does not prove causation. This type of data does, nevertheless, warrant serious consideration for anyone who is interested in health and a preventive lifestyle or who has been impacted by chronic degenerative disease or cancer. The potential influence of glyphosate-based herbicides in these disease conditions and human health warrants respect and further investigation.
Is There Any Evidence of Glyphosate in Pets or in Dog and Cat Foods?
A 2018 study evaluating 18 commercial animal feeds published out of Cornell University reported glyphosate residues in all products. Crude fiber content was correlated with increased glyphosate concentration. There was no correlation between glyphosate concentration and crude fat or crude protein. Estimated daily exposure for pets consuming these products was 0.68-2.5% of the allowable daily intake for humans based on US (1750mcg/kg) and EU (500mcg/kg) standards. Consumption of the most contaminated products would result in exposure 7.5% or 25% above the ADIs for humans. The study concluded that, although the relevance of exposure is unknown, "companion animal feed contained glyphosate levels likely to result in pet exposure that is 4-12 times higher than that of humans on a per kilogram basis."
A 2019 study published out of the New York State Department of Health documented glyphosate and its derivatives, methyl glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid in the urine of dogs and cats. Glyphosate levels were two times higher in cat samples compared to dogs (mean 33.87 ng/mL and 16.8ng/mL respectively).
Many of us are also not aware of the huge discrepancy between maximum tolerated glyphosate residue allowance in food for human consumption compared to crops for animal feed (dog and cat foods are classified as "feeds"). Below is a chart summarizing the EPAs 2013 maximum allowable glyphosate residues in food and livestock feed crops (Swanson, 2014). This list is consistent with the EPA's 2017 Draft Human Health Risk Assessment in Support of Registration Review document on Glyphosate.
Supplements that may protect against the toxic effects of glyphosate ingestion:
Resveratrol protect from oxidative stress and subsequent tissue damage resulting from sub-acute exposure to glyphosate.
Zinc prevented toxic changes from short term high dose exposure to glyphosate.
Quercitin prevented glyphosate-induced liver damage in rats.
NAC prevented glyphosate-induced oxidative stress and tissue damage in blood and tissue.
What about Grain Free Diets, Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Taurine Deficiency?
A Multifactorial Issue
There has been a lot of attention generated around grain free diets causing Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, especially in Golden Retrievers. Taurine deficiency has been implicated as a potential mechanism, at least in part, given its previous association with DCM. This summary will focus on the topic of taurine given the recent intense publicity and associated public and veterinary concern about taurine and grain free diets, because this is quite specifically one of the most common diet-related questions I receive in clinical practice right now.
It is important to keep in mind that the exact cause of this phenomenon is still not entirely clear or straightforward based on scientific findings, appearing likely to be multifactorial. And the issue is commonly oversimplified, as blood taurine levels are not always low in dogs diagnosed with DCM. (reference)
Now, with that said and with the acknowledgment that this article is not meant to be a singular exhaustive resource on the topic of DCM in dogs, here is some information to consider regarding concerns about the potential link between taurine deficiency and grain free diets, if you are worried about that...
Perspectives on Taurine
While publicity around this issue often focuses on concerns about the "grain free" nature of foods contributing to taurine deficiency, the lack of grains themselves is unlikely to be the simple reason for reported cases of taurine deficiency since grains do not actually contain taurine. Grains are not dietary sources of taurine.
Following is an update on information regarding the current state of understanding regarding Taurine and Diet (June 2019). New information is coming out as more research results become available. As I said earlier, this is not an exhaustive summary of all of the current research or every potential point of consideration regarding this lengthy topic, but it will give you a good starting point to make informed decisions about this issue for your dog.
I recommend talking to a veterinarian educated in this issue for updates and recommendations for your dog. It is possible to tests taurine levels in your dog's blood if you have concerns about their taurine status. It has been recommended that dog foods which limit or avoid the inclusion of animal byproducts (which are very high in taurine but often excluded in pet diets providing "human grade" ingredients) should include organ meats or be fortified with taurine to ensure adequate taurine content. Many board certified veterinary nutritionists I have consulted with are now recommending taurine supplementation as a safety measure for dogs receiving grain free foods until there is more clarity around the details of this issue.
Below is a summary of one of the many recent articles (click on article title for link) outlining some of these considerations and perspectives. This article states: "There is a clear need in companion animal nutrition to improve the understanding of the interactions of different ingredients and how these alter nutrient requirements for different breeds, age, and physiological status of dogs."
Special Topic: The Association Between Pulse Ingredients and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy: Addressing the Knowledge Gaps Before Establishing Causation. (Mansilla WD, Marinangeli CP, Ekestedt KJ, et al. J Anim Sci. 2019 Mar.)
In recent studies evaluating Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) and grain free diets, a few very specific diets seemed to be common among the dogs in the studies who were affected with DCM. Dogs switched to other grain free diets showed improvement in their DCM. This suggests that diet formulation of specific diets (meaning the specific combination of ingredients), rather than the grain free nature of the diet, may be a more relevant concern. Additionally, the number of dogs evaluated in these studies represents a very small sampling of dogs consuming grain free diets. In short, a definitive cause and effect relationship between "grain free diets" and DCM has not been proven. And a simple linear association is unlikely, as other factors may end up proving to be more important.
Meat is the primary dietary source of Taurine:
Meat is the primary dietary source of taurine. Of meats commonly used for commercial dogs foods, this is a list giving examples of relative taurine levels:
lamb (473 mg/kg2)
beef (296 mg/kg2)
chicken meat and skin (159 mg/kg2)
Complicating this picture, dogs are able to make their own taurine from other amino acids such as methionine and cysteine. As an example, grains contain highly variable amounts of methionine, from which dogs can make taurine:
Oats (60.9 mg/kg2 methionine)
rice (31.8 mg/kg2 methionine)
corn (21.8 mg/kg2 methionine)
barley (17.7 mg/kg2 methionine)
Legumes, by contrast, have lower methionine levels:
chick peas (14.8 mg/kg2 methionine)
lentils (6.9 mg/k2 methionine)
Compared to legumes and most grains, methionine levels are highest in meats
beef (28.7 mg/kg2 methionine)
chicken meat and skin (26.7 mg/kg2 methionine)
lamb (25.9 mg/kg2 methionine)
It has also been shown that the effects of food ingredients on the gut microbiome affect taurine absorption and or that the method of processing of the dog foods may affect amino acid and taurine content or absorption.
Heat processing reduces the bioavailability of methionine. In contrast, raw grains and legumes contain "antinutrients" which decrease protein absorbability. These antinutrient factors can be destroyed with extrusion, or certain high heat processing methods, during the processing into dog food. This high heat processing can itself, however, damage and decrease the bioavailability of amino acids which can negatively impact the ability of the animal to actually use the amino acid in metabolic processes such as protein synthesis. So, while these amino acids can be digested (one way food content is assessed) they cannot be used in the body.
Dietary fiber affects taurine blood levels in both cats and dogs. In dogs, rice bran fiber was shown to cause taurine deficiency due to how it affects gastrointestinal metabolism of taurine. High fiber may also decrease taurine absorption by altering gut microbiome and/or altering conjugated bile-taurine excretion and degradation, increasing demand for taurine by the liver.
It is suspected that some of the ingredients found in certain grain free foods may inhibit absorption of taurine, or the specific foods combined in a food may impact taurine absorption or bioavailability. Legumes, for example, contain a high amount of fermentable oligosaccharides. It has been theorized that high levels of these compounds may lead to taurine depletion over time due to increasing excretion and increasing bacterial degradation of taurine.
Individual and Breed Variations:
Additionally, other factors affect the ability of dogs to synthesize taurine. For example, small breed dogs synthesize taurine up to 50% more efficiently than large breed dogs, suggesting that taurine supplementation may be more important in larger dogs. In people, obesity and diabetes are associated with lower taurine blood concentrations and these factors have not been evaluated in dogs. Generally, factors that may affect taurine requirements include breed, age, sex, and physiological status.
Specialists are still accruing data to try and find better answers to these questions.
Recent Official Statements Regarding DCM Posted on VIN
On June 27, 2019 the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) released an update for veterinarians on this issue along with a list of brands which have been most commonly associated with reports of DCM. (This report focuses on diets fed to dogs reported to have been diagnosed with DCM, and reflects the emphasis being placed on diet and DCM in the veterinary community.) Please note, this report does not list the specific flavor or formulation. It is important to remember that many of these reports were for specific "flavors" or formulations for these brands, not necessarily the brand itself as a whole. Until a greater understanding is gained on the exact cause, this information suggests that foods with legumes (peas, lentils, and other pulses) and potato listed as their main ingredient may be best to avoid. I would offer for consideration that these ingredients are affordable ways that kibble can be created using non-grain sources of carbohydrates or starch, as something "sticky" is needed to make the food form into a kibble and hold it's shape. This provides a popular "grain-free" product but not a low carbohydrate product. For those ascribing to, or striving for, a "species appropriate diet" grain free does not necessarily mean low carbohydrate. And this does not negate the need for providing an appropriately balanced diet for dogs being fed meat and vegetable based foods.
The article on VIN can be found here if you are interested to read what that entire report says, as I cannot summarize the entirety of if here.
In it, among other statements, the following statements related to diet are made: "The FDA cannot say with certainty that diet is the culprit...The FDA said: 'Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors'....'Another puzzling aspect of the recent spike in DCM cases is that they have occurred just in the last few years.' It noted that formulation is not the only possible variation: 'The FDA is working with the pet food industry to better understand whether changes in ingredients, ingredient sourcing, processing or formulation may have contributed to the development of DCM.'" (Link to official FDA reports)
This information is provided with the motivation of providing you with resources and information so you can make your own educated decisions and have informed and respectful discussions with your veterinarian.
I hope the information I've provided here has given you some things to think about and sparked some ideas about how you might take a proactive role in decreasing toxins your pet may be exposed to through their diet and make informed decisions about diet formulation choices.
It is always important when integrating any new information to ask yourself where the source of this information is coming from and how personal views or interests may impact the information presented. As always, I encourage you to use good judgement and weigh everything presented in Metta Pets with your own experience and logic.
I will conclude by sharing that I believe in a largely fresh, organic, non-GMO diet for myself and my family, including my own dog. I also eat minimal processed food, limited grains, no processed sugar, and am a vegetarian with few exceptions. When you start to eat clean, you really begin to notice how you feel when you eat something that isn't. It gives you a very real appreciation for how the quality of what we eat affect us, both mentally and physically. So, these are the life experiences that are informing my views, interests and opinions.
I encourage you to consider your own lifestyle choices, reflect on how they may be impacting the health of you and your loved ones, and form your own educated approach to a dietary lifestyle that supports health and well-being for your family, whether they have two legs or four.
*Because acrylamide is a known process contaminant, there are industrial processes that are being developed to minimize acryalmides in processed starch foods. If you and your veterinarian have decided that a processed diet is the best option for your pet, because of health (some pets respond well to certain prescription foods for management of specific medical issues) or economic reasons, and you are concerned about acrylamide, you can consider taking responsibility to contact the pet food company and see if they take steps to minimize acrylamide content in their food. (Please exercise some compassion and do not expect your veterinarian to do this for you.) You can then make an educated assessment about this issue for your pet and their current diet.
John H. Tegzes, Brian B. Oakley & Greg Brennan (2019) Comparison of mycotoxin concentrations in grain versus grain-free dry and wet commercial dog foods, Toxicology Communications, 3:1, 61-66.
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Mycotoxin: A list of articles from the past 10 years
Multilaboratory Evaluation of a Lateral Flow Method for Aflatoxin B1 Analysis in Dry Dog Food (USA, PA & MD)