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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Nutrition Week, #1: Corn, Wild Diets, Grain-Free

Pet nutrition is a bit of an interest for me, and while I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, I've looked into a lot of the common issues and have spoken with many board-certified experts.  Much of what I've learned goes contrary to what you will see in some corners of the Internet or by talking to some food reps, but it is still accurate and true.  Over the years of blogging I've discussed some of these issues, but thought it might be fun and helpful to dedicating a week's worth of posts to clearing up some misconceptions.  Let's begin!
Myth #1:  Corn is a bad ingredient, has no nutritional value, and causes allergies
Ground corn and corn gluten meal are important nutrients, providing good energy and an excellent source of secondary protein.  In pet foods it is over 95% digestible and is not a "filler".  It is one of the lowest sources of food allergies, causing a problem in only around 1% of patients with a confirmed food allergy.  Corn gluten is also an important source of fatty acids such as linoleic acid, antioxidants, and several vitamins (B complex, E, and A).
(also see other discussions on this topic here and here)
 Myth #2:  Dogs need to be fed a diet that resembles their wild ancestors
Dogs are NOT wolves and their digestive tract has significant differences.  Over 10,000-15,000 years of domestication their diets have involved greater consumption of grains and their genetic makeup has changed to accommodate this change.  Modern dogs are different from wolves in several key genes that involve starch digestion and gulcose uptake.  There is no benefit found to feeding a dog the same diet that would be fed to a wolf.
(also see another post on this topic)
 Myth #3:  Dogs should be fed a grain-free diet
This myth is currently popular and is not based on any scientific evidence.  As with the above myth, dogs have gentically changed to be able to handle grains and other carbohydrates.  Unless an individual pet has a sensitivity or allergy to a specific type of carbohydrate, there is no proven health benefit of grain-free diets.  Any perceived benefits may be due to a higher fat content in grain-free diets, which can help improve coat quality, and a lower fiber content, which can reduce stool volume.  But these factors are independent of the grains themselves and can be achieved even with diets containing grains. 
(also see another post on this topic)