What about Grain Free Diets and Seatbelts for Pets?

Question: I’ve heard a lot about Grain-free pet foods. What is the deal with this and is it ok to feed these diets to my pet?

Answer: I have heard a lot about these diets too. I probably get this question twice a week. For whatever reason, grain-free diets have become very popular with people. I do not have an opinion on the human side of nutrition, but we should not assume that what might be good for us must, therefore, be suitable for our pets. Animals have a different physiology than us, and their nutritional requirements are also unique. We should beware of sizable corporate marketing of pet foods that are based on myths about pet nutrition, and its relation to our diet.

There is no evidence that grains are bad for pets, and gluten intolerance is almost non-existent in pets. Instead, grains supply protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and fiber. Some of the substitutes for grain, such as potatoes, tapioca, peas, beans, and lentils, are often less nutritious and can cause stomach upset. Besides, these substitutes are more profitable for the manufacturer due to their better price margins.

One of the primary reasons stated for a grain-free diet is allergies. The vast majority of allergies in pets are due to environmental or parasitic causes. Less than 10% of allergies are due to food, and of the cases that are related to food, the vast majority of these are due to meat or dairy, not grains. So, as you can see, most pets do not need the more expensive, difficult to digest diets.

Last month the Food and Drug Administration announced that it is investigating a link between grain-free diets and a common type of canine heart disease due to deficiencies or metabolic malfunctions, Ongoing research is being done, but if your dog develops problems and is on a grain-free diet, please notify your veterinarian. Plus if you have ever seen a a veterinary nutritionist text book it would scare you! It has 1000 pages of complicated physiology, and it is nothing like human nutrition. So consult your veterinarian and not Dr. Google the veterinary nutritionist want-a-be! 🙂

With all of this said, I feed my dog Hills Healthy Advantage. This is a premium food that is balanced and developed by veterinary nutritionists. If my dog were to fall in the less than 1% of dogs that are allergic to grains, then I would feed another Hills product that is a prescription diet.

Question: Does my pet need to wear a seat belt in the car?

Answer: While no laws are requiring you to use a seat belt for your pet, there are laws are requiring you to drive undistracted, so if your pet is in your lap you may be cited for distracted driving.

You can prevent this and protect your pet by using a pet appropriate restraint. For dogs, this can be a carrier or harness. The harness needs to be purchased separately, as your seat belts will not work for your dog, but the harness will attach to your seat belts. For cats, a carrier is best.

Pets do get injured in accidents. As a matter of fact, just last week I was called to the scene of an accident with pets involved. One was DOA, and the other was critically injured (he did survive). It was a very tragic scene. And frankly quite eye-opening even to me. I have not pushed seat restraints for pets as much as I should have in my career but this recent accident has changed determination.

Even if your dog is secured, it is best in the back seat, as airbags can be dangerous to pets. Also, do not let your dog hang its head out the window, as debris can strike them, and rushing air can damage airways. Lastly, do not allow your dog to be loose in the bed of a truck, and never leave your pet unattended in a vehicle. I know, I know these are things we think our pet enjoys, but it is not worth their life or yours.

Gary Beall DVM
Chip Beall DVM
Springboro Veterinary Hospital
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