Dogs Need Grains? Here We Go Again … With Commentary From My Dog

The FDA recently released a report linking grain-free dog food to a rare heart condition in dogs. Some people on Twitter have suggested the real problem is the pea protein in grain-free dog food.

Frankly, I doubt pea proteins are worse than grains for dogs. This is just another lousy observational study (if you can even call it a study) with a huge confounder, as I explain in the video below. The Save The Grains Campaign of course insists this proves dogs need grains – just like people! My dog Misha comments on that in the video a well. Transcript below.


Hello, I’m Tom Naughton, and this is the Fat Head Report.

Well, it looks like the save the grains campaign is expanding into new markets.

As we’ve seen before, the save the grains campaign is the grain industry’s ongoing PR effort to convince us if we don’t eat grains, we’ll get sick and die.

Since human beings didn’t eat grains for more than 99 percent of our time on earth, the idea that we need grains to be healthy is, of course, ridiculous.

But you know what’s even more ridiculous? The idea that our dogs need grains to be healthy too. But that’s what some scientists are trying to tell us.

According to the New York Times, the FDA has reported that 560 dogs have been diagnosed with a rare heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. And wouldn’t you know it, a high proportion of those dogs were fed grain-free dog food.

Well, if grain-free dog food is correlated with a rare heart condition, then these dogs must have developed heart disease because they didn’t eat grains, right?

No. Of course not. This is another example of why we shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on observational studies. Because there’s a perfectly logical explanation for this correlation.

People with high disposable incomes are much more likely to go to a vet and pay for an expensive test to find out Fido has a rare heart condition. Which is exactly what happened here. The heart condition was reported to the FDA by people who own the dogs.

People with high disposable incomes are also more likely to feed their dogs grain-free dog food. Because it’s expensive.

So when a rare heart condition is diagnosed in 560 dogs, out of 70 million dogs by the way, it’s no surprise that more of those dogs were eating expensive dog food.

And yet the perfectly logical explanation didn’t seem to occur to the expert the New York Times quoted for the article. He seems to think dogs actually need grains. And here’s his explanation:

“If they look at the dogs’ relatives in the wild, like coyotes, wolves and hyenas, they live on their prey. Those animals they prey on are typically herbivores, so they are ingesting grains anyway.”

First off, that’s like saying since I eat cows and the cows eat grass, I should just eat the grass myself and cut out the middleman. Or middle moo.

And second, it’s just not true. And here to explain is my own expert: my dog Misha, who’s almost eight years old, and his been living her entire life on a diet that consists mostly of raw meat. Misha, what about this idea that coyotes and wolves live on animals that eat grains?

Misha: I looked up what my relatives in the wild eat. They eat deer, bison, moose, elk, caribou and small animals like rabbits and rodents. Then I look up what those animals eat. They eat grass, twigs, roots, tree buds, flowers and insects. None of these yummy animals live on grains.

Now, as I’ve already explained, we don’t feed you any grains at all. What would you say is the biggest health problem you’ve experienced because of that diet?

Misha: Nothing. I feel great.

And so what would you say about this whole notion that dogs need grains to be healthy?

Misha: It’s a pile of dog poop.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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45 thoughts on “Dogs Need Grains? Here We Go Again … With Commentary From My Dog

  1. June

    Across America’s heartland, the farmers live in fear. The wheat fields are close to being ready for harvest, and they know soon they must fight off the hordes of dogs and cats that are drawn to the smell of ripe grain and can strip a field bare in minutes. All they can do to protect their crop is lay in a supply of tennis balls and catnip, and wait.

      1. June

        And cows. Have you ever seen a herd of cows stampeding toward a ripe cornfield? It will haunt your dreams forever.

      2. chris c

        Off topic but I just hit a deer. It walked out of a wheat field right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and if it had had the sense to stop I’d have missed it. But nooo, it kept on walking. I don’t know if it had been eating the wheat or been sprayed with glyphosate or just had no brain. It tried to throw itself under my wheels but I was nearly stationary by then so all it could do was to bounce off my front corner and make a spectacular parachute roll with its legs flailing in all directions. The car was undamaged and the deer managed to drag itself back into the field.

        More on topic, but birds which are specifically genetically determined to eat seeds generally feed their young on insects as they need the fat and protein to develop. Vegan parents take note. Also the Idiot Brigade who have vegan dogs, which IMNSHO is animal abuse.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          After living in a rural area, we’ve decided deer are basically suicidal.

          1. Firebird7479

            I just saw a video of a piglet and a fawn playing together on a farm. Everyone thought it was the cutest thing. All I thought was bacon and venison.

          2. chris c

            We have pheasants too, though they damage your car less when they hit you. Eating them does them a favour.

            Deer evolved for millions of years to flee from predators, but faced with a large object heading towards them at speed, just because it has wheels they are like “I’m walking here, go around . . .oops!”

            Cows evolved to “like” grain because it would only have been available briefly and seasonally and they need to eat it all up to get fat for the winter. Farmers and large animals vets point out that while it fattens them, overdoing it especially with wheat makes them ill.

            Small animal vets don’t appear to know this, like human dieticians. Dogs eat all kinds of things, especially yellow labs, but the only way I can think of them getting many grains would be by eating full mice.

            We;re in the middle of harvest here, most of the barley and rape (Canola) is in and some of the peas, and they’re now halfway through the wheat. This is why grains and margarine are “essential”, economics not health. Nevertheless no hordes of dogs or cats in the fields, just some farmers’ dogs after the rabbits.

        2. Walter

          I read about children of vegan parents who grab anything containing fat when they think they are not being observed. Of course if such a child visits your house, it’s you duty to let them and remain hidden, to maintain plausible denial.

          I fear Child Protective Services would be of no help, until the situation become completely untenable.

        3. Stuart

          Be grateful you don’t have kangaroos. They’re nocturnal so usually encountered when driving at night and when your car approaches them they’re as likely as not to bound across you instead of away from you. I guess they’re so accustomed to being faster than anything else that they don’t realise how fast a car is travelling. Having a dying kangaroo that’s as big as you thrashing around in your lap is guaranteed to spoil your day!

    1. JillOz

      LOL!! Beautifully put, as is the air of suspense.
      Stephen King should write a horror mystery about it.

  2. Deb

    My dog did die from DCM this last January, and she was on grain-free food for a time before she was diagnosed. She did outlast all expectations, however, when we changed her to an all-meat diet, which she loved. It was nice to see her enjoy her food towards the end, even if it didn’t reverse the damage already done. There is grain-free food out there without pea protein, and, if you can, feed your dogs meat whenever you can. That’s my advice.

  3. Alicia L Harry

    ALSO, those people generally have designer, purebred dogs which have inherent defects that may not be discovered until a vet examines them to find a rare heart defect.

      1. Walter

        Reminds me in rat, mouse etcetera studies they use exceptionally pure bred animals which are basically near clones or approaching being clones, so irrelevant to humans. Of course, this is a major weakness to even RCT studies, because we have such different genetics and acquired traits. For example, some people are salt sensitive, some can handle a wide range of salt intakes and some need large amounts of salt or special drugs to retain salt. Giving a salt limit based on what works for the whole population is an example of one size fits none.

  4. Stuart

    From “Taurine deficiency in dogs”

    “Essential, or indispensable amino acids are a group of amino acids that cannot be synthesized in the body and are thus required to be taken in through diet. This is a well known nutritional defect that is known to affect the health of cats when they are lacking taurine in their diet, but does not affect dogs in the same way, as dogs are able to synthesize taurine in their bodies. This is why taurine is usually not added to dog foods but is added to cat foods.

    However, some dogs may suffer from taurine deficiency in relation to certain diseases and may need to have taurine added to their diets. If dealing with heart disease, the deficiency can lead to enlarged heart size (dilated cardiomyopathy). Certain breeds of dogs appear to be predisposed to taurine deficiency: American cocker spaniels and giant breed dogs like the Newfoundland, amongst others.”

    What’s the betting that the dog food was not so much grain-free as taurine-free? Also those high-income dog owners are far more likely to own pure-bred cocker spaniels, Newfoundlands or Great Danes than cross-bred mongrels.

    Taurine is also essential for us humans, although we can synthesise it in small amounts if we have the necessary raw materials. To quote from Dr Atkins Vita-Nutrient Solution page 206:
    “the possibility of a deficiency exists, especially if you don’t eat shellfish, the nutrient’s most abundant source. The two sulfur-containing amino acids that can be turned into taurine are cysteine and methionine, found most often in egg yolks and animal meats. However these are rare ingredients for anyone who follows the conventional low-fat diet.”
    It therefore comes as no surprise that vegans are particularly deficient in taurine. Whodathunkit?

    Dr Atkins explains that taurine is better than diuretics for treating fluid buildup (eg peripheral Edema) while strengthening the heart muscle and also prevents brain seizures in epileptics. In one Japanese study treating congestive heart failure patients:
    “The clinical efficacy of 2 gm BID of oral taurine (2-aminoethane sulfonic acid) was studied in 24 patients with congestive heart failure (CHF). We expressed the severity of CHF by a score based on clinical signs and symptoms and on roentgenographic data. The maximum possible score, corresponding to the worst CHF, was 23 points. How much the 24 patients improved after receiving taurine for four or eight weeks was estimated by the difference between their pretreatment and posttreatment scores. In 19 of the 24 patients, taurine was effective. In the group as a whole, mean (+/- SEM) scores fell significantly, from 7.3 +/- 0.6 before treatment to 4.4 +/- 0.5 after treatment. Thirteen of the 15 patients who were designated as New York Heart Association (NYHA) functional class III or IV before receiving taurine could be designated as class II after they completed the study.”

    I doubt that any conventional medication could have shown that much improvement in such a short time. Taurine supplementation is a standard part of CHF therapy in Japan yet good luck in finding a cardiologist in the Western world who’s even heard of it let alone prescribes it. Certainly my father’s cardiologist never mentioned it.

    I haven’t managed to get my hands on a copy of Dr Davis’s Undoctored book yet as it doesn’t appear to be released here in Australia and postage from the US would double the cost of the book. However I can recommend these two books as complementing Dr Davis’s work:
    Dr Atkins’ Vita-Nutrient Solution (1998)
    Dr Atkins’ Age Defying Diet (2000)
    The latter book should really have been titled Dr Atkins’ Age Defying Solution since diet is only one part of his program, however I guess his publisher insisted on the inclusion of the word “Diet” to sell the book. Although written 20 years ago both books still contain lots of relevant information – after all human physiology hasn’t changed in those two decades.

    The late Robert Atkins and William Davis seem to have followed parallel paths to arrive independently at the same conclusion: that modern medicine has lost its way and patients need to take control of their own health. Both began as conventional cardiologists who through their reading of the scientific literature and their experience with patients began to question the mainstream dogma. The differences between their recommendations are minor: while Atkins was no fan of wheat flour he stopped short of Dr Davis’s outright ban on grains, and Dr Davis’s work benefits from that extra 20 years of scientific research. My recommendation is to read both.

  5. Lori Miller

    Several years ago, a holistic vet recommended grain-free dog food when my dog had oral melanoma. I also gave him some Chinese herbs. The vet said he’d last about three months without medication–but he lived pretty comfortably for a year.

    You could say he lasted nine months longer than expected, or that he died of cancer on a grain-free diet. A lot of people (and perhaps animals) are on special diets because they have health problems in the first place.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, like the goofs who like point to fat people on LCHF diets. Many of those people have lost quite a bit of weight, but are still overweight — which is why they tried LCHF in the first place.

      1. Walter

        And many of those fat people on LCHF are metabolically normal, which 7/8ths of the general population and perhaps most of the critics are not.

  6. Sandy

    Interestingly, the vet we take our dog to immediately posted the ‘study’ on Facebook when it came out a couple of weeks ago. I commented exactly what you are saying (because I watched Science For Smart People a long time ago!)…that the dogs getting grain free food likely belong to people who care about their dogs, want to buy them high quality food, and actually take them to the vet. I said I would find it more interesting if the study included dogs who were getting crap dog food, and compared the lifespan and health of both groups. The vet lady responding was not impressed! Clearly dogs need grains and this study proves it! She kept referring to the grain-free food, and I tried to say a couple of times that we weren’t actually discussing the quality of the food, but the quality of the study. She wasn’t interested.

    Many of the grain-free foods out there use legumes or potatoes as their starch instead of grain, and I actually have no problem believing that dogs aren’t made to chow down on legumes or potatoes any more than corn-based crap. However, that wasn’t the discussion I was trying to have. Sadly, she wasn’t at all interested in Science For Smart People.

  7. Tom Welsh

    I recall being a little surprised when I read that some scientists claim carnivores such as lions and leopards consume vegetable matter because it’s in the intestines of the prey – which carnivores tend to eat preferentially.

    That seemed a little thin to me. (And if carnivores do go for the intestines first, I’m glad I’m not a carnivore. Well, not an obligate carnivorew, although I do enjoy roast beef and pork belly).

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I try to avoid being near large carnivores. I’m afraid they’ll see me as well-marbled.

    2. Emi11n

      A jaguar that I care for is regularly given large whole rabbits. He eats everything BUT the guts.

      1. Tom Naughton Post author

        I don’t doubt that some carnivores tear into the guts, but of course if they were doing that to eat the grass in the guts, they’d save themselves the trouble of hunting and just go eat grass. When raccoons have killed our chickens, they tear into the neck, then eat some breast meat. We’ve never seen a dead chicken with the guts eaten away.

  8. Miriam

    I had two spaniels I got off the street in rural China. By the time they were six, on the only food I thought I could trust over there–Pedigree–they were old, achy, Harry was growing a tumor in his stomach, and Plato’s nails were falling out. They had no energy and dingy coats. The local dog foods were killing people’s animals because of melamine added to fake the protein levels in tests of the food. Not sure if anyone here knew about it. The big scandal at the time was doing the same thing to infant formula and milk, which you can read about here (; but what wasn’t as widely publicized was that people’s dogs and cats were dying of the same problem.

    One day even Pedigree disappeared off the shelves, and when it came back–in a slightly different bag and with a different smell–Harry and Plato started vomiting regularly after eating it and I despaired. Finally I stumbled on some Australian websites talking about the BARF (Bones and Raw Food) diet for dogs, and switched them over to raw meat, bones, offal, a bit of seafood, and eggs.

    Their coats got sleek and shiny. Their energy levels skyrocketed to the point they seemed like puppies again. Plato’s nails stopped falling out and his skin issues all cleared up. Harry’s tumor shrunk dramatically and stayed that way for eight more happy, energetic, healthy years until old age and a puppyhood of poor food finally caught up with them.

    I’m on the second pair now, mixed rescue sibling mutts named Bonnie and Clyde, and live in Maine. They’ve been on raw food from the beginning, eating whole rabbits and chickens and game hens, offal and raw meaty bones, lobster broth (made with the shells after I eat the good stuff) and the occasional ground beef, turkey, pork chop and a few raw vegetables they like. And of course, their very favorite: Sardine Sundays. They are impossibly sleek, almost 100% muscle, active and energetic, bright and intelligent. They see a vet once a year for their required vaccines and always gets comments on how perfectly proportioned they are: which is because they eat well, so they eat normally. They never eat more than they need. I know the food is the reason because I got them in South Carolina and had to bring them up here, so I put them on a grain-free kibble for two weeks to make it easier to feed them on the drive and stay with family for a while. During the short kibble phase, they were hungry all the time and obviously wanted to overeat.

    I’m very lucky to have the finances to be able to feed my dogs well like this, and I know it. But there are two things about that I’d like to say. First, what I spend in food I do NOT spend in vet bills. We stand in line once a year to see an inexpensive farm vet, and that’s it. Second, for a while when I was moving and did NOT have the finances, I trolled the Walmart food section for the cheapest meats. There I found whole chickens I could cut up to feed them and rounds of ground turkey without much of any additives but some salt water and end-of-life discounted bones and beef and buckets of kidneys and livers for the same price per ounce or less than I would pay for cheap, grain-filled dry dog food in a bag.

    Was that meat and canned tuna from healthy, free-range animals. No way. But I could rest easy knowing it was way better than anything that comes in a bag. It took a bit of work to do the math, but it really does add up. If you can afford a bag of Pet Garbage dog food, you can almost certainly afford to feed your dog something better. Thanks for the post Tom, and greetings from Bonnie and Clyde.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Tell Bonnie and Clyde hello for me as well. Feeding our dog (two dogs until recently) raw meat is certainly more expensive than relying on dry dog food, but it’s worth it to see the health benefits.

    2. chris c

      Can I come over for dinner? I’ll eat out of the dogs’ bowl.

      That’s a thought, owners who only switched to grain-free food after the dogs were already ill would skew the statistics..

  9. Louis the Cat

    I have posted before: I have trained my support staff to only feed me raw meat; (they are both keto so fair’s fair .. ) and the only cream I drink is fresh cream from the cowshed: I can smell the difference in the bottled stuff that they try to foist on me; and my support team (who aren’t very bright;) just can’t believe I can instantly tell fresh from shop-bought: simple humans! I send them off maybe once a fortnight to buy frozen raw meat: wild goat, or possum or rabbit or hare: I used to be only eat hare/possum mixes (I was super fussy) but I am learning to be more tolerant now; I can grudgingly accept a mix of these things. It has to be raw meat though; where all the organs are mixed into the mixture: great! Apart from that, I do catch birds and rabbits and eat all parts. The organs are crucial.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Thanks for chiming, Louis. You and Misha could have a good conversation.

  10. Kathy from Maine

    I’ve always been intrigued by the raw food diet for dogs/cats. I feed Merrick dry food (meat-based with freeze-dried raw meat, no pea or vegetable protein) to my dog, and give him any leftover meat and fat from dinner (cooked, obviously). I swear I have vegan cats because they won’t eat meat, drink milk or cream, or lick butter. I’ve tried the expensive canned foods for the cats that are high in animal protein, and they turn up their noses. I’ve mixed it in with their Fancy Feast, to no avail. Now I sneak (cooked) meat into their food once in a while, and am making slight progress in that respect.

    The raw food diets I’ve read about, however, require hours in the kitchen at least once each week, time that I don’t have, and the instructions would baffle a life-long scientist.

    Tom, can you point me to a good website where I can learn more about a basic raw food diet like you feed your dog, or maybe just explain what you do? Also, since I’m also in Maine, I’d love to connect with Miriam about it.

    Thanks in advance for the assist!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Nothing fancy about it. We feed Misha raw chicken pieces (Chareva usually finds big packages on sale), raw ground beef, raw beef liver, raw eggs, etc. Sometimes she mixes in half a cooked sweet potato, but for the most part it’s just a rotation of raw meats. Keep in mind Misha is a rottie with very powerful jaws, so she has no problem chewing up a chicken thigh, bones and all.

    2. Fred Jones

      Hi there Kathy from Maine: all these new ideas can seem pretty tricky, can’t they?

      when we looked at the ingredients lists for “dry foods” for pets: they add carbs to them; as carbs as cheap;

      the rules on disclosure seem much less rigorous for pet food: but it seemed to me the Purina brands were about maybe up to 25% carbs: (you could check this out for yourself). As we feel carbs can be very problematic for people, so for cats and dogs: neither seemed to eat wheat 100 years ago! So we were pleased to find deep-frozen uncooked fresh meat.

      I just wondered there aren’t folks in Maine doing what locals do here near us: hunters offer us what they have shot; all the animal is respected as it goes to a good cause; and one supports a local business; our local supplier is going well, as folks enthuse about how well their pets are doing: no more diabetes for cats, eating carbs and getting sick. So we just feed our cats the thawed blocks of fresh meat that was deep-frozen; it is even easier than opening a can!!

      all best wishes to you

      1. Kathy from Maine

        Thanks, Fred! I’ve been doing some research and will start adding raw food to my dog’s and cats’ meals. I’ve always referred to the cats as “vegans” because they have always pretty much turned up their noses at cooked meat, cream, milk, and butter.

        My oldest cat has kidney disease and the vet wanted her on a low-protein diet. Didn’t make sense to me, and several vets online say they kept seeing cats with kidney disease dying from protein deficiency rather than the kidney disease, and that they now recommend continuing a high-protein diet.

        I’ve started supplementing her canned food with cooked meat, a little each time. One day I gave her about a tablespoon of raw ground beef, and she ate it right down. She always enjoys unsweetened whole milk Greek yogurt (I save my L. reuteri yogurt for just me).

        I just wonder about portion sizes for the cats and for the dog. The three cats are around 12 – 14 pounds, and the dog (lab mix) is 70 pounds.

        PS: Good idea on the hunter surplus.

        1. Stuart

          Diabetes is a major cause of kidney failure in humans. The docs (and apparently vets too) all tell you that you need to cut back on the protein as that protein is damaging your kidneys as evidenced by protein in your urine. Because after all everybody knows that the defining characteristic of a diabetic is the high level of protein in their blood. (Sarcasm alert)

          In fact diabetics have no more protein in their blood than non-diabetics, what they do have is much higher levels of sugar and insulin. The protein in their urine (proteinuria) is the result of damage to the kidney caused by excess sugar and/or insulin and the proteinuria is merely a symptom. Reducing the protein in your diet may reduce the amount in your urine but not only will not address the cause of the disease it will exacerbate it because you will almost certainly be replacing the dietary protein with carbohydrate. As Tom says, head bang on desk.

          Another characteristic of diabetics is that they are low in thiamine (Vitamin B1) and many of the complications of diabetes resemble B1 deficiency. In a study in Pakistan 20 diabetic kidney disease patients were given 300mg/day of thiamine for three months and compared to 20 controls (ie no thiamine). Mike Eades has a good summary of the study here:

          In summary, 7 of the 20 patients – 35% – saw their urinary protein levels reduced to normal, their nephropathy was essentially cured. The remaining 13 all saw their protein levels reduced ie their kidneys were healing and might have improved further if treated longer.

          I don’t know whether your cat’s kidneys will benefit from thiamine supplementation but it’s unlikely to hurt it either. You could try crushing B1 tablets and mixing it in the cat’s food. Be aware that thiamine is water-soluble so needs to be given in divided doses during the day as any excess gets peed out and not stored. Alternatively you could use benfotiamine which is a fat-soluble form. Good luck.

  11. Mark

    We’ve been feeding our dog the Kirkland puppy chow from Costco, even though he’s now 3 years old. The listed ingredients seemed pretty good compared to other kibble. Contains meat, sweet potato, no grains, and it has some unusual good ingredients like blueberries. When he became an adult dog the vet said we should switch to adult dog food because the puppy chow has too much fat for adult dogs. Then we started reading the ingredient labels of the adult versions at Costco, the pet store, the grocery store and the vet. Nothing looked as good as the Kirkland puppy chow from Costco. So we just continued with the puppy chow by default. We also feed him boiled meat for evening treats. Liver, chicken etc., which he goes nuts for.

    He seems pretty healthy and strong. Large for his breed but muscular, not fat. How many can say they own a 40 pound pure beagle that isn’t also obese?

  12. Walter

    RE: “I eat cattle which eat grass therefore eat grass” absurdity

    An oatmilk company is saying you should drink there product to cut out the middleman, despite the vast nutritional and digestive differences of the two substances.

  13. Ulfric Douglas

    I don’t know if it was mentioned yet, but modern “energy drinks” contain large amounts of Taurine. Just saying.

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