I've read that corn based food could be harmful to dogs. Is this true? If so, what would be a good alternative?
The subject of corn and grain based dog food is one that is contentious and subject to a lot of debate. Numerous studies have been done on this subject and many heated opinions exist on this.
Many veterinarians believe in corn based dog food and how it is highly digestible and contains many health benefits for a dog.
Here is an excerpt from a dog food company that sells corn based dog food that claims that "Cornphobia" is a scare tactic marketing campaign pioneered by luxury dog food manufacturers.
Some of the first dog food companies that thrived were Science Diet, Iams, Eukanuba and Purina; that was some pretty stiff competition! A common denominator to their dog food formula was corn. The popular marketing game of "they have it and we do not" began the gloomy demonizing of corn.
On the opposing side here is another vet that speaks vocally against corn based diets in dog food on his blog.
I argued against the notions put forth by nutritionists interviewed for a veterinary news magazine article that 1) ingredients in pet food aren’t important, 2) that dogs require grain-based fiber to be healthy, and 3) that dogs are omnivores (they are scavenging carnivores). I also pointed out that many veterinary nutritionists have financial ties to some of the largest pet food manufacturers in the world.
The fact of the matter is that there are veterinarians on both sides of the debate both making claims of financial bias by the others. Well then what about studies? There are many studies done on the subject and most of these are funded by the very industry groups that would stand to benefit or lose greatly by the findings of such studies. Few long term studies have been done on the long term effects that such a diet can cause.
Without being able to find an official study on corn based diets and weight, I will only share my personal experiences and what I have witnessed. I do not feed my dog corn based food, and he is the most fit and athletic basset hound that I and universally all of my friends with basset hounds have seen. The vet regularly complements me on having a basset hound that is a healthy weight and how unusual it is for this breed that is typically prone to being overweight or obese.
I have never known an overweight dog that was on a non-corn diet. Every overweight dog I know of ate cheap corn based dog food.
This is not a study and there clearly might be a correlation between the much higher price of non corn based dog food and the tendency for more educated consumers with more spending money to purchase said food.
I've had a few vets, and all of them say that corn based food is bad. This may be a biased opinion since they each sell some kind of specialty brand pet food.
Their explanation is that while domesticated dogs can eat corn based food because they get used to it, their digestive system is built to handle meat. When I asked what other brands aside from the ones they sell would they recommend, almost all of them said Nutro is the best brand to feed a dog.
- It's easier for them to digest, so they poop less
- Their coat feels better
- They shed less
When I switched my dogs to Nutro, I've witnessed those results, except for the shedding less, as my dogs don't shed. Keep in mind that Nutro may be an expensive purchase.
Dogs were domesticated from wild dogs and wolves, with domestic dogs being found around 30,000 years ago. Some wolves are thought to have evolved around 700,000 years ago. Their main caloric and nutrient source is other animals, thus in oversimplified terms they are though of as carnivores.
While they like to munch on a bit of plant matter every now and then and eat the stomach contents of the animals they kill, they did not roam the land looking for corn to eat. Corn is much cheaper than meat so using it allows for pet food manufacturers to keep costs down. Corn was selectively bread only very recently for human consumption and is not all that great a food source as it is full of sugars, and is not particularly nutrient rich.
Arbitrarily changing the diet of a 700,000 year old specie carries with is some health risk. Many American cats and dogs suffer from obesity.
We see a similar problem in humans where our historical diets have been altered for convenience or culturally-learned flavor preference resulting in obesity, atherosclerosis disease, diabetes, GI tract cancers, etc.
The high-quality dog foods which are mainly made from meat are good alternatives. Better yet get with your veterinarian and make home-made dog food with the proper nutrient balance and whatever added vitamins are recommended. It won't have all the preservatives, dyes, and fillers the store bought pet food has, and the meat will be higher quality. Your vet won't tell you to add a bunch of corn, although dogs do need some grains/veggies to simulate what is found inside the animals they used to eat). The down side is this can be pricey and time consuming so it is not an attractive option to many. Personally I use high quality store bought foods.