Why feed grain-free?

Dogs and cats did not evolve to eat grains… so why include grains in pet food?

Grains first appeared in pet foods about 70 years ago when consumers wanted the convenience of pet food in a bag and manufacturers wanted to reduce costs with inexpensive calories from grains. Although grains such as rice or wheat provide low-cost calories, their high carbohydrate content contributes to obesity, diabetes, kidney stones/struvite crystals, behaviour problems, allergies, skin/coat problems and a host of other health problems in cats and dogs.

There is a myth that high protein diets are harmful to kidneys.  This probably started because, in the past, patients with kidney disease were commonly placed on low protein (and thus low nitrogen) diets.  Science has since shown that for patients with kidney disease the concern is rather protein quality, not quantity.  High quality protein is digestible and produces fewer nitrogen by-products.

Cats and dogs are simply not evolved to eat processed cereal grains.  The relatively short gastrointestinal system of dogs lacks the enzymes needed to efficiently digest carbohydrates and is naturally evolved to metabolize a diet high in protein, which is why grain-free, reduced-carbohydrate diets based on human-grade meat, vegetables and fruits most closely matches the diet nature intended for your dog or cat.

Indeed, veterinarians are increasingly citing grains and carbohydrates as primary causes of health problems common to dogs and cats. In addition, as we all sadly know, the majority of pet food recalls over the past 10 years have been due to contaminated grain products: glutens, corn, wheat & rice.

And although it overlooks the most fundamental purpose of pet food (to provide nourishment) the “grain-and-carbohydrate” approach to pet nutrition is still widely practiced due to the lower cost, ready availability and long shelf life that grains provide. Unfortunately, dogs and cats suffer as a result of this. We believe that you should spend your money on your pet, not your vet.

What is ash?  Should I be concerned about the ash content in pet food?

First of all, ash is the inorganic mineral portion of any substance.  When referring to dog and cat food, “ash content” is the mineral matter, including magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and copper.  The ash analysis does not reveal the percentage of each mineral, therefore it does not tell much about the food.It also does not tell much about the food’s contribution to urinary tract infections, such as Feline Urological Syndrome (FUS).  The latest findings show that urinary tract trouble occurs when the urine becomes too alkaline.  So, some commercial foods now add extra acid or reduce magnesium.  There are side effects from use of these acid formulations or from insufficient magnesium, and all they do is cover up the problem instead of curing it.

If ash isn’t the problem, then what is?  How do I prevent urinary tract problems?

There is much proof that feeding an obligate carnivore primarily a grain-based dry diet can contribute more to a urinary stone problem than any other single factor.  The long-term dehydration that occurs causes concentrated urine and places considerable strain on the kidneys. Feeding poor-quality food to pets (including those containing corn as a protein instead of meat) results in toxicity and an excessive elimination load on the lining of the urinary system.
By contrast, a diet of meat, bones, and organs contains a mineral content – or ash content – that is not synthetic or artificial.  When a whole food substance is ingested, the animal has a very slim chance of developing a mineral imbalance.  Taking in nutrients as they occur in their natural state or as a whole food source will prevent the animal from concentrating minerals or vitamins, thus causing health issues.

Quality Natural Canned food formulas: A Healthy Treat or a Healthy Meal!

Water is an extremely important nutrient with respect to a pet’s overall health since it makes up 60-75% of a pet’s total body weight. Packed with the same whole food nutrition as our dry food formulas, our Canned Formulas are a delicious way to increase your pet’s moisture intake. Especially important for cats or dogs prone to urinary/bladder infections, kidney stones or struvite crystals.

As a special treat or as part of your regular feeding, canned foods are yet another delicious way for your pet to eat a healthy meal.  Our natural, quality canned foods are available in many delicious flavors for all life stages and dietary needs. Many grain-free formulas also available!

Important information regarding Urinary–Bladder Infections/Struvite Crystals/Kidney Stones in Dogs & Cats in relation to Grains, Carbohydrates and Magnesium levels in pet Food 

Understanding Urine Analysis

  • Foods made with grains (corn/wheat/rice etc) can cause alkaline urine in dogs and cats.
  • Magnesium reacts with alkaline urine to cause crystals.
  • Most “Prescription/dissolution/preventative” clinic diets take out the magnesium to prevent this reaction, even though magnesium is essential, especially for the nervous system.
  • Reducing magnesium may cause a host of other negative health issues.

It is far more important and beneficial to prevent alkaline urine by feeding a high protein/grain-free/low carbohydrate diet in order to minimize the risk of crystals.

  • Grain- based foods may also lead to kidney failure, which often cannot be detected until there is over 75% damage done.
  • Protein from muscle meat creates an optimal acid urine -Magnesium does not react in acid urine, thereby significantly reducing the risk of crystal formation.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that “prescription/low magnesium” diets are the solution, nor are they healthy. High protein/low carbohydrate/grain free foods are the optimum diet for dogs and cats with or without crystals, for both prevention of, and recovery from, crystals.

 Urinary PH levels are optimized by avoiding grains, therefore preventing the risk of alkaline/magnesium reactions.
Grain-free/low carb diets also support healthy kidney function, amongst the many other health benefits of feeding a high protein diet to your pet.

Urinary Tract/Bladder Infections

Urinary Tract infections may result from stress and insufficient water intake but are most commonly caused by the bacteria, E. coli. There is a substance in cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and blueberries (Vaccinium myrtilus) that has been shown in a number of clinical trials to prevent the adhesion of E. coli to the bladder wall and Urethra. If the bacteria are unable to attach, they are washed out of the urinary tract during urination and an infection cannot develop. Increased water intake will assist in flushing out infections and can be achieved by feeding a canned food that can contain up to 78% moisture.

Urinary Tract/Bladder Infections are rarely food related and can be easily treated with prescribed antibiotics, homeopathics, and natural herbal antibiotics.  (although not common, an undersized bladder/urinary tract system, or deformity may also be the cause).

NOTE: Hydrangea-a flower essence, helps to naturally dissolve stones. A safe, natural alternative treatment, to be used in conjunction with a grain-free diet for pets. Available at Creature Comfort Pet Emporium-where your pet’s health is our priority!

Pets with a compromised immune system as a result of poor diet, over-immunization, exposure to harmful chemicals/preservatives in commercial foods, excessive environmental stress (more common in outdoor pets), or a history of disease, may be more prone to  suffering chronic infections as a result of their weakened immune system.

Kidney stones may also cause urinary infections –another possible side affect resulting from a grain-based/lower protein/high carb diet.

Struvite & Oxalate Crystals

For the simplest explanation, crystals are minerals and stones are composed of several crystals that can come in many shapes and sizes. These stones can become so numerous that they can fill the bladder in some cases, resulting in the need for surgical removal. There is also a chance that they can cause blockage, particularly in male dogs, which is very dangerous and requires immediate veterinary attention.

Common symptoms that occur with stones or crystals include straining to urinate, the ability to urinate only a few drops at a time, frequent urination, and blood in the urine, dribbling urine, loss of appetite, depression and occasional vomiting. If your dog shows any of these symptoms, it is important to get a veterinarian examination immediately. An examination should include a palpation of the bladder, urinalysis and culture.

A urinalysis will show if white and/or red blood cells are present. This will indicate infection. Even if the urinalysis is clear, a culture is necessary to determine if, for certain, an infection is present and to find the appropriate antibiotic treatment. This is very important, because if the wrong antibiotic is given, the infection can continue to reoccur. If crystals are seen in the urine or bladder stones are suspected from symptoms or feeling stones in the bladder, the pH value of the urine is helpful to determine the type of crystals or stones.

Determining the type of crystal or stone is important, as this is crucial to treatment modalities. Always seek a veterinarian’s examination and diagnosis for the correct type of crystal or stone and treatment. I will describe the two most common types of crystals and stones here, and then provide links for some of the less common varieties.


These are also called ‘triple phosphate’(magnesium ammonium phosphate) and are the most commonly seen with urinary tract infections and most frequently seen in females. These type of crystals are seen in young dogs (under a year) or in middle aged or older dogs.

Breeds that have a tendency towards getting these types of crystals are Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Scottish Terriers, Miniature Poodles, Bichon Frise, Miniature Schnauzers, Pekingese, Basset Hounds, Springer Spaniels and German Shepherds. Struvites are almost always accompanied by bacteria that create a high alkaline pH. Always have the dog’s urine cultured for bacteria, even if none are apparent in a microscope upon microscopic inspection.

Not all bacteria will show on inspection, but a culture will reveal if any bacteria is present. Knowing which bacteria are present allows the veterinarian to prescribe the proper antibiotic to eliminate infection. It is also noted that many dogs can have struvites present in the urine and high urinary pH with no ill effects, so if a routine urinalysis shows a pH of 8.0 and a few struvite crystals, but your dog has no symptoms of any kind, there is no need to be concerned.

When the infection is treated by the correct antibiotic, cranberry juice Capsules (not cranberry juice) can be given to the dog. These help to stop bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall and help prevent future infections. Some people have had success keeping the urine acidic, which helps prevent these crystals from forming, by feeding acidic foods and avoiding alkaline foods. A raw, natural diet is high in acidic foods.

Because bladder infections lead to high alkaline urinary pH and struvite crystals, many people, including many vets, make the mistake of treating the problem by acidifying the diet. But that is confusing cause and effect. Alkaline pH and struvite crystals are not caused by a diet of alkaline foods; they are usually caused by bladder infections. Therefore, trying to make the urine more acidic will not get rid of the infection. Alkaline pH can also be normal, as pH can vary a great deal even in the same dog at different times of the day, and also by the way the urine was captured and handled before testing.

If your dog has struvite bladder stones, then acidifying the diet, along with treating the infection, can help dissolve the stones. Ascorbic acid (a form of vitamin C), and distilled water can help with this. , Acidic foods include chicken, beef, eggs, fish, pork, cottage cheese, yogurt, rice (brown and white), beans, nuts and all seafood.

Read more for information on acidifying and alkalizing foods and struvite bladder stones.

Calcium Oxalate

Calcium Oxalate crystals tend to affect more males than females. Common breed occurrences include Yorkshire Terriers, Miniature Poodles, Lhaso Apso, and Miniature Schnauzers. Calcium Oxalate crystals can also be found in a healthy dog, but are more prone to develop into stones in some dogs. The pH in dogs with these types of crystals is usually acidic or neutral. It is thought that some dogs that are more prone to these types of stones have an inherited weakness that prevents them from forming nephrocalein, which prevents calcium oxalate stone formation. While these stones are mostly treated by surgically removing them, there has been some success with reducing the oxalate rich foods in the diet and working to alkalize the urine pH.

Alkalizing foods include apples, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, beans, potatoes, pumpkin, millet, honey, alfalfa, non-distilled vinegar (organic apple cider vinegar), squash and most fruit and most vegetables.

High oxalate foods to avoid include beet greens, rhubarb, spinach, beets, raw endive, dandelion greens, okra, kale and sweet potatoes. http://www.marinurology.com/articles/calculi/foods/oxalate.htm