Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Great Corn Debate

I didn't actually know there really was a debate until today, when we brought Oscar to the vet for his check-up. I thought corn was no good, full stop, and that was pretty widely accepted. Tonight, we saw a vet that we had not seen before. As part of Oscar's check-up, the vet asked what food he was on. I told her that he was on Blue Buffalo. She said that she wasn't that fond of Blue Buffalo, that she had heard of dogs who had problems on Blue Buffalo, and that there had been a recall of Blue Buffalo last year, which made her a bit wary about it. She then said that miniature schnauzers are prone to health issues like pancreatitis, diabetes, and bladder stones. She recommended that we put him on a low-fat diet, as high fat levels can contribute to problems like pancreatitis and diabetes (though not the bladder stones). 

She recommended a few brands: Light Science DietRoyal Canin, or Purina Pro Plan (but not normal Purina, which she didn't recommend). I asked her more about this, because I said I had looked into Science Diet and Royal Canin and remembered at least one of them having corn as the first ingredient, which I didn't think was very good. The vet said that corn and by-products have gotten a bad rap, and that they are not actually as bad as people say they are. She said corn has some protein in it, which is good. She also said that good quality by-products can be better than bad quality meats, so dog foods with these ingredients can be trusted, if they are good quality brands. (I feel like that's not good logic - doesn't quality depend on the ingredients themselves?)

Now, I am not a vet. The extent of my scientific training is a couple of biology and chemistry classes in undergrad (biology was fun, chemistry was blech, and so I switched into Arts), and the extent of my work with dogs is restricted to my experience with Oscar. However, I have done a lot of reading about dog food. Everything I had read said that corn was not good for dogs, that is is cheap filler, and that it can cause allergies and digestion problems. I have also read about by-products in dog food, and read that by-products should be avoided. It made sense to me - by-product meal is essentially made up of parts of the carcass (besides the meat) which are ground up. Could this be wrong? Can corn and by-product meals be good for dogs, as long as they are high quality?

I did some reading, and tried to stay away from forums where average Joes like me would congregate to talk about food, since most of those places have people who are very vocal about how terrible corn and by-products are for dogs, but most of those people probably don't have any more training or experience than me. I couldn't find much, but before I gave up clicking through random Google results, I found a couple of articles by vets here and here (or at least people who claim to be vets - after all, it is the Internet and I suppose I can't be 100% sure). The argument for corn is that there is apparently not much proof that corn is linked to allergies, that it is highly digestible, and that it contains proteins and other things that are good for dogs.

It seems that there is a bit of a debate, though I think it's safe to say the pro-corn side is losing. So what am I supposed to do with this? On one hand, I've done a ton of reading, looked at a lot of ingredient lists, and picked a food that is high in protein and grain-free. Oscar hasn't had any trouble whatsoever with Blue Buffalo, either on his puppy formula or the salmon recipe adult food he's on now. However, I also recognize that I have no training in animal care, and our vet told us tonight that she was not crazy about Blue Buffalo and that we should switch him to one of the three brands she recommended. So should I listen to her, or chalk this all up to an economic conspiracy? I couldn't help but notice the Science Diet and Royal Canin on the vet's shelves, though I suppose the food could be on the shelf not because the food companies sponsor it or provide it cheaply or something, but because the vets there truly believe the food is good for dogs. I figured I should at least take another look at these foods, so I checked out the ingredient lists. Here are the first ten ingredients for Science Diet and Royal Canin, for the type that I would buy for Oscar. Purina Pro Plan didn't have their ingredient lists online, which makes me a bit grumpy - isn't that the most important information about dog food?

Science Diet Adult Small & Toy Breed Light: Whole Grain Corn, Soybean Mill Run, Chicken By-Product Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Corn Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal, Chicken Liver Flavor, Soybean Oil, Lactic Acid, vitamins (L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement).

Royal Canin Miniature Schnauzer 25Chicken, brown rice, rice, chicken meal, oatmeal, corn gluten meal, chicken fat, barley, natural chicken flavor, wheat gluten meal.

The top-ten (if you will) list for Blue Buffalo Wilderness Salmon Recipe is: Deboned SalmonMenhaden Fish Meal (natural source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids)Chicken MealPotato StarchPeasChicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid), PotatoesTomato Pomace (source of Lycopene), Natural Chicken FlavorFlaxseed.

I have to say, no matter what the vet tells me, I don't think there's any way I can in good conscience feed Oscar Science Diet. There is only one meat ingredient in the top ten, and it's chicken by-product meal. I don't care how "good quality" the by-product meal is, it's still by-product meal. If you asked me if I'd rather have chicken meat, or ground up chicken parts not including the meat, I don't think you could persuade me to take the chicken parts over the meat, even if they were "good quality" parts. Their second ingredient is "soybean mill run." I didn't even know what that was, and had to look it up. The definition I found was basically that soybean mill run consists of soybean hulls, and whatever soybean "meat" remains on the hulls after the soybeans are milled. Seriously? Soybean hulls, not even the bean itself? I'd be feeding my dog a bowl of corn, soybean hulls, and chicken parts (but not the meat). I don't think so. The Royal Canin doesn't look nearly as bad, but there sure is a lot of grain in the top ten, which I'm not crazy about.

Maybe I've been brainwashed by the big corn and by-product "conspiracy," but I feel like the commonsense conclusion in all this is: the more natural the food is, the better it would be for my dog. I also ask myself, out of these ingredients, what is a dog more likely to eat in the wild? Also, what would I myself be more inclined to eat? I have to say, the Blue Buffalo, with the three meat ingredients in the top five and no weird stuff like soybean hulls, sounds better to me. Even though I don't know what "natural chicken flavor" is, it sounds like something that I'd find in my canned food or something, and I definitely find it less off-putting than "powdered cellulose."  (Update: I looked closer at the ingredient list on Blue Buffalo's site, and they actually define each of their ingredients. Natural chicken flavor is liquefied or dried chicken tissue that is used as a flavor enhancer. Not too delicious-sounding, but at least it's actually chicken, and not some weird chemical.)

Given my remaining (and strong) doubts about corn and other grains and by-product meals, I don't think I'll be switching to the brands the vet recommended. Blue Buffalo does have a Wilderness Healthy Weight Chicken Recipe. Since it's a Wilderness recipe, it's still high in protein and grain-free, but it's a recipe targeted to help dogs stay at a healthy weight. The top ten list is: Deboned ChickenChicken MealTurkey MealPotato StarchPotatoesPeasFlaxseed (source of Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids), Tomato Pomace (source of Lycopene), Natural Chicken Flavor, Alfalfa Meal.

The list looks decent - the first three ingredients are meat. I think I'll stop by PetSmart and see if they carry it in-store, and maybe when Oscar makes a dent in the giant bag of food we bought him, we'll consider switching him over. Part of me doesn't want to switch him if he's doing well on the food he's on now, but since I know that weight issues can be problematic for schnauzers, I don't want to wait until something is wrong to do something about it.

Please don't get me wrong - I'm not unquestioningly pro-Blue Buffalo. There are certain foods by the line that I'm not a big fan of, which is why I switched Oscar to a Wilderness food as opposed to one of their Life Protection Formula adult foods (he was on a Life Protection Formula puppy food). There are adult foods in the Life Protection Formula line with oatmeal or barley high in list of the first five ingredients. Even if a meat is listed first (meaning that it is the single biggest ingredient), the next two ingredients combined could make up a bigger proportion of the food in total than the first ingredient. That means if the first ingredient is a meat, but the next two are grains, it could mean that there is more grain in the food than meat. I would therefore rather get a food that clearly has more meat than grain (like one with meat as the first three ingredients) rather than one that is more questionable (like one with meat as only one of the first three ingredients, and another meat later down in the line after a bunch of grain ingredients). For me, it's not the brand that makes or breaks a food - it's the ingredient list.

Whether we decide to switch Oscar to the Blue Buffalo weight-control food or not, I just don't buy the other side of this debate and will not switch him to the other brands. I don't think I'll be feeding my dog corn or by-products if I can help it. What about you? Where do you fall in this debate?


Elizabeth Bergesen said...

Hi Oscar!
Long time follower, first time commenter... :) I would say that you seem to have done very well with your research in finding a good brand which works for Oscar.

Rubie and Poots (her Mum) said...

Here's where I sit in this debate. I think you are doing really well in your care and research, but don't you get the feeling that each person you approach on this matter will have a different opinion? Frustrating when even the vets give mixed opinions.

I also have a mini schnauzer - mine with a ferocious appetite and a begging face that will melt an iron man. What I do is feed a small portion of the best quality dry food for breakfast (we use Advance small breed (Mini schnauzer on back of pack) it's Turkey and Rice flavour and it's made in Australia. I figure it's not for the "protein" but for the added vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants etc that I can't whip up in my kitchen.

The evening meal is fresh minced chicken necks (enter fresh protein and calcium from the bone), boiled lentils and fresh grated veggies such as carrot, zucchini, cabbage etc. Some for a bit of variety I will give her fresh lean beef mince instead of the chicken.

To my mind she has the best of both worlds, processed "good for you stuff" as well as fresh ingredients that I can control. Honestly, with a little organisation, preparing the fresh stuff takes no time at all.

Hey, who knows if I have got it right....I bet if I tell 10 vets about it, they will all recommend something else!

Good luck, but keep a firm eye on weight gain, this is by far the worst scenario for a mini schnauzer.

xx Rubie's mum.

All God's Creatures said...

Pretty crazy/confusing, huh!?!

Imho, the "good" food is not a great as they say it is, and the "bad" food is not as terrible as it sounds.

We each need to feed our pets what we think is best and what seems to benefit our individual pets. Some of the "good" foods are way to rich for some pets, and yet there are many truths about the cons of the lesser foods.

Makes my brain hurt (especially at 1:00 in the morning) ... lol ;)

Nice blog! ♥


On to the next blog ...


Talking-Dogs said...

All I know for sure is that since we switched to an organic, no corn dog food, our dogs obviously feel better. Basing most of that judgement on Lucy - 13 years old with hip arthritis, and Tucker - age 14 who's had 2 acl surgeries. Healthier, more lustrous coats on all 4 dogs.

Unknown said...

I think you hit the nail on the head when you noticed the vet sells pet food. How can they be objective? Once I was told my cat may be allergic to corn. The sales clerk and I read every single bag in every brand in the store and couldn't find one that had no corn. I am shocked that your vet said byproducts are ok. That can include anything including beaks and feet! I looked for one that had no byproducts and had chicken as the first ingredients. For your little purebred, you could try the prescription diet that is only sold at the vet. Presciption diet is made by Royal Canin. There is one for digestive tract. Trust your own instincts.

Pamela said...

I think this is such a great post. You're highlighting so many of the dilemmas we face when trying to feed our pets a healthy diet.

Are vets well informed about nutrition? Do pet food companies have undue influence on vets? Is corn always bad?

First, I think if Oscar is having a good experience with Blue Buffalo that's what's most important. You can see the results of good nutrition by looking at your dog.

Second, vet school does not put much emphasis on animal nutrition, according to nutritionist Marion Nestle. Most of the training comes from classes sponsored by pet food manufacturers. A vet may not even know how much their opinions about nutrition have been shaped by the manufacturer's curriculum.

Finally, corn is bad for all kinds of reasons. Our over dependence on it has had an affect on farmers, industrial food production, obesity etc. It may or may not be a good ingredient for a particular dog. But our over production of it has had a drastic effect on both human and dog diets. Any thing done to excess becomes unhealthy.

If you talk to long time dog people about our biggest regrets, most of us will tell you a story about how we felt we didn't advocate strongly enough for our dogs when we felt something was right. You're facing that now.

I think your love for Oscar will guide you in making the right decisions. No vet will be able to learn in an appointment about Oscar things you know from living with him every day.

Keep asking smart questions, but trust your instincts. They sound pretty smart to me.

OscarBlogger said...

@Luna: Thanks! I did feel when I was told to switch that all those hours of research went down the drain...but I probably won't just walk away from the food we're on without some further research. :)

@Rubie's Mom: You've told me before about what you feed Rubie and I've always been impressed with it. It is a nice balance between processed and fresh food. I've always been nervous to try raw food for Oscar myself, and no doubt it's more work! It's true though, I think every person I talk to would have their own opinion about this.

@Pamela: I think that's a good point. Not every food with corn or by-products in it is bad, and not every food without corn and by-products is good. I suppose it's about finding one that you're comfortable with, and that your dog does well on.

@Talking Dogs: Our breeder originally had Oscar on Iams, so we gave him Iams too. I think it's an okay food - chicken as the first ingredient - but corn as the second. I definitely noticed a change in his coat and his stool after we took him off of it.

@Nanny: I know, I was surprised about the by-products part too. It's the worst part of the animal! I'm sure it's not always bad, but wouldn't the meat be better? That's the most illogical part for me. Saying corn is okay - sure, that could be true, what do I know? I just read what other people say about its digestibility, etc. But hearing that chicken parts like feet or beaks or bone is better than meat is a little strange.

I think my conclusion from all this is that I'm confused!

OscarBlogger said...

@Pamela: Thanks for your kind words! I definitely had to ask more when she told me to switch to those brands. I suppose all I can do is what feels right for Oscar. I'm surprised to hear that vets don't learn much about nutrition! I suppose even if they do, once they're out there practicing, the pet food companies are there to sponsor foods or try to influence vets' opinions, much like pharmaceutical companies and doctors, I suppose.

yuki and rocket said...

i've read so many bad things about corn. but what really made me decide against feeding yuki corn was when i was getting yuki her food at the pet store. there was a breeder, getting food for dogs in the same aisle as me. she told me a story about corn. to make a long story short, basically one of her dogs got into a bag of fresh corn she had brought home from the market. somehow the dog was severely allergic to it and went blind. she said from that point on she was on a search to find dog food without corn, and since this happened before there were any brands like blue buffalo she had a difficult time finding one. i can't remember the brand she used, but it was in the same aisle as blue bufffalo/organix/wellness. apparantly it was one of the first dog food companies that realized corn could be bad for dogs. i guess it's really up to how you feel on this corn debate, but for me-i dont want to take the chance.

Sage said...

There is a lot to be said about not using a "cheap" or corn-filled dog food and you did it well. Our deceased dog Maggie suffered from "reverse sneezing"for quite some time until we narrowed it down to the food she was eating. Once we changed it, the sneezing stopped! So, follow your gut and stick with what you think is best.

Debby and Kirby the Dorkie said...

Excellent post! My feeling is corn is ok but not every day. Farmers quickly fatten their cows and pigs with corn and potatoes. So I watch eating those myself!

I am very particular about Kirby's food. So far I feed him Honest Kitchen which I add fish or chicken to (it has a very thick oatmeal consistency), homemade food, and just started feeding him Addiction kibble (writing a review now) cos he likes the crunch. He also eats raw or steamed veggies like carrots and string beans and a variety of fruits. I rotate his food - figure he wants variety as much as I do. He never gets sick, his coat is beautiful, and he has a lot of energy!

I talk to my vet about everything - food, natural flea protection, bath products, etc. What I love about her is that she always researches what we talk about and has feedback for me. So far she thinks I am doing great although she did tell me to stop bathing Kirbs every week. Actually sometimes I think I know more about dog nutrition than she does.

Kirby has been sick twice in his two years - once when he was bitten by a dog and once when we stupidly were giving him a commercial dog chew which turned out to have a specific ingredient that was making him ill. Point is we should not depend on commercial dog food companies to tell us whats best. Do your research and go with your gut! LOL I wrote a post here! I'm just passionate about my Kirby. Sorry!

Autumn and Jasmine the Maltese said...

Hi Oscar!
We came over from Saturday Blog hop day and hope to be friends with you :)

Autumn & Jasmine

OscarBlogger said...

@Debby: No need to apologize! It's good that you're passionate about Kirby and what he eats. I can't believe that you guys managed to figure out that it was a specific ingredient that made him ill! It would be a good idea to rotate fruits and vegetables with Oscar's food. We usually feed him out of a Kong Wobbler, so I don't often mix other things in with his kibble, but I'll probably start doing that and feeding him out of a bowl at dinnertime. Good idea!

Beans4Biscuits said...

We found you on the blog hop and can't wait to follow along :)

As for the food, we have read in multiple places how bad Science Diet is, even the Rx food. Now who knows for sure? One thing I have read quite often is that the average VET is NOT a nutritionist and in fact has had very little training when it comes to canine nutrition.

Our 4 dogs were on Blue Buffalo for awhile, and it is still our go to food in an emergency. They currently eat Orijen Regional Red. It is rated as one of the best dry foods available along with having human-grade ingredients. But even with it there is a downside. Because it is high-protein, some dogs cannot tolerate it. If the quantity is not adjusted your dog can experience weight gain. It seems to have worked GREAT for our dogs since the switch in 2010 though.

I myself think the corn and by-products are bad ingredients. Maybe I have been brainwashed. I searched for weeks for the best food that they would actually eat and there was never anything positive to be said about corn and by-products.

Kolchak Puggle said...

What a great topic Oscar. the Mama is happy to bark with your Mama bout dog food until the cows come home. The long and the short is that the Blue is a far better food for most dogs than those other brands will ever HOPE to TRY to be. Mama used to feed Felix SD, four years later, a TON of research and going back to school to study canine nutrition has taught her a whole lot and she would never do it again.

It's a sad fact that most vets recieve little or no nutritional training in schools and what little is offered, is usually taught directly or sponsored by the pet food giants (ie. grocery store brands). Mama beleives that it is down right irresponsible of vets to continue recommending these substandard foods that tax the liver & kidneys to the point of failure. (And the argument that Blue had one recall doesn't wash when you consider the numerous recalls of the other brands!) Did you know that before the invention of grain laden commercial dog food, dogs were considered senior between 12 & 15 and now the average age that a dog displays senior symptoms (decreased organ function, mobility etc) is 7 - 9?! the Mama finds that terribly scary! Kudos to your Mama for sticking to her guns!

Jan said...

I have a friend who works for a vet and she absolutely refuses to recommend Science Diet to anyone. Evidently vets/pet stores get a huge kickback for recommending/prescribing SD and, as has been noted, vets really don't get a lot of nutritional training.
I know we've domesticated our dogs and other pets but they were initially born to eat certain things & it just makes sense to feed what they were born to eat.
It wouldn't be for every dog but my little rescued, toothless Maltese gets Primal raw nuggets along with cooked carrots or sweet potatoes or peas as "treats" (because she can't eat hard foods without teeth).
I say do your research and go with your gut when it comes to feeding your precious baby!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Glad to see your researching foods but there is a lot of incorrect information about corn circling the internet. Corn gluten meal is a great source of protein for dogs.
I am a vet tech, we do get a year of nutritional education in school.
Royal Canin and Science Diet are recommended by Vets because they are high quality food with research backing up their formulation.
I see a lot of dogs in the clinic on "holistic" food because their humans think they have allergies. Based on research at guelph, allergies account for less than 1% of skin issues in dogs and only 3% of that is caused by food and a fraction of that is caused by corn (beef has more allergic reactions than corn in dogs).
When they say high quality by-products that means there was a vet at the abattoir choosing healthy livers, hearts and bones for calcium, L-carnitine and glucosamine etc. They don't use beaks, feathers, hooves and so on in high quality food.
Chicken meal is actually better then just chicken because there is no water, it has much more protein after the cooking process.
However, the "best" food may not be the right match for Oscar. Try a few high quality brand and see which works best.
Hope this helps, good luck :)

-- said...

My veterinarian told me the same thing and I had very similar reactions to you. I was originally feeding Sawyer Nutrience because that's what the breeder had started her on. We thought it was a pretty good brand until we started doing some research, realized corn is not so good, and switched to Acana. When we told our vet, he responded with the whole, "corn isn't so bad" and "Science Diet is really good too." Of course, as you mentioned, Science Diet was what they had on their shelves. I am also very confused and I see here that you have a vet tech responding to your posting who also says that corn isn't so bad. I'm not convinced. I had a very long conversation with an employee at Bark and Fitz, a pet store in the area. He was very knowledgeable, and also happens to host a local pet show on television. He told me that dogs just don't digest corn properly and it isn't in their natural diet (in fact, humans don't digest it so well either - hence, whole kernels in poop). He mentioned that beet pulp is also pretty bad for dogs and that the beets are stripped of all nutrients. He spoke to me for over an hour about healthy dog diet and I was convinced. No corn here. Anyway, you've heard it all before. Just think it's a very interesting debate.

Blue Eyes said...

Hi there! I've read your post and all the comments. What has barely been mentioned is that most kibble are bad because it's cooked. It takes out most of the nutrition, and some things might even become toxic after cooking.

I think you should look in to different kinds of raw food. If you're not comfortable by mixing it up yourself there are ready made "beef patties" and such. And there is also a sort of "kibble" that is freeze-dried (therefor never cooked, but not messy at all).

Also I recommend the book "Work wonders - feed your dog raw meaty bones - by Dr. Tom Lonsdale". He explains how little he knew about diets for dogs until he started doing his own research - because veterinerian-school isn't that informative.

I'm getting a puppie in five weeks, too. What me and my breeder decided on was best was "färskfoder" (Eng=Fresh Food). It is basically ground meat with added nutrients. She also wanted me to put just a little bit of kibble in the food, so that my pup would be used to that, just in case.

Btw, I'm getting a fawn Great Dane - Because they grow from 700 g to 60 kg in a year, or so. That would be.. 1,5 pounds 133 pounds in one year. - which makes it crazy-important to have the right food/diet.

I have some puppie-photos on my blog; :)

Good luck! :) (Btw, did the positive bark-training work?)

OscarBlogger said...

Thanks for all of your comments! I wish there were more (independent) studies about this. So much of what I'm hearing lately is that often, vets don't receive a lot of training in nutrition, which is a shame.

I don't doubt that there are different types of grades of by-products, as mentioned by Anonymous (and thank you for putting your comments on here and presenting the other side!). I have heard about the water-weight issue, where ingredients a meat is listed first but after cooking it actually weighs less than the next ingredient.

@Sawyer's Mom: While mildly gross (though it made me laugh out loud), that was a good point about humans not being able to digest corn well too! I hadn't thought about that.

@Blue Eyes: Interesting point about kibble being cooked. The food we have Oscar on has these pellets that are "cold formed" - that's the only time I ever heard the suggestion that cooking had any difference on the food. I'll be sure to stop by your blog - I hope you'll be blogging about your Great Dane pup when he or she comes home with you! And I'm sad to report that the barking hasn't really changed...but I've also been lazy about the barking on cue training. I need to be more consistent, I know!

All I know from all of this is that it's an interesting debate. Like Kol's mom, I could talk about this for hours! I just really wish that more studies were done about this so that people (vets and otherwise!) could be better educated about dog nutrition and there could be more conclusive information.

amanda said...

I have noticed that my vet pushes Science Diet dog food, too. That's pretty much all that is on the shelves. I have done a lot of research and found that corn and grain based foods are not good for mini schnauzers because they are prone to skin allergies and "schnauzer bumps". I had never thought much about dog food before I got her, and so I just put her on Purina Puppy Chow. She loved it, but I noticed she was ALWAYS itching (and she didn't have fleas). I did a lot of research, and decided that she had to be allergic to something that was in her food. I switched to Blue Buffalo, and my baby girl doesn't scratch anymore, (unless you want to count her scratching at her collar after her baths, because she does not like it when I put it back on). I think you made a good choice to keep feeding Oscar the food you were. I have a feeling vets tend to push food that they got a profit from... even if it's not the greatest for the pet.

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