Veterinary Nutritionist Bashes Kibble — But Only Some Types? Update!

By Laurie S. Coger, DVM, CVCP

Does she really think dog owners are stupid? Or has she been bought out by the pet food industry, and simply lost touch with reality and common sense?

I’m sadly speaking about a fellow veterinarian, Dr. Lisa Freeman, who has more academic credentials than I do. Not only is she a board certified specialist in veterinary nutrition, she is what we in veterinary medicine call a “double doctor, ” meaning she has earned both her DVM and PhD degrees, while I merely have two degrees from Cornell University, my DVM and a BS with honors, focusing on Animal Nutrition. She is obviously a very smart, dedicated scholar. Which makes her most recent writing all the more puzzling, and frustrating.

The article of which I speak discusses the link between low taurine levels in foods and dilated cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers and other breeds. Many of the brands linked with this problem have been grain free products, now popularly termed “BEG” diets, for ” boutique, exotic, grain free.”  And that’s where Dr. Freeman started to forget basic biology and nutritional science, and perhaps show her influences.

From her article:

Many pet owners have, unfortunately, also bought into the grain-free myth.  The fact is that food allergies are very uncommon, so there’s no benefit of feeding pet foods containing exotic ingredients.  And while grains have been accused on the internet of causing nearly every disease known to dogs, grains do not contribute to any health problems and are used in pet food as a nutritious source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.”

First, who said anything about food allergies? I thought we were talking about taurine and cardiomyopathy? And there are far more reasons than a food allergy, hypersensitivity, or intolerance to avoid grains. The protein quality of grains is lower than that of meat. Grains are inflammatory in the body, and are often highly genetically modified. Feed grade grains may carry mold, pesticide residues such as glyphosate, or aflatoxins. And the carbohydrates they add to the food are something the dog has no nutritional requirement for.  Most importantly, they are actually in the food as cheap filler, and to allow food to be made in a kibble form.

Next, she says:

Reconsider your dog’s diet. If you’re feeding a boutique, grain-free, or exotic ingredient diets, I would reassess whether you could change to a diet with more typical ingredients made by a company with a long track record of producing good quality diets.  And do yourself a favor – stop reading the ingredient list!  Although this is the most common way owners select their pets’ food, it is the least reliable way to do so. “

 Stop reading the label? Why in the world would anyone not want to know what’s in the food? If Dr. Freeman thinks we are not capable of understanding the ingredient list, why not explain and help educate owners? Or is she admitting that the ingredient list can be manipulated to make the food look better than it actually is (which is true, by the way)? And, how does she suggest we find a company with that good track record?

Here is her recommendation:

Change your dog’s diet to one made by a well-known reputable company and containing standard ingredients (e.g., chicken, beef, rice, corn, wheat).

More fluff and advocating for grains! Find a big, well known company? Interesting that in the veterinary “prescription” diets, corn or rice is often the major ingredient. And thinking back to the original focus of this article, taurine and heart disease, corn has virtually no taurine in it. Rice has little, and rice bran has actually been shown to reduce blood taurine levels in cats. Taurine is found in good quantities shellfish and meats, which can be lacking in both grain free and grain containing commercial kibble.

Why limit your dog’s nutrition to “standard” ingredients? What’s wrong with some variety? Do you eat the same thing day after day, meal after meal? And would you expect to be healthy if you did?

This next part made me really question Dr. Freeman’s knowledge of the pet food industry, and blatant bias:

“Small pet food manufacturers might be better at marketing than at nutrition and quality control.

Making high quality, nutritious pet food is not easy!  It’s more than using a bunch of tasty-sounding ingredients.  The right nutrients in the right proportions have to be in the diet, the effects of processing (or not processing) the food need to be considered, and the effects of all the other ingredients in the food need to be addressed, in addition to ensuring rigorous quality control and extensive testing.”

 So only big companies can make a quality product, but small companies are better at marketing? Think of the ads you’ve seen for commercial foods recently – were any of them from small companies? How much money do you think a small food company has, compared to the big guys? Looking at the graphic below will give you an idea of who might be able to hire the best marketing experts in the world (from

And as far as formulation and balancing, that is something that all manufacturers must do. It’s really just a math problem, albeit it a bit complex. But that’s why we have computers and spreadsheets. Many food formulators work with both big companies as well as small ones. Whether made by the pound or ton, we are really just talking about a recipe. And just yesterday it was pointed out by Dr. Greg Aldrich, professor and coordinator  of KSU’s Pet Food Program, “The perception is that boutique pet food makers have more problems than the large companies. But the bigs have just as many issues.” (URL: //

It really seems that while Dr. Freeman’s article’s title suggested she was focusing on nutrition and a specific heart disease, it seems to me that her intent was to bash small brands and those with alternative nutritional approaches, as well as the consumer’s ability to choose a good product. Rather than helping educate the consumer, something I would expect from a college professor, she simply advocated for the big companies with a “long track record of producing pet food”. If you think about who these companies might be, you will recognize that they all have veterinary or “prescription” lines, which have a significant presence in veterinary colleges and impact on the teaching of students and many research projects. Is that presence an undue influence?

What truly inspired the writing of this article we will likely never know. I am hopeful Dr. Freeman will open her mind and consider the advantages of the various feeding methods in use today, rather than focusing on negatives and bashing what is not made from “standard ingredients.” Has she ever fed a dog a home cooked or raw diet, and seen first hand how it worked? If not, I challenge her, as a scientist and researcher, to do so, in a scientific and objective manner, and share the results with her readers.

I am grateful for the conversations Dr. Freeman’s article is starting, as owners look for ways to feed their dogs better. I welcome your questions and comments – please comment on my Facebook page.



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