After FDA warning about grain-free pet food, what's safe to feed our pets?

The Food and Drug Administration’s investigation of grain-free dog and cat foods, highlights how hard it can be for pet owners to figure out whether they are buying the healthiest products for their beloved four-legged friends.

Consumers used to reading ingredient labels on their own foods might think that checking the corresponding labels on pet products will tell them everything they need to know. But veterinary nutrition experts interviewed by NBC News say those labels won’t provide much enlightenment.


“The food label is not designed to provide the information they are looking for,” said Dr. Jennifer Larsen, a professor of clinical nutrition at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. “And a lot of the pet food ranking lists available on the internet rely on the label and focus inappropriately on the ingredient list.”

Since 2018, the FDA has been investigating more than 500 reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy that appears to be linked to dog foods marketed as grain free. But for the majority of dogs, it’s not yet clear what is causing the heart disease, experts say.

What’s important is the nutrients in the product, said Dr. Kathryn Michel, a professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “And those nutrients need to be bio-available, meaning they need to be in a form the pet can utilize.”

A much more informative part of the labeling is the nutrition adequacy statement, Larsen said.