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Grain free foods and allergies.

Species: Dog
Breed: Alaskan Malamute and
Age: Less than 3 mon
Previously I have a Siberian Husky that got food allergy because I kept him on the same dry food and one day he accidently ate the dog food of my mum's dog. Since then I rotate my dog food with three or four flavours either daily or weekly depending on the dog's stomach, to expose them to more meat sources as advised by a vet at that time.

Currently I have a 14 months old Siberian Husky Titus(68lbs, lean) and a 10 weeks old Alaskan Malamute Lycan(about 20lbs, average). I want to feed both of them a grain-free All Life Stage food because the little one is grain sensitive. That left me very little choices as a Malamute is a large breed puppy and I have to be cautious at the calcium/phosphorus ratio.

I have come down to three different brand of grain-free ALS that I can get in Australia; Taste of the Wild, Canidae Grain Free and Earthborn Holistic.

Taste of the Wild;
1)High Prairie
Protein: 32% Minimum, Fat: 18% Minimum
Calcium: 2.1%, as-fed; Phosphorus: 1.4%, as-fed CA:P = 1.5:1
Calories: 3,719 kcal/kg (370 kcal/cup)
Protein: 32% Minimum, Fat: 18% Minimum
Calcium: 2.1%, as-fed; Phosphorus: 1.4%, as-fed CA:P = 1.5:1
Calories: 3,750 kcal/kg (375 kcal/cup)
3)Pacific Stream
Protein: 25% Minimum, Fat: 15% Minimum
Calcium: 1.9%, as-fed; Phosphorus: 1.1%, as-fed CA:P = 1.7:1
Calories: 3,600 kcal/kg (360 kcal/cup)
4)Sierra Mountains
Protein: 25% Minimum, Fat: 15% Minimum
Calcium: 1.6%, as-fed; Phosphorus: 1.0%, as-fed CA:P = 1.6:1
Calories: 3,611 kcal/kg (338 kcal/cup)

Ingredients can be found here

They are currently eating this. My dogs couldn't care much on High Prarie and Wetlands but they seem to like Pacific Stream and Sierra Mountains. Also, they don't each much so I might need to change to something of higher kcal/cup.

Canidae Grain Free;
1)Pure Sea
Protein: 40% Minimum, Fat: 20% Minimum
Calcium: 1.2%, as-fed; Phosphorus: 0.9%, as-fed CA:P = 1.3:1
Calories: 3,900 kcal/kg (498 kcal/cup)
2)Pure Elements
Protein: 34% Minimum, Fat: 18% Minimum
Calcium: 1.2%, as-fed; Phosphorus: 0.9%, as-fed CA:P = 1.3:1
Calories: 3,900 kcal/kg (498 kcal/cup)
3)Pure Land
Protein: 25% Minimum, Fat: 15% Minimum
Calories: 3,706 kcal/kg (473 kcal/cup)
4)Pure Sky
Protein: 32% Minimum, Fat: 16% Minimum
Calories: 3,925 kcal/kg (501 kcal/cup)

Ingredients can be found here

Have not try this before.

Earthborn Holistic;
1)Primitive Natural
Protein: 38% Minimum, Fat: 20% Minimum
Calcium: 2.45% ; Phosphorus: 1.5% CA:P = 1.6:1
Calories: 3,800 kcal/kg (445 kcal/cup)
2)Coastal Catch
Protein: 32% Minimum, Fat: 18% Minimum
Calcium: 1.3%; Phosphorus: 1.0% CA:P = 1.3:1
Calories: 3,725 kcal/kg (435 kcal/cup)

Ingredients can be found here

My dogs seem fine with this before TOTW. But the calcium/phosphorus ratio of Primitive Natural seem to high for a large breed puppy.

I understood from some of my research that the appropriate calcium/phosphorus ratio for large breed puppies are 1.5:1. Lesser is fine but more than that may lead to disorder in bone growth.

Question part;
1) Is the calcium/phosphorus ratio that is affecting the bone growth rate or the actual calcium percentage itself?
2) Among these three brands of food which one is the most appropriate dog food for both my dogs? I would like to keep to one brand of different formulas to rotate.
3) The meat content in Taste of the Wild is the highest but Canidae seems like a better choice due to the calcium/phosphorus ratio. Should I go for higher meat content?
4) Are there anything else regarding feeding a large breed puppy that I should be aware of?

I know my question seem long but because of my previous experience with a serious food allergy, I am really concern with what I feed my furkids.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

First of all, thank you for your very detailed question. I am worried though that you will not like my answer. My views on some of the things you have mentioned may not mesh with yours. As such, I'll preface my answer by letting you know that you are welcome to ask for a full refund if you are not satisfied with my answer.

Let's start with your first point:

"Previously I have a Siberian Husky that got food allergy because I kept him on the same dry food and one day he accidently ate the dog food of my mum's dog. Since then I rotate my dog food with three or four flavours either daily or weekly depending on the dog's stomach, to expose them to more meat sources as advised by a vet at that time."

Allergies really aren't caused by keeping your dog on only one type of food. I am not aware of any evidence that says that switching meat sources is something that is going to prevent allergies. In fact, often I would recommend the opposite. If I have a dog who I have diagnosed with food allergies, then I want to try to find them a protein source that they have never been exposed to before. If a dog has been on many different types of food, often this is difficult. This is the problem with lamb and rice foods these days. When lamb and rice foods first came out, the reason why they worked for food allergies was that most dogs had never eaten lamb before and therefore had not had a chance to develop allergies to the food. But these days, most dogs have had lamb and so this eliminates using lamb as a protein source when we are trying to find a novel protein source. I see no problem with choosing one food that works for your dog and sticking with that food.

Really, allergies are, I believe, a genetic thing. So, if a dog is born with, say, a beef allergy, switching foods all of the time is not going to prevent him from being allergic to beef.

My next issue is with the perceived need for grain free foods. In my opinion the whole "grain free" thing is a fad. There is no scientific evidence that I am aware of, that says that grain free is any better than a food that contains grain. I plan to write a thorough article on this soon. People will claim that dogs in the wild don't eat grain, but I don't think that is true. Plus, our dogs are domesticated - we can't call them wild dogs. Dogs in the wild die of dental disease, don't get fractured bones repaired and generally do not live as long as our domesticated dogs do. I wouldn't want to feed a food that was almost all grain, but having some grain in the food can be a good thing as there are many healthy aspects to grains. I recently wrote an article about corn which will explain a little bit more about how I feel on grain, especially corn, in dog foods: Corn in dog food.

I have many clients that claim that their dogs have a grain allergy, but usually this is just conjecture. I'll hear them say that they were on a commercial food and then when they switched to grain free the allergies went away. But, this doesn't prove that there was a grain allergy. It's possible that the protein source of the food was different. (Maybe the dog was allergic to beef and this new food is made primarily of chicken). Or, it's possible that the allergies were seasonal and were going to go away anyway. Or the dog may have been allergic to something totally different like tomato pomace. Or, if the dog was on a very cheap food before, it could be that the food contained a high number of grain mites which can certainly contribute to allergies.

My gut instinct is that a lot of the "premium" foods out there these days are really great at marketing. But, I don't necessarily believe that these foods are any better than grain containing foods. I have seen many possible problems with high protein, grain free foods such as weight gain and intestinal issues.

Thank you for taking the time to write out the ingredient and nutrition profiles of these foods, but unfortunately, what I have learned over my years in practice is that no one, myself included, can read a pet food label. It is so easy to mess around with the label and I find it impossible to compare foods by reading the label. Here is an example that I wrote about in my article on chicken byproducts. Let's say you are comparing two foods. Here are the first 2 ingredients in each food:

Food A:Chicken meal, chicken byproduct meal...

Food B:Chicken, Beef

Which do you think is best? Common sense would tell us that food B is going to have more protein and better quality protein and be better for the dog, right? But here is the thing. The plant that made food B received their chicken at their factory as meat and bones and therefore, they get to list "chicken" as a first ingredient because, as meat and bones, it contains moisture and is going to weigh more than any other ingredient. But, in order to put that meat into kibble it needs to be broken down into chicken meal (which is a powdered form of the protein of chicken.) Once it is broken down, it doesn't weigh much. It's conceivably possible that once this meat is broken down into dry matter, it could be extremely low on the ingredient list, but again, because they received it to the factory as meat with moisture, it weighed more and they can list it at the top of their ingredient list.

The plant that made Food A, however, received their chicken to the factory already broken down. It is less expensive to do it this way. But, the drawback is that public perception, when reading ingredients, is that it is going to be inferior to a food that lists chicken first.

However, it's definitely possible that the chicken meal in Food A is of much higher quality than the chicken meal that gets produced (from the meat and bones) in Food B. Nothing on the label tells us how much of that chicken is good quality meat as opposed to skin and bones.

I could go on and on, but the point is that the food labels of so called "premium" foods are finely crafted so that the food looks as good as possible. But really, they may not be any better than other foods out there.

Regarding calcium and phosphorus, veterinary nutritionists recommend that for puppies, a calcium phosphorus ratio of 1.1-1.3:1 is best. It's the ratio that is the most important.

Unfortunately I don't recommend any of these brands of foods. As I find it very difficult to cut through the marketing and read a food label, I recommend foods that I have found consistently to produce dogs with healthy coats and good solid stools. Over the years I have learned to recommend Royal Canin foods, Science diet and Iams. Iams gets a bad rap online, but really I feel that dogs do well with it.

Sooooo....I'm not sure if I have helped or not. I get passionate about nutrition because I feel that the internet is littered with conjecture and rumor and not enough science.

Please let me know if you have any more questions.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:


I get what you mean by all those. However I am more interested in the calcium/phosphorus ratio.

Example 1; the calcium level is 2% and the phosphorus level is 1.5%. It looks high but the ratio is 1.3:1. Therefore it is acceptable regardless of the high calcium percentage? What about the energy basis like 0.53gCA/cup? If the kcal/cup is 498 there will be 2.639gCA/cup.

Example 2; the calcium level is 1.9% but the phosphorus level is only 1.1%. The ratio will be 1.7:1 which is a little high for large breed puppy. The energy basis is 0.52gCA/cup. If the kcal/cup is 360 there will be 1.861gCA/cup.

As calulated from "a calcium level of 210-540mg calcium per kilogram of body weight per day appears safe for large breed puppies of all ages" using maximum 540mg calcium per kilogram of body weight.

Comparing both example a 10kg large breed puppy can only eat a maximum of 2 1/4 cup of food in example 1 and can eat up to 2 7/8 cup of food in example 2.

Does that mean when choosing dog food the kcal/cup and gCA/cup is also important? For a less eating pup Example 1 will be a better choice but for a pup that eats a lot Example 2 will be a better choice? Will the extra kilo-calorie make the pup more full that you don't have to feed that much? Is that the difference between the foods in the market? Is a 1.6:1 calcium/phosphorus ratio still acceptable if the feed is less than the appropriate 'calcium per kilogram of body weight'?

Note: I will give you an extra tip later. Thanks

Customer reply:

The energy basis in Example 1 and 2 is gCA/100kcal not gCA/cup.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

These are excellent questions.

The current recommendation for Calcium phosphorus ratio is somewhere between 1:1 and 1.3:1. However, veterinary nutritionists recommend that the Calcium makes up about 1% of the dry matter of the food. So, you are right that 2% Calcium is too much. I am not 100% sure, but I believe that this is a common problem in grain free - meat first foods. If there is a lot of meat in the food, much of that can be bone and this may lead to too much Calcium.

In Example 2, the Ca:P is too high at 1.7.

I see what you are saying about the amount of calcium a puppy takes in being dependant on how much the puppy eats, but really, the ratios are going to be the same. I dont' think that it makes a difference whether the dog eats lots or a little.

It's hard to say exactly how many kcal/cup a puppy food should have. I would be wary about feeding a food with a high amount of kcal/cup. Sure, you could feed less, but I bet most people won't. There is a good chance that puppies will gain too much weight on a high kcal/cup food.

I have just spent a good amount of time trying to find the AAFCO recommendations for calories per cup for large breed puppies and can't get a direct answer. What I can see is several nutritionists that think that anything over 400-440 kcal/cup is too much for a puppy. If we go by this, then Example 1 is ok for calories (but too high for how much calcium) and Example 2 is too high for calories.

To me, this is all a moot point however. I really don't try to analyze these things myself but instead I trust the well known companies. If a food has been around for years and years and has proper AAFCO feeding trials and AAFCO approval then I am ok with it. If you want a food for a large breed puppy, then make sure the label says it meets the AAFCO requirements for growth and really, if you have chosen a well known brand you will be ok.

If you are looking for a well known commercial brand, Royal Canin makes a good large breed puppy food. (And no, I have no affiliations with Royal Canin.)

Hope that helps!

Dr. Marie.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.