I’m just gonna come right out and say it: corn is not the problem. This innocent grain is responsible for more misplaced consumer ire than any other ingredient in pet foods and there’s no need to listen to the panic-mongers and get all up in arms and demand grain-free pet food. If you have an itchy pet, if you have a pet with diarrhea, flatulence, vomiting – don’t blame corn (or wheat, or gluten or whatever is in vogue this week).
Grain-free pet food is a fad, like salad shooters, shake weights, or hula hoops.
I’ll concede, though, that there are a few pets that have a valid sensitivity to some proteins found in pet food, such as corn, pets for whom avoiding these ingredients is important to getting back to good health.
It’s just that number is a tiny fraction of what people think it is, and the number of pet owners who worry themselves sick over something that presents no threat to life, liberty, and the pursuit of tennis balls is way over the top when it comes to how many pets are actually “sensitive.”
Veterinary dermatologists, specialists who know and study such things, have found that of dogs who have an allergy to food ingredients, which is a small fraction of all dogs to start with; so few dogs can blame corn that I'm guessing it is probably only 1.5% of dogs who can.
So that’s 0.015 times…a small fraction, which is…let’s see here…
If you have a dog with skin or intestinal issues and think your dog is allergic to corn, there’s a better than 98.5% chance that your dog is a-OK and can happily corn the day away.
It also means that some other cause, like allergies to pollen or allergies to some other ingredient in their food, are to blame (and there’s a host of other things that can do it, as well – see below). And of those causes, the pollen wins every time. Dogs with pollen allergies don’t get runny eyes and a bad case of the sneezies, like we humans do. They get itchy ears, itchy skin, and sometimes occasional vomiting or diarrhea.
I don’t have a dog, itchy or otherwise, in this fight. I don’t really care what you feed your dog as long as it’s complete and can sustain health. You could feed your dog a well-balanced diet of oysters and caviar, rounded out with potatoes, yams and beef stew and I’d be perfectly happy. I don’t have stock in Cargill or anyone who makes corn, and I don’t work for a pet food company.
So why do I care?
I care because calling corn the culprit misses the problem in most cases. It’s too simple, and when things just seem too simple, they’re usually not right; it’s that whole too-good-to-be-true thing.
Pets that have chronic diarrhea or chronic itching, except in a very, very few cases, are not sensitive to corn. They are, more often than not, sensitive or allergic to pollen or maybe another protein found in food, something like chicken or beef. Or they have some issue with their internal organs, or a chronic infection, or inflammatory bowel disease. The list goes on and on.
And why do people love to hate the golden, delicious ears of corn with such abandon?
Because it’s easy. It means you don’t need all those fancy tests, that endoscopy the vet recommended, those spendy blood tests and ultrasounds. You just need to get rid of corn.
I wish it was that easy. It just isn’t.
If you have an itchy pet, sometimes you need those tests, and the guidance of your vet to get to the bottom of it and start treating. And sometimes the answer doesn’t appear in round #1 of testing. Sometimes it takes a while, it takes patience and medical skill.
But the answer isn’t getting rid of corn.
Taking corn out of your dog’s diet, unless your dog is one of the unlucky 1.5%, will not do much to improve their health, and will likely drive you nuts as you search in a panic for a food that doesn’t contain corn. All the while the ad execs who dreamt up the grain-free pet food fad will be rolling around in giant beds covered in $15,000 dollar bills and clink diamond-encrusted champagne glasses while they cavort on their satin sheets.
Now, prepare for more confusion.
I actually don’t think corn is all that good of a nutrient. Sure, tasty on the grill, and really nice if you soak it in some coconut milk and then slather with some basil-infused olive oil, but as a diet staple you could do better. It’s kinda carbo-ish, and not all that easy to digest (I’ll refrain from pointing out how indigestible little corn kernels can sometimes be and what they look like in post-production). But is it worth all the hand-wringing and Internet bashing? Hardly. Corn may not be the pinnacle when it comes to dietary excellence (that spot is reserved for bacon) but it’s undeserving of the recent wave of anti-corn vitriol.
So…not lethal, could do better in terms of a food source. That’s my take on it.
I think, just to throw fuel on the fire, I’m going to start a grass roots twitter movement demanding that pet food companies remove the entirely fictitious ingredient fauxvium from all commercial dog food. Start a hashtag war, see if anyone bites. #NoFauxviumInOurDogfood! Join me in the clickbait merriment.
If you see bags of “Certified fauxvium-free food” and “100% fauxviumless!” on the shelf in the next six months, you’ll know I’ve succeeded in my quest.
Why? Some people just like to cause trouble and watch it unfold.
I’ll be hiding in my little reinforced bunker while I await the comments. The whole time I’ll be noshing on a delicious ear of bacon-wrapped corn.
Teri and her Cats
January 2, 2016
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.