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Gluten and Toxins in Pet Foods: Are they Poisoning Your Pets? By Jefferson Adams

Tainted Wheat Gluten Suspected in Pet Deaths 04/05/2007 - Recent news indicates that wheat gluten tainted with melamine, a chemical found in Asian fertilizers, and forbidden in American pet foods, has been implicated in the sickness of as many as 8,800 pets, including the deaths of up to 2,797 animals, mostly cats1 .

Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDAs Center for Veterinary Medicine, stated that: The association between the melamine in the kidneys and urine of cats that died and the melamine in the food they consumed is undeniable," though he stopped short of placing blame for the animal deaths conclusively on the melamine-tainted wheat gluten.

Sundlof did go on to say that melamine, in any amount, is not permitted in pet foods sold in the U.S.

Wheat Gluten is Not Part of Your Pet's Natural Diet

These stories invite a deeper consideration about the role that non-tainted wheat gluten may play in chronic illness and degenerative diseases in our beloved cats and dogs.

The simple truth is that cats and dogs are, by nature, primarily meat eaters. Dogs are historically scavengers, whose natural diets, according to a recent study by biologists Ray and Lorna Coppinger, consisted of "bones, pieces of carcass, rotten greens and fruit, fish guts, discarded seeds and grains, animal guts and heads, some discarded human food and wastes"3. In the wild, a dogs diet included only the smallest amounts of grains, while cats are almost totally carnivorous, and subsist in the wild on a diet made up almost exclusively of small rodents. The natural diets of both cats and dogs provide large amounts of animal protein and fats, water, and little in the way of carbohydrates.

Dogs and Cats Should Avoid Grains and Carbohydrates

Most veterinary textbooks agree that both cats and dogs need almost no carbohydrates, yet the so called recommended diet of dry pet foods, which is a major component of most pets diets, contradicts both their natural diets and the veterinary literature. Many of these dry pet foods are high in carbohydrates, low in animal protein and fats, and contain almost no water.

This fact is largely ignored by major pet food producers, which is also noted in the book Canine and Feline Nutrition, which states that "the nutrient content of most commercial foods includes carbohydrates"4.

Many pet owners who feed canned, moist food to their cats and dogs do so believing that they are providing much-needed meat and moisture to their animals. This is largely true, but what is also true, as came to light in the recent spate of illnesses and deaths from tainted wet formula pet foods, is that wheat gluten is a significant ingredient in such foods.

The problem is that the digestive systems of dogs and cats have not evolved to digest plant proteins like gluten—they are designed to digest animal protein, and gluten is not the same—and feeding these animals foods that contain gluten can result in many of the same problems that afflict their human counterparts who are sensitive to gluten.

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Toxic Effects of Wheat Gluten and Other Proteins in Pets...and Humans

According to veterinarian John B. Symes (Dogtor J), gluten and other proteins that are added to dog and cat foods are causing many of the same diseases that they cause in their human counterparts. Dogs and cats that have suffered and died from consuming tainted pet food belie the fact that even untainted gluten can cause many of these same problems and more. In human celiacs and gluten-sensitive individuals, untainted gluten can induce both chronic and acute kidney failure. This form of kidney failure is typically called an IgA nephropathy, in which antibodies and immune complexes formed against gluten are deposited in the kidneys, which leads to damage and ultimately failure. Again, this can be chronic leading to persistent blood (microscopic) and protein in the urine or it can be acute.

Dr. Symes claims that it is a startling but well-established fact that the lectins of gluten (wheat, barley, rye) dairy products (e.g. casein, lactalbumin) soy, and corn are all capable of inducing serious health issues in those humans who are sensitive to them. He takes this belief even further and states that such foods are actually not healthy for anyone—neither pets nor humans and they just happen to be more harmful to some individuals than others. According to him anyone who consumes or feeds these foods to their pets on a daily basis will encounter resulting health problems—it is only of matter of time.

Dr. Symes believes that the onset of a lectin-related disorder—whether it be rheumatoid arthritis, type-one diabetes, lupus, etc.—is usually preceded by another event such as viral or bacterial infection. Vaccines can act as triggers as well. The result of such secondary events is a sudden influx and attachment of these inflammatory proteins to various cells in the body, ushering in what we often refer to as autoimmune disorders. That term implies an immune system that has gone haywire, attacking the body for no reason. According to him, our immune systems, along with those of our pets, never make that kind of mistake. These conditions happen for certain reasons, and these food proteins are often the cause.

All one needs to do, according to Dr. Symes, is to study celiac disease to see how all of this works and appreciate the health implications that accompany this extremely common condition. That a similar condition does occur in dogs and cats has become painfully obvious during the past seven years that he has been studying the issue. Dr. Symes states: "The Irish Setter is a breed known to suffer from gluten intolerance, but it is clear that gluten is affecting many other breeds of dogs and cats. And why wouldnt it? It is affecting humans and we have had millennia to adapt to eating wheat. Our pets have only been eating wheat-based pet foods for about 20 years now."

According to Dr. Symes it does not matter whether they ever tell us that tainted wheat gluten caused kidney failure, or that it be proven responsible in these pet deaths. The fact is that wheat gluten, tainted or not, can, and does cause and/or contribute to these conditions. Thus, according to Dr. Symes, gluten should never end up in pet foods.

To illustrate his theory Dr. Symes points out that the average American dog lives 12 years—13 for cats, when their wild counterparts, eating a natural diet, can live to be nearly thirty and t forty years respectively. For the cause, we need look no further than what we put in their bowls. A European study shows that pets fed with table scraps lived an average of three years longer than those fed commercial diets alone. Why? The answer, at least in part, is that highly processed foods cannot possibly contain all of the essential nutrients found in fresh meats, fruits and vegetables.

Reasons for Your Pets to Avoid Gluten

For all of the reasons stated, its probably a good practice to keep wheat gluten and carbohydrates away from you pet in favor of a "natural" diet rich in animal protein and fats and low in (or free of) carbohydrates. As specialty foods can be expensive, a list of readily available pet foods that are free of wheat gluten is provided below.

Avoid senior, light and diet foods, as they contain increased fiber and carbohydrates and reduced protein and fat, compared to adult maintenance diets. This is the opposite of what they really need, and this food has no scientific foundation. Older and overweight pets usually respond well to increased protein and fats gained through a diet rich in meat, not grains.
Another benefit of this approach is that many dogs on the dangerous non-steroidal and steroid drugs so commonly prescribed for dogs may see marked improvements in their conditions and, in fact, may no longer need such drugs, which tend to shorten dogs lives. Many owners who feed their pets fewer grains see less inflammation.

Top 10 Pet Foods that are Free of Gluten and Other Potentially Harmful Proteins

The following pet foods are recommended by John B. Symes, D.M.V., and according to him, none are ideal, but each is gluten-free, wheat-free, barley-free, dairy-free and soy-free and can produce miraculous results in treating chronic diseases that are now found in many pets:

  • IVD/Royal Canin - L.I.D.s (potato-based diets)
  • Nutro Natural Choice Lamb and Rice
  • NaturalLife Lambaderm
  • Canidae and Felidae- Dog and cat foods
  • Dick Van Patten Natural Balance Duck and Potato, Venison and Brown Rice, and Sweet Potato and Fish Formulas
  • Solid Gold Barking at the Moon
  • Natura California Naturals
  • Canine Caviar Lamb & Pearl Millet and Chicken & Pearl Millet formulas
  • Eagle Pack Holistic Select®Duck Meal & Oatmeal and Lamb Meal & Rice Formulas
  • Eukanuba Response KO and FP


  • Your Whole Pet - Bigger than you think: The story behind the pet food recall (
  • Coppinger, Ray and Lorna, Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution, Scribner, 2001. 59 -- 78.
  • Case: Cary, and Hirakawa, Canine and Feline Nutrition, Mosby, 1995. 93.
  • Morris, Mark, Lewis, Lone and Hand, Michael, Small Animal Clinical Nutrition III, Mark Morris Associates, 1990. 1-11.
  • Burger, I., Ed. The Waltham Book of Companion Animal Nutrition, Pergamon 1995. 26-27: 10.
  • Symes, D.M.V., Dr. John B. (Dogtor J) welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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11 Responses:

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said this on
20 Oct 2007 12:44:58 PM PST
For the most part I agree about pets not needing the carbohydrates or gluten ingredients and that it is bad for their digestion and overall health. Although I have a different take on why it is they eat meat and animal fats. From my education/understanding they originally ate plant materials, water, seeds etc. being my perspective is that that's the way it use to be in the garden of Eden. Yes I'm one of those people. Although things have dramatically changed since the downfall of man and the animals became carnivores. My original point in writing this is there was a serious change so that their system now only takes what they have changed to carnivorous. Animals still need their vegetables just like we do. They get that nutrients and materials from the guts and tissues of their prey. Anyway, your article is just fine for most. Just thought I'd add my perspective to drive you nuts.
Take care.

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said this on
23 Dec 2007 12:39:45 AM PST
I always wondered why we fed carnivorous animals grain--now I know it is stupid. Thanks

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said this on
13 Jan 2008 3:08:11 AM PST
I wouldn't recommend Nutro products for any pet! I have had my cats go down with symptoms as per the history of Salinomycin Induced Polyneuropthy and I and 3 vets believe the Nutro dried food is responsible though hard to prove. Since stopping the dried food the females are now able to walk and I have had the first live and healthy litters born after having lost 34+ kittens either born dead or died screaming in agony soon after being born. Some of the cats lived 100% on Nutro dried food. There has been no sign of compassion or even care from Nutro only denial denial denial. Others who have complained feel intimidated and bullied by one of the Managers.

A Harper
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said this on
21 May 2008 9:18:49 AM PST
I have 5 celiac dogs from 1 litter but both parents were tolerant and 1 pup from another litter smells wheat. Bad news! GREAT INFO. Not all dog keepers are dog lovers.

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said this on
02 Oct 2008 10:35:07 PM PST
I am a longtime breeder of purebred English Springer Spaniel dogs. I recently encountered a litter where 3 or 5 pups had a gluten intolerance. They had raging diarrhea and subsequent poor growth from the time they were introduced to solid foods.
With a little bit of trial and error I discovered that I am FP prescription diet (potato and fish) to be a good quality dog food that was easy to find for purchase and well tolerated by the pups. Only peculiar thing is that the poops are a dark brown color.

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said this on
23 Jun 2010 6:38:43 AM PST
Ok, no, cats and dogs shouldn't be fed grain and I'm guessing horses shouldn't be fed meatballs (I'm no doctor). But wild dogs and cats living to be 30-40 years old? Come on! Any google search will tell you otherwise. And cats and dogs are not equatable species to human systems (or else a lot of us would be dead from chocolate overdoses or high from catnip). One wonders what a veterinary doctor is doing commenting on Celiac disease in humans in the first place. No two people react the same way.

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said this on
18 Aug 2010 9:51:39 PM PST
I am wondering if my dog has celiac disease after watching her eat grass and almost immediately having horrible diarrhea. She has been having GI issues since we adopted her a year ago but have not been able to identify what was causing the diarrhea. Now I think I have my answer. BUT how do you stop a dog from eating grass?

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said this on
08 Apr 2011 10:30:39 AM PST
It took me 10 years to figure out that Gluten in cat food was killing my cat...we almost put her down until an awesome vet suggested it was the diet. Removing all gluten did the trick. The few times I indulge her with a can of Friskies that contains gluten, the diarrhea is back within hours.

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said this on
20 Jan 2012 11:04:20 AM PST
Karen, what did you change the food to?

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said this on
04 May 2012 7:48:36 PM PST
Cats don't need plants at this point in history. They need meat. Our cat would be dead right now from diabetes if we had not changed to a diet that Dr Elizabeth Hodgkins recommends. It's all about meat and no carbs OR plants.

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said this on
26 Jul 2012 4:40:57 AM PST
My poor boy has gastrointestinal problems. Unfortunately, he can't help himself when it comes to my housemate's cat. He will devour his food and start on the other cat's food. I use eukanuba, eagle and royal canin in combination with fresh meat and he is fine. If he scarfs down the other cat's Whiskas dry or wet he vomits everywhere! My housemate will not switch to what my cat eats because he says it doesn't effect his cat so why should he pay more and buy more expensive food? Yet he complains when my cat chooses his room (the only room with carpet), as the ideal place to vomit.

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