The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Complex Carbohydrates in Pet Foods

DEAR READERS: The recent trend of pet food manufacturers to market “grain-free” cat and dog food has been a contributing factor in some animals developing heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy). The various kinds of fiber in the complex carbohydrates of whole grains (and buckwheat) can help prevent obesity and other health problems in both dogs and people. Note: Such grains have no place in cat foods, but some fiber in cat foods can be beneficial.

High-calorie, -meat and -fat diets and treats play a major role in the companion animal obesity crisis. In 2018, an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese. (See

Genetic factors, owners’ lifestyles, eating habits and activity levels of both the animals and their caregivers also play a role. Such diets are also a major factor in some dogs developing pancreatitis with secondary diabetes. High-carbohydrate diets are in large part responsible for obesity, diabetes and other health problems in cats, and for pancreatic enzyme insufficiency in some dogs, especially German shepherds.

Complex carbohydrates in grains and seeds -- ideally organic, minimally processed ones such as brown rice, barley, oats, quinoa or amaranth -- include fibers that are beneficial for gut bacteria and starches that break down into energy-providing glucose, or can be stored in muscle as an energy reserve of glycogen or be converted into fat. Complex carbohydrates facilitate and slow down digestion, making for regular bowel movements and firm stools. They also play a role in satiety, which is important in weight control, with lower fat intake. Pregnant and nursing dogs and their pups thrive better with complex carbohydrates in their diets than when fed grain-free foods.

Food preference studies find healthy dogs prefer a diet of 36% carbohydrate, 30% protein and 41% fat. Some individual dogs, and breeds such as the Irish setter and Wheaten terrier, can have dietary intolerances to wheat. Wheat and soy are the most common causes of adverse food reactions in dogs; some are also allergic to beef, dairy or chicken.

My advice to people whose dogs do not require special diets (information about which is available at is to make sure, as per my home-prepared recipe posted at, that some complex carbohydrates are included in their daily meals.

DEAR DR. FOX: I continue to be confused on the issue of vaccinations. Over the years, I have had three dogs and two cats, all of whom lived healthy lives to at least 16 years of age.

Each year when I received a postcard from my veterinarian that my pets were due for their annual vaccinations, I dutifully scheduled an appointment (and seldom left the office without a payment of approximately $100 per animal).

I now own three kittens that each came from dire and desperate conditions. I took all three into the vet for examinations and vaccinations (including follow-up vaccinations at intervals, which I understand are common for young animals). All three kittens are healthy, exclusively indoor cats.

I am getting reminders that they are due for their annual examinations and vaccinations -- one of which is rabies, which I understand and support. It is the other annual vaccinations that I question: annual distemper and “boosters.” Are these necessary? I have read some articles that suggest they are not, and a couple people have suggested that these vaccinations are not only not necessary (if they were vaccinated as kittens) but unhealthy.

I am sure you have commented on this issue in the past, but could you provide some guidance on this issue? -- R.F., Frostburg, Maryland

DEAR R.F.: I appreciate your concern, since vaccinations are of value in preventing various diseases, and yet there are legitimate concerns about possible harmful consequences (so-called vaccinoses). There is little consensus with regard to optimal protocols, and also about what to do about revaccination when animals have adverse reactions. There is also the fact that the vaccination needs for cats who never go outdoors are quite different from indoor-outdoor cats.

Check the vaccination protocols posted on my website ( go to Articles at the top, then click on CATS). So long as young cats have had all their “core” vaccinations by 1 year of age and are never outdoors, revaccinations, with the exception of legally mandated anti-rabies vaccination every year, are not warranted, in my opinion. But this does not mean the cats should not have annual wellness examinations -- ideally, for most cats, by a veterinarian who does house calls.

Some practices may refuse to see cats who are not up to date on their vaccinations because of the risk of exposure to other cats coming to the hospital who may be diseased. For good measure, be sure your kittens have been tested for feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia virus.


Older people who lose a spouse to death or divorce are less likely to experience depression and loneliness if they own a dog or cat, a study published in The Gerontologist found:

“When we take care of animals, we have a purpose to get up for in the morning,” said study leader Dawn Carr. (HealthDay News, 9/18)

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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