Category Archives: Health

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Grain-Free Food. Is It Safe?

For four years now, there has been a debate raging about the safety of grain-free foods. In 2018, the FDA opened an investigation into an apparent surge of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart disease in dogs. The following year, 2019, they “updated” their investigation with zero new evidence, no published report on their findings, and no conclusive link between grain-free dog food and DCM. Since that time, however, you have seen practically nothing new about this. No new information. No published report. Nothing for the grain-free-condemning folks to hang their hat on. The reason? There is simply not enough evidence of a link to even warrant spending the money on a study! Keep that in mind as you read.

The History

Commercial grain-free dog food has been around since 1995. Since that time, it has become a huge phenomenon, garnering over 45% of the market share (in dollars) of dog food for America’s 77-90 million dogs (depending on whose number you use). Because grain-free food is much more expensive than grain-laden kibble, it is not 45% of the dogs eating grain-free food, though. It’s estimated to be just over 10% of the total, or about 8-9 million dogs eating grain-free food.

Most of the major grain-free brands have been around for over 20 years, and did not change their formulas in that time. That’s important to remember as you read this information.

The Accusation

The charge is that grain-free food that is loaded with peas and legumes as carbs, rather than corn, wheat, soy and other grains (those three are the worst ones, and the most commonly used in commercial kibble), creates an inability in dogs to produce enough taurine, a chemical in the body. Lack of taurine can result in DCM, which can be fatal. DCM can also be caused by a genetic predisposition, and that cause is more common than a suspected dietary link.

Dogs Are Dying!  

That was the constant refrain back in 2018-19. A surge in cases of DCM in dogs began to be reported by vets in 2018, and was reported to the FDA, which proceeded to open an investigation, that can be found here, on the FDA’s web site. If you read this entire government post (and I encourage you to, because it actually supports what I’m saying) you will find out all the ingredients they looked at, the diagnostic testing, etc., etc., ad nauseum. It’s all there, but they reached no conclusion! The truth is, they DID reach a conclusion, but they didn’t announce it like they trumpeted the “investigation”. I will post just one of the many bar graphs in the government article, because that alone gives even the casual observer the answer to this question that they are looking for.

Yeah, but… Dogs Are Dying!

This graph clearly shows the numbers of affected dogs that we are talking about here. A quote from the paragraph with this graph from the FDA: “Between January 1, 2014 and April 30, 2019, the FDA received 524 reports of DCM (515 canine reports, 9 feline reports). Approximately 222 of these were reported between December 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019 (219 canine reports, 3 feline reports).
So, let’s do the math. Let’s “follow the science”! For the sake of argument, we’ll use the lower number of total dogs in the US, approximately 77 million. Of those 77 million, just over 10% eat grain-free kibble, about 8 million dogs. In the five years of the most vigorous reporting by vets and pet owners, there were 524 reports over a 5-year period. At its height, there were 320 cases reported in 2018. It has significantly declined since then. We see then, that all cases reported in that five-year period represent sickness (not death) in 0.0066% of dogs eating grain-free food. That’s simply getting the disease. The death toll from this supposed link was 19 dogs! That’s right. 19 dogs out of 8 million! That is 0.0051%, in other words, one five-thousandth of one percent! In still other words, it’s about one in every 421,000 dogs, assuming there actually IS a link, which is highly questionable at all. Even if there actually IS a link, you’re dog has WAY more chance of dying from virtually any of the cancers and conditions that your breed is susceptible to. Your dog has much more likelihood of dying in an accident in your car, or drowning in your pool, or getting hit by a train. Seriously.

Folks are going to battle over a “suspected” and unproven link between grain-free food and lack of taurine production, when that condition is also genetic. And they’re doing it based on a death-rate of 0.0051%. It’s absurd on its face.

But wait, there’s more! In a capitalist society, which ours still has the last  remnants of, the market always responds to new developments quickly (as opposed to government entities), so they don’t lose market share. The grain-free food industry has done the same thing, and immediately started adding taurine as a supplement in their kibbles in 2019. The reports of DCM being reported in the last 2 years is nearly zero. But there are still “experts” and vets claiming that grain-free food is dangerous! This author has written a great piece that “follows the money” and offers a rational explanation for the continued warnings, despite the lack of evidence. It also links to dozens of experts that hold the same position as I do.

Folks, it’s pretty obvious to the most casual observer, that if grain-free food actually was killing dogs, there would be an FDA update, there would be warnings being blasted everywhere, and the FDA would definitely be posting the sickness and death numbers from 2020 and 2021. Those are nowhere to be found.

Back to Basics

Waiting for their treat of frozen chicken gizzards. All natural, raw treats!

Let’s go back to basics here for a minute, folks. Dogs are carnivores! There are those out there that like to claim that dogs are omnivores (will eat anything as part of their regular diet). But they are not. They are classified as “Facultative Carnivores”. In  short, they can and will eat plant matter (but not insects and such, as omnivores do), but they do not require it, and they obviously do not prefer it. That’s an easy one to prove. Set a nice plate of veggies and corn and wheat and soy down on the floor next to a nice plate of raw meat. Is there any question about which which plate ANY dog would polish off in a few seconds, and which plate would remain untouched? I rest my case.

To further this argument, here is another article on the science of dogs’ dietary needs, based on their own biology. Dogs have the type of jaws and teeth created for tearing and grinding meat. They have the salivary enzymes in their mouth to break down meat, different from the enzymes in the mouths of herbivores and omnivores. They also have an intestinal tract that is designed to break down and process a load of meat as opposed to grains or herbs.

The fact is, commercial dog food was developed as a way for farmers to sell corn that was not fit for the human market. Prior to that, all dogs everywhere were simply fed from the family’s store of food and scraps. If we follow the money, we can see that there is plenty of politics to go around, even in the dog food business, and the FDA actually jumped right into it.

This article (also linked above), called A Canine Controversy: Dueling Reports on the Safety of Grain-Free Dog Foods is a must-read on this “controversy”. in this article the author lays out the money trail of the protagonists in this debate, the ones claiming that grain-free food is killing dogs. In July of 2019, the FDA produced a list of actual brand names of food that were being fed to affected dogs, as part of the update. They named brand names, and did significant financial damage to those brands, with zero proof of a connection whatsoever! This article shows the financial incentives that certain entities that were furthering the “danger” narrative had, to report the way they have. Yes, politics. Even in dog food.

Make no mistake, we’re plenty political over here, as any of you that follow us on Facebook know. But not about dog food. No.

Mastador puppies getting their first meal of grain-free kibble at 4 weeks old.

The Bottom Line

The best diet for your dog, by far, is raw feeding. Many people lack either the time or the finances to feed raw, as it can consume a lot, both in cost and food prep time. If you have the financial ability, there are freeze-dried, ready-made meals from many different vendors now, the choices are endless.

Nearly any grain-free food is going to be better nutritionally, than the most fancy and expensive food that is loaded with corn, wheat and soy.

At Covenant Farm Puppies we start all of our puppies out on grain-free kibble, and use 4Health, the store brand of Tractor Supply Co. Our adult dogs are not on an exclusively grain-free diet, because legumes (especially peas and pea flour) contain phytoestrogens, which mimic female hormone in bitches, and can cause temporary infertility. We discovered that the hard way when we tried to move all the dogs to a grain-free diet. We use a feed that has no corn, wheat or soy, but does contain some oats and barley, and no peas or pea flour. It was a compromise I had to make as a breeder.

Our web site has a page called Care & Feeding, that has all kinds of info on food, treats, meds and other useful stuff to check out.

As always, follow us on Facebook, and check out out our web site, Covenant Farm Puppies.

Getting Through a Female Heat Cycle

The Dreaded Heat! I am often asked about when and what to expect regarding female puppies and dogs going into heat. I normally give an explanation to all of my customers getting female puppies, because I require that my puppies be kept intact until they are 24 months old. You can find a full explanation of why that’s necessary in my other post on that topic.

Lola is an F2 second generation Mastador, seen here at 7 months old, and 95 lbs. She is the daughter of Chachi (son of Charlemagne & Lorna Doone) and Sassa.

When & How Often?

In large or giant breed dogs like Mastadors, a female puppy will have her first heat at around 9 months old. That’s a strong average. But it’s possible for a female to go into her first heat as early as 6 months, or as late as a year or more. After the first heat, they come roughly every six months. That fluctuates a good deal as well. My lasses range from 6-8 months in-between most of the time. But I tell folks that they should expect to go through three heat cycles by the time they reach 24 months, and can be spayed if desired. At right is our Lola, who had her first heat at 9 months, with her second due at 15 months (April 2022), and the third one due at 21 months, approximately.

How Do I Tell? How Long Does It Last?

The heat cycle is 20 days long, and can normally be spotted by some obvious signs. First,  your lass will start to drip spots of blood when her heat begins. Also, her vulva will appear swollen. But either of these can sometimes not appear, or be so mild you don’t detect it for awhile. We’ll deal with that in a minute. Another sign is any other dogs in close proximity will be humping her, or she will mount them.  If you see that behavior, check your lass for a swollen vulva, and get a clean white cloth and dab her vagina to

Chachi (M), with his concubine Sassa (black F), who is flagging him. The big puppy is their daughter, Lola.

check for secretions, especially blood tinge. Always use the first day you are certain, as Day One of your 20-day count.

Approximately Day 11 is ovulation time, when she is fertile. It is also where most females will stand for any male in proximity. When she is near a male she will start “flagging” him, that is, she will stick her tail straight up and come in close to him. This is of course, the most dangerous time, in terms of avoiding pregnancy. Despite the really small window of 48 hours or so of ovulation, you must assume that your lass is at risk for impregnation at any time during the 20-day period. As unusual as it is, some females have become pregnant from ties that occurred in the first few days or the last few days of a heat cycle. You always have to assume the risk is there, for the entirety of the heat cycle.

Protecting Her From The Lads

This handsome mutt we dubbed The Wayfaring Stranger. He impregnated our Lab with one puppy, while the rest of the pups in the litter were sired by our Lab.

It is important to keep your female absolutely protected from the lads! Make no mistake, males can literally detect the scent of a female in heat, and track it, as far as three miles away! They will perform extraordinary feats to get to her. I have had my lads tear apart wood privacy fence, chew through welded-wire fence and chain link panel, dig a hole so deep, a 130# dog can get under the fence. Do not underestimate the power of female hormones! [I hear men mumbling “Amen” under their breath as they read].

We have had three accidental litters over the years, that were sired by dogs that wandered onto our farm in the middle of nowhere. Nobody had ever seen these males before or since. We gave them names. The first one was The Traveling Salesman. The next year we had a handsome fellow we called The Wayfaring Stranger, and the third was called The Wandering Minstrel. In each of these cases, we missed the signs of heat, because our lasses were outside all day long, and some were at night, as well. Our males were contained.

Behavior During The Heat

Your lovely lass can be an angel or a demon during her heat, or both. She is likely to be more clingy with you, more desirous of your attention and affection. She may be that way with other dogs in your house as well… or not. If you have other dogs in the house your lass could turn into, let’s say, a Raging Bitch! It’s ok to say “bitch”, cuz I’m a dog breeder. I’m not cussin’. I have had a few dog fights over the years between my lasses, nearly always when one or both are in heat. Be wary of this. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it is one of the things that you could face during a heat cycle. 

Your girl may also have a significantly diminished appetite during her heat cycle, and that may also extend to other dogs in your home. If you think the dogs are simply not eating enough, you can always add some canned mackerel to their food for a couple of weeks. That will guarantee they eat more. You may want to offer treats more often during this time as well.

The Mess

Your lass will likely be spotting blood for most of her heat. If she doesn’t it’s no cause for alarm, nor does it mean the heat is over with! Most of the time, the girls will clean up after themselves, licking up the blood off of hard floors, and keeping themselves clean. But there will still be cleanup to do. There are both disposable and washable doggy diapers available for this very thing. I have not used them, as we have hard floors, and just clean up, but my puppy customers prefer the washable kind over the disposables, by a wide margin. These are readily available in larger WalMart stores, or on Amazon.

Silent Heats And Other Anomolies

It is possible for your female to miss a heat, or have a “silent heat”, which are not the same thing. How each lass behaves and shows symptoms of her heat season can be very different from one to another; in some it is obvious and very pronounced, while in others, it can be hard to tell. Some females do not change in behavior or temperament during their heat cycle at all, and may have only a very light discharge with little or no swelling of the vulva. This is perfectly normal for some females. This doesn’t mean that your lass is necessarily going through a silent heat, but simply that her seasons are very asymptomatic.

A silent heat is a genuine season characterized by a nearly total lack of symptoms. This can make it pretty confusing for an owner. But if you take your lass out on walks, any unaltered lads will be making a beeline for her! If you see dogs you have never seen before, hovering around your property, there’s a good chance there’s a heat going on.

I cannot emphasize enough, the need for adequate protection from the lads! The safest course is to keep your lass in the house during the entire heat, and walk her if you do not have a fenced yard!

Figuring Out Skin “Itchies”

Does your dog scratch, lick obsessively or chew? There are a lot of reasons your dog or itchy_puppuppy may be itchy. It can be tough trying to narrow it down. If you run to the vet right away, it can also be pretty expensive, and you still may not get the answer. Why? Because vets do not learn nutrition in vet school, a fact they will readily admit. So if your pooch’s itchies come from a food allergy (an easy fix), you won’t get this treatment advice from a vet.

But there are several possible ailments that bring on itching and scratching of the skin. For this article, I assume you have already checked for fleas. This is what I recommend to figure it out by process of elimination. I suggest you start with the “path of least resistance” and work your way down this list.

1. Switch your dog to a grain-free or raw diet. By far the most common source of persistent itching of the skin is an allergy to grains. Your dog should be on a grain-free diet anyway, because it is a carnivore, not an herbivore, and the grains are associated with a large number of ailments in dogs, including cancers, diabetes, GI tract issues and seizures (but that is another post).

Start right out with a recipe that does NOT include chicken at all. The reason is that some dogs have a chicken allergy as well. Perhaps it is not even that they have a chicken allergy, but rather, a soy allergy. Soy is one of the few feeds whose properties will transfer directly to the animal or person that eats the meat that it was fed to. It’s a horrible feed, but most poultry is fed with it. So start right out with either a red meat or fish-based recipe.

2. Add coconut oil to the food every day. Start with about a teaspoon for a Lab-sized dog or larger. After a few days, increase the amount until you have reached about a tablespoon dollop. You can find organic coconut oil at Kroger, WalMart, Costoco and Sam’s Club.

Both the elimination of grains and the addition of the coconut oil should kill an overload of candida yeast in your dog’s system, which could cause systemic itching.

3. Avoid any kind of chemical based shampoos. A natural oatmeal-based shampoo will help soothe your dog while the healing is taking place.

4. If the above has not helped or if there is any loss of fur, do all of the above, BUT bring your dog to the vet for a skin scraping to check for mites and mange. There are several very effective natural remedies for this. We recommend EcoManage by Vet Organics. It will treat both sarcoptic mange and the dreaded demodectic mange, which is “technically” incurable.

5. If none of these things has helped, it is possible that your dog has an allergy to something itching-dogenvironmental. The way to to check for this cheaply (but only generally) is to give your dog Benedryl at a maximum dose of 1 milligram per pound of body weight.  If it brings relief, then it is probably an environmental allergy.

It is only at this point that I would see the vet and have them do blood work to screen for allergies. If you take the dog to the vet before this point, you could be unnecessarily subjecting your dog to chemicals and pharmaceuticals to treat symptoms that are permanently corrected by a change in diet, supplementation, elimination of yeast or natural elimination of mites and the mange they cause.

6. If your dog also has a mysterious limp that seems to disappear and reappear, along with chronic itchiness, he may be infected with one of the tick-borne diseases such as Lyme or erlychiosis. There is one test that checks for all of them, and it’s inexpensive.

If none of these things fixes your pooch’s itchies… well… I don’t have a clue!

Spaying & Neutering

Early spaying & neutering: DON’T DO IT!

Now that I have your attention, and you realize that I have probably contradicted your vet’s advice to have it done at 6 months, let me tell you why.


Hermione, daughter of Shelby & Rob Roy

The sex hormones of both males and females are responsible for bone density as well as joint development, during their maturing years. When those hormones are absent, the risk for joint failure (especially ACL/CCL) is dramatically increased. The chances of seeing a degenerative bone condition arise is also increased. On top of that, the risk  of three types of cancers goes up pretty dramatically as well.


There are a couple of reasons. And I am not trying to disparage any vets here, I really like and respect the three vets I regularly use, though I disagree with them occasionally. But these things are admitted by some of the vets themselves.

First, there is pressure by the whole shelter/rescue lobby to have dogs de-sexed as early as possible to avoid “overpopulation”. In other words, you are not responsible enough to care for your puppy to keep him or her contained, therefore you need to have them de-sexed. It’s not about the health of the dog. It’s about politics.

The second reason is a little cynical. Some vets schedule puppies for surgery at 6 months right away when you bring your pup in for the first exam and shots. That’s because most folks don’t make regular plans to visit the vet once the 4 rounds of vaccinations are done. They want to make sure they get that surgery income early on in their relationship with you, lest they lose it to someone else later on.

Some, to be honest, really do believe there’s nothing medically amiss about it. All I can say is that they have not truly kept abreast of the research if they believe that. The evidence has actually been there for many years, but you have to dig out those studies, and the results are very unpopular with the shelter/rescue folks!

This article is from the AKC Canine Health Foundation citing a study by a team of researchers at the University of California at Davis. They found a direct connection to ACL and CCL rupture (these are joints) and hip dysplasia to spay/neuter before one year old. They also found an increased risk of cancers: hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, mast cell tumors. This is a synopsis of the study from the UC Davis web site. This study is also quoted in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The UC Davis synopsis notes that, “Dog owners in the United States are overwhelmingly choosing to neuter their dogs, in large part to prevent pet overpopulation or avoid unwanted behaviors. In the U.S., surgical neutering — known as spaying in females — is usually done when the dog is less than one year old. In Europe, however, neutering is generally avoided by owners and trainers and not promoted by animal health authorities”.

OUR HISTORY OF THIS: We have produced nearly 1,000 puppies since we began in 2007. We have seen three puppies diagnosed with hip dysplasia inside of our 3-year guarantee. All three were neutered at 6 months of age. We have had seven pups require ACL (knee joint) surgery between three and six years old.  All seven were de-sexed at about 6 months of age. We had one pup develop a degenerative bone disease. He was neutered at 6 months of age. We also had a 6-year-old Lab develop osteosarcoma which necessitated amputation of the leg, and a CCL failure in the same dog at about the same time. He was neutered at 6 months old.


Beau, son of Sadie & Rob Roy after ACL surgery.

Can I say that early spay/neuter was “responsible” for all of these cases? No, of course not. There is no way to know for certain. But even if there was a genetic predisposition in the pups, it may never have shown up, if all of our care & feeding recommendations were observed and they were not de-sexed before full maturity. But the early de-sexing very likely threw those genetic predispositions (if there were any) into overdrive, making it a virtual certainty.

OUR RECOMMENDATION: Based on the research we have read, we recommend avoiding spay or neuter until maturity. That is different with different breeds. For Labs, I would wait a minimum of 20 months. For Mastiffs, I would wait 2.5 to 3 years. For Mastadors, 24 months. We have altered our genetic guarantees to reflect this science.

We recognize that this can be a burden, especially for females as they go into heat, drip blood and attract all the lads in the neighborhood. But if you are truly concerned about the health and longevity of life of your dog, you will give this serious consideration. Joint blowouts are very painful and very expensive to repair. Some vets charge $3,500-$6,000 for the surgery. Cancers are life-threatening and life-shortening. So much of that risk can be mitigated by a little extra work on your part, and some time to let your pup fully mature.