Grain-Free Diets

Photo of a dog eating

by Dr. Jody Kaufman

People want to provide their pets with good nutrition, but they may fall prey to advertising claims and misleading information in their attempt to supply the “best” food. There are many specialty and premium foods on the market, and over the past few years, many pet food companies have been promoting grain-free diets as a healthier choice for pets. These companies extended the idea of human gluten sensitivities to dogs and cats as a marketing strategy. However, dogs and cats very rarely have the same sensitivities that humans do.

Last year, a cautionary report came out that found a possible correlation between grain-free diets and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). A recent update is even more conclusive and worrisome.

DCM is marked by a weakness of the heart muscle, so that it can’t effectively contract or circulate the blood. It is more common in some of the bigger breeds such as Doberman Pincers, Great Danes, and Irish Wolfhounds; and there is a genetic predisposition. Some of the reported cases in the study included breeds that hadn’t previously been represented such as Pugs, Pomeranians, Jack Russell Terriers, Yorkshire Terriers and others.

Decompensation can be rapidly progressive. This is contrasted with the more common cause of heart disease in dogs that is initially caused when the mitral valves become thickened and “leaky”. The disease can occur in any breed and may be slowly progressive, in some cases taking years after the detection of a heart murmur before any medication is needed.

The diets in the study were characterized as mostly dry (kibble). They did not contain corn, wheat, soy, rice, or other grains. There were also separate categories for peas and/or lentils as well as potatoes/sweet potatoes (not as prevalent). Brands included Acana, Taste of the Wild, Earthborn, Blue Buffalo, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Orijen, and Nutro, among others.

While more study is required, we are recommending that if you currently have your dog on a grain-free diet that is not medically necessary, that you gradually switch them to a food that does not include peas, lentils, sweet potatoes, or potatoes. We also recommend that you make sure any food you choose for your dog meets the AAFCO standards for pet food.

FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy