Could a grain-free diet be harming your pet? The pet food industry is a growing and competitive business, and clever marketing has led to the emergence of many grain-free and boutique diets. Recently, veterinary cardiologists have noted an increase in dogs with a heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy, DCM. There are some typical breeds that are genetically predisposed to DCM like Boxers and Doberman Pinchers, but recently other breeds, Golden Retrievers in particular, have been increasingly diagnosed with DCM. This recent increase in the prevalence of DCM in dogs has shed light on the role diet can play in heart disease. It appears that certain diets may be increasing dogs’ risk for heart disease. Dr. Stern, at UC Davis, recognized that many recent cases of DCM were due to a taurine deficiency in Golden Retrievers fed grain-free diets. Other cardiologists have noted that both the typical and atypical dog breeds that are being seen with DCM are more likely to be eating boutique or grain-free diets, and diets with exotic ingredients such as kangaroo, lentils, duck, pea, fava bean, buffalo, tapioca, salmon, lamb, barley, bison, venison, and chickpeas.
Studies are currently being done and the issue has been reported to the FDA which is currently investigating. Until we know more about the link between grain-free diets and heart disease, there are some things you can do. First, reconsider what you are feeding your dog. Grain food allergies are extremely rare in dogs, and there is no scientific nutritional evidence to support that a grain-free diet is actually better for your pet. If you are feeding a grain-free, boutique, or exotic ingredient diet, please watch for signs of early heart disease. The most common signs noted at home are weakness, exercise intolerance, coughing, shortness of breath/breathing difficulty, and fainting/collapse. If you notice any of these signs, please contact us immediately. If you are considering switching diets, please do so gradually so that you do not upset your pet’s GI system from a sudden change in diet. The best way to select a diet for your pet is to make sure that the pet food manufacturer has rigorous quality control standards and nutritional expertise and that the diet has been through an AAFCO feeding trial. The most common over the counter diets we recommend are Purina ProPlan, Science Diet, and Royal Canin. The clinical nutrition service at Tufts University has a post entitled “Questions you should be asking about your pet’s food” that is a great resource if you have further questions.
You can also call our San Antonio Veterinary Hospital to schedule an exam and consultation so that we can make a diet recommendation that we feel is best for your pet.