Worried that grain-free dog food might be less healthy for your dog than you thought? If so, you’re not alone.
Veterinarians in North America have been reporting an increase in dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) for the last few years.
The disease is common in some large breeds (see below), but the alarm was sounded when it began appearing frequently in dogs not traditionally susceptible. Through traditional assessments with dog owners, veterinarians discovered that the common denominator appeared to be grain-free dog food.
For the time being, there is no definitive answer to whether grain-free diets can cause DCM. However, there does appear to be a link in grain-free diets and inadequate nutrition in dogs.
This post is designed to give you the information you need to make sure your dog is eating a nutritionally sound diet. In some cases, that could include a grain-free diet. The important thing is to discuss your dog’s diet with your veterinarian while remaining open to alternative food sources and supplements.
You’ll have an opportunity to test your knowledge in the quiz (below) while gaining access to FDA updates on grain-free diets and what that means for the health of your dog.
Is It Safe to Feed My Dog a Grain-Free Diet?
It’s important to understand that researchers are still looking into what appears to be a rise in dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating “boutique” or grain-free diets. The concern is that there are more dogs not traditionally susceptible to DCM being diagnosed.
Unfortunately, marketers would have you believe that high-priced specialty dog foods that are grain-free and filled with the taste of exotic proteins are actually better for your dog.
That doesn’t mean they are not safe. They just might not be enough.
Pet food companies are now pushing a “back to nature” agenda that suggests ingredients should resemble things we (as humans) normally eat. The reality is that our dog’s nutritional requirements are not the same as ours and a grain-free diet may not be enough.
Is My Dog Susceptible to Dilated Cardiomyopathy?
It’s thought that some breeds are more susceptible to DCM than others. If you own one of the breeds mentioned below, it doesn’t mean he/she will get DCM, it just means that there is a higher than average incidence.
There are things you can do to offset this disease including feeding a healthy, well-rounded diet, appropriate exercise, and maintaining regular veterinarian check-ups.
Susceptible Breeds include the following:
- Doberman Pinscher
- Irish Wolfhound
- Great Dane
- English Bulldog
- English Cocker Spaniel
- Saint Bernard
- Scottish Deerhound
- Afghan Hound
The Secrets of Dog DNA Testing
Anybody can have their dogs DNA tested these days. There are a variety of companies offering the service with a promise to deliver accurate and timely results.
The problem is that genetic testing is still in its infancy. Just like the genetic testing of humans, there is a lot of room for error. There’s nothing wrong with having your dog’s DNA tested, but it’s important not to panic if the results show that he/she carries the gene that causes dilated cardiomyopathy.
The reality is that a dog with certain genetic variants may never get that disease. However, knowing that it’s a possibility is a good start to making sure your dog has the best care possible to avoid the diagnosis in the future.
If you’re interested in DNA testing for your dog, have a look at these options:
How Can a Grain-Free Diet Cause Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs?
It seems that researchers aren’t entirely sure why (or if) grain-free dog diets cause DCM. What they do know is that an exclusively grain-free diet lacks important amino acids. Amino acids make up the basic building blocks of all protein.
A dog’s body can create some of those amino acids naturally. However, there are ten that are essential to health and these must be obtained through the food source.
For detailed information on how amino acids work and the importance of quality protein in dog food, visit DogFoodAdvisor.com.
Is Grain-Free Dog Food Causing Taurine Deficiencies in Dogs?
Researchers suspect that grain-free dog food may lead to a lack of taurine in the diet. To date, nothing has been conclusive in the studies. However, taurine is an important amino acid (see the paragraph above) that aids in muscle development and function.
If your dog is on a grain-free diet, please talk to your veterinarian about the risks and alternatives to make sure your dog is getting the correct nutrition for a long and healthy life.
Why Can’t I just Supplement my Dog’s Diet?
The problem with random supplementation, especially in a dog already diagnosed with a serious heart condition like DCM, may add to the problem. Nutrition is a delicate science that needs to be carefully monitored.
Feeding a completely grain-free dog food or any of the other trendy diets on the market today (vegan, vegetarian, homemade, or any diet that doesn’t deliver nutrients necessary for a healthy dog) leave your dog at risk for health problems.
Here’s a Potentially Life-Saving Suggestion:
If you are worried that your dog might have a taurine deficiency, make an appointment with the veterinarian to discuss. If your dog is happy on a grain-free diet, your veterinarian should be able to work with you to supplement the diet and/or incorporate additional dietary changes.Your Dog’s Health Matters
Some of the grain-free dog food diets being formulated are high in lentils, peas, fava beans, and chickpeas. The protein is often a mix of what are known as “exotic ingredients”. These include things like lamb, bison, venison, buffalo, etc.
READ: Researchers Getting Closer to Understanding Taurine Deficiency in Dogs
Morris Animal Foundation
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None of these ingredients are particularly bad on their own. The problem may be that there is not enough adequately formulated nutrition for dogs in them.
Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that if a diet is good enough for humans, it’s good enough for dogs. That is not true because the nutritional needs of our fluffy friends is not the same as ours. Their bodies metabolize differently than ours.
I hope you were able to learn something new today. Did you take the quiz? There are some great resources in there so if you haven’t completed it, make sure to go back and do it now. Find out which dog foods to avoid and what to do if your dog is on a grain-free diet.
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- Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine
- The Washington Post, Article by Jenna Gallegos
- Dog Food Advisor: https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/canine-nutrition/amino-acids-dog-food-protein/
- Morris Animal Foundation