pet food

Update on Grain-Free Diets and Heart Disease

For the past several years, pet owners have been swayed by marketing claiming that grain-free diets are better for our pets. They are billed as “more natural” and less likely to cause health problems and allergies. I hear this on a daily basis in clinical practice. “Grain-free” is a marketing concept designed to sell pet food, not a health solution to help your pet live a better life. There is no reliable evidence that suggests that it is harmful to feed grains as a group to dogs or cats as this article from Tufts University Veterinary Clinical Nutrition Service confirms.

In 2018, concern was raised with feeding grain-free diets, and especially ones that contains peas, chickpeas, lentils, or potatoes in place of the grains, about a possible link between the feeding of these diets and the development of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). Tufts University pointed to correlations between feeding Boutique, Exotic and Grain-free diets (BEG) and the development of DCM. DCM is characterized by a distention and thinning out of the muscular walls of the heart, causing it to be a less effective pump to move blood throughout the body. Dogs with DCM are at risk of developing congestive heart failure. Read more about DCM here.

This past week, a statement by the FDA confirms what experts in veterinary nutrition and veterinarians have been worrying about for the past few years—that the grain-free fad may have been hurting our pets. There have now been dozens of confirmed heart problems in dogs linked to eating grain-free diets. Most of these dogs are large breed dogs. Certain brands of dog foods have been implicated with the development of DCM.

So what do we do? What if the food you feed your dog is one of the brands the FDA implicated in the development of DCM in some dogs? Right now studies are still ongoing, but it looks like the best thing to do is jump off the grain-free wagon and reintroduce grains to your pet’s diet. We are not going to advocate for a certain brand of food- there are many out there to choose from. Additionally what works well for one pet, may not for another. I recommend this resource from the Pet Nutrition Alliance that allows comparison of many different pet foods brands and clearly outlines questions that you should ask when picking a pet food.

Relatively speaking, this issue has affected a small number of pets. However, it is something the veterinary community and pet owners alike should be paying attention to as we learn more specific details as to why cardiac disease is developing in pets fed certain diets. Please ask your veterinarian for advice in selecting a food. For updates on this topic and pet nutrition in general, The Petfoodology blog is an excellent resource written by experts in veterinary nutrition.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Alayson Phelps, DVM

Brooklyn Yard Veterinary Hospital

Update: Another interesting article about How Americans Decided that Dogs Can’t Eat Grains.-July 5, 2019