Grain-Free Diet - The Debate About the Danger

The word is out that dog foods that are ‘grain-free’ may be the cause of some cases of DCM or Dilated Cardiomyopathy in dogs.  We wanted to take the time to explain what this means for our clients that have chosen this type of food for their pets.

Let’s talk about what Dilated Cardiomyopathy is. DCM, according to Cornell University, is

“a primary disease of cardiac muscle that results in a decreased ability of the heart to generate pressure to pump blood through the vascular system. The definitive cause of canine DCM is the subject of debate, although a number of factors including nutritional, infectious, and genetic predisposition have been implicated. The fact that canine DCM occurs at a higher incidence in specific breeds suggests a heritable genetic component to this disease, although it is likely that it’s etiology is multifactorial.”

Recent investigations into reports of this disease in dogs eating certain diets (as well as an increase in DCM in breeds not normally known to have the genetic disposition to the disease) has a few fingers pointing to grain-free diets as a potential culprit.  It is however, not definitive at this time.  The FDA is quoted as saying “Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.”  Like any issue of this nature, this issue could be a number of things but in order to “play it safe”, a grain-free diet may not be the best option for a pet diet.

The following diets have been listed in the FDA’s recent report (click here for the complete report):

  • Acana

  • Zignature

  • Taste of the Wild

  • 4Health

  • Earthborn Holistic

  • Blue Buffalo

  • Nature’s Domain

  • Fromm

  • Merrick

  • California Natural

  • Orijen

  • Nature’s Variety

  • Nutrisource

  • Nutro

  • Rachael Ray Nutrish

 By no means are we saying these diets are “bad”; we’re simply informing you of the FDA’s findings. Many of these companies do offer alternatives that aren’t grain-free.

Grains have been promoted recently as "fillers", but they do have many healthy properties including essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, and fiber.  If your pet is on a grain-free diet, an alternative food with healthy, well-regulated grains may be a good choice at this time. If your veterinarian recommended a grain-free diet for your pet due to a medical condition or allergy, we recommend a conversation to determine if a suitable alternative diet is indicated.

If your pet has been on a grain-free diet for sometime and you feel that there have been some changes with your pet’s health, then we would recommend an exam with your veterinarian to ensure that all is well.  Some symptoms of DCM are as follows: lethargy, weakness, weight loss, collapse, coughing, increased respiratory rate and/or effort, abdominal distention.  These are symptoms of many conditions as well so an exam with diagnostics may be needed to find out the source.  DCM can be a serious and life-threatening condition so if your pet is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, please let us know asap.

To read more about what the FDA has to say about this situation and what as a pet owner you can do, click here.