Grain Free Boutique Diets: Are They Bad for Your Dog’s Heart?

Diet related heart disease is not new in the veterinary world. In the 1980’s, scientists found a link between dilated cardiomyopathy in cats and taurine deficiency in their diets. Since then all commercially available cat foods are supplemented with taurine and dilated cardiomyopathy is rarely, if ever, diagnosed in cats today. Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, is a type of heart disease in which the heart becomes enlarged and does not beat or contract as effectively as it should. It can lead to heart failure and death if left undiagnosed and untreated. Symptoms can include increased sluggishness or sleepiness, coughing, decreased appetite, pale gums, and fainting. Clinical signs often appear late in the course of disease; therefore, this disease can go undetected for some time and make your pet very ill suddenly, without a lot of warning.

In more recent years, DCM has been on the rise in our canine patients and in breeds not typically diagnosed with this disease. The link in most of these cases has been Grain Free Boutique diets that have peas, lentils and legumes in them in place of grains.

The FDA has recently released a report naming the top brands associated with this recent rise in dilated cardiomyopathy.

 These brands in order of reported cases include Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature’s Variety, Nutrisource, Nutro, and Rachael Ray Nutrish. If a brand is not on this list, it does not rule it out as a potential cause of heart disease. It simply means it has not been reported to the FDA in enough numbers to make the list at this time.

Ultimately, grain free diets have very little basis in science and are more of a marketing ploy perpetuated by good advertising.

Grain free diets for our pets became very popular around the same time that gluten free and grain free diets became popular in humans. Our canine and feline companions are actually very good at digesting grains and receive a lot of nutritional value from grains such as corn. A lot of consumers also believe their pets have a grain allergy and therefore avoid feeding grains. In reality, very few pets actually have a food allergy to proteins such as beef or chicken, and even fewer pets are allergic to grains. In other words, grain allergies in our pets are almost unheard of. If your pet is experiencing itchy skin, ears or other signs of allergies, please discuss this with your Cane Bay Veterinary Clinic doctor. Pets in the Summerville, SC area are much more likely to be allergic to fleas or things in the environment such as pollen, grass and dust than they are to food.

The FDA, veterinary nutritionists, and veterinary cardiologists are working hard to figure out what specific components of these grain free diets are contributing to the recent rise in DCM cases. In the meantime, if you are feeding your pet a grain free diet, Dr. Turick and Dr. Hill are recommending transitioning to a grain inclusive diet until more is known. If you are not sure about your pet’s diet, or if your pet is on a special prescription diet, please discuss this with your veterinarian before switching. If you need to switch your pet’s diet, please transition from one food to another slowly over the course of a week to avoid causing your pet any gastrointestinal upset.