Grain-Free Dog Foods: A fad or contributing to heart disease in our dogs?

Grain-free diets are something that many of us humans have pursued recently for one health reason or another. With the rise of Paleo diets it is a no-brainer that we’d apply those same dietary patterns to our dogs. But are we killing our dogs by switching them to a diet that is grain-free or has very little grains in their food? Why would it matter if my dogs are eating foods with little to no grains in them? 

The Grain-Free Fad

As many of us humans began chasing the next great diet fad over the past few years it was of course a no-brainer that these changes in our diets would spill over into the diets of our best companions. With many large, well-established dog food companies like Hills Pet Nutrition, Blue Buffalo and Mars Petcare making changes to their product line to capitalize on these trends within this multi-billion dollar industry.

In an article written by Donna Solomon, DVM for the Animal Medical Center of Chicago explained that the fad of grain-free food may be linked back to the pet food contamination in 2007 of wheat gluten with melamine which is an industrial chemical used for making plastics.

Regardless of what the genesis may be attributed to for the rise of grain-free foods there is certainly a concern still today about what ingredients are actually being used with the foods that we are selecting for our dogs.

Border Collie running through the water – Stencil

Concerns About The Grain-Free Diet

The FDA is looking into a credible link between grain-free dog foods and DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy). Canine DCM is a disease of the dog’s heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart. As the heart and its chambers become dilated, it becomes harder for the heart to pump, and heart valves may leak, which can lead to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen (congestive heart failure). In a recent article updated by the FDA, the on-going investigation has shown that high concentrations/ratios of certain ingredients such as peas, chickpeas, lentils and/or various types of potatoes we also present in dog foods that were labeled “grain-free”. 

The important take-away is that the food needs to be balanced for your dog’s health, age and weight concerns. If you suspect allergies as a cause of issues with your dog then switching to a grain-free food can seem like an attractive option. However, only a small percentage of dog allergies are food-related allergies, and most of these are related to the protein base used – rarely is it related to wheat or corn.

Making The Correct Grain-Free Decision For Your Dog

The research concerning the connection of Canine DCM and grain-free diets is undeniable. But it will always come down to what you feel is right for your dog and the conversations you have with your veterinary. If you do decide to go grain-free, make sure to transition slowly between the old food and new food. You want to start by adding 10 percent new food and 90 percent old food. You want to stick with the same protein base as your old food. If your old food has chicken as the base protein then the new grain-free food should also have chicken as the base protein. Changing too many things at one time can tend to upset the dog’s digestive system and it won’t give them time to adjust during the transition.

More research clearly needs to be done within this subject, but for now, it’s best to check with your vet and make an informed decision about your dog’s health based on the best information available and looking for a balanced food that meets your dog’s needs.

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