Food trends and lifestyles such as vegan, pescatarian, gluten-free and grain-free are more prominent now than ever, and people have even started to pass these diets on to their dogs. One of the trendiest diets for dogs is grain-free, which is often recommended when searching for the healthiest dog food. While pet owners have the best intentions when trying to feed their dog this “healthy” diet, research shows that the results may actually be doing more harm than good. These concerns recently prompted the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to launch an investigation into the effects of grain-free diets. Below, we’re breaking down what you need to know to protect your furry friend.
Grain-free diets have been linked to cases of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)
Certain dogs are predisposed to heart problems such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart disease that can lead to heart failure. Breeds that are already more likely to have this issue include the Doberman Pinscher, the Great Dane, the Newfoundland, the Boxer, Irish wolfhounds and the Cocker Spaniel. In addition to predisposition, nutritional factors also play a large role in DCM. 1 Recently, there have been an increased number of cases of DCM among breeds that aren’t predisposed such as golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Whippets, Shih Tzus, some mixed breeds and others. These dogs that have surprisingly developed DCM were typically fed dog foods where peas, lentils, or potatoes were the main ingredients rather than meats and grains. 2 These ingredients are vital to building protein and keeping up good organ health. Unfortunately, the competitive market of pet food has led to unsupported marketing claims that grain-free diets are good for your pet, and because people want the best for their dogs, they fall victim to marketing ploys. 3
What is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)?
Canine dilated cardiomyopathy, also known as an enlarged heart, is a disease of cardiac muscle that results in difficulty of the heart to create enough pressure to pump blood through the body. With DCM, the ventricles will be enlarged, and often all four chambers of the heart are enlarged. The symptoms of DCM, such as weakness, loss of consciousness, lethargy and breathing issues, result from complications like lack of oxygen in the blood or congestion of blood in the lungs. Likewise, an increased heart rate and ventricular wall stress create an increased oxygen demand. The lack of oxygen paired with higher oxygen demand may expose dogs to the risk of sudden death due to the development of cardiac arrhythmias. 1
What is the link between grain-free dog foods and DCM?
The exact cause of DCM is unknown, but we do know that nutritional factors play a big role. Grain-free dog foods lack nutritional elements that help dogs grow strong and healthy. For example, low taurine levels are suspected to be a factor, and grain-free dog foods are significantly low in taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that makes up protein, which is necessary for healthy organs. 2 On the other hand, foods with meats have higher taurine. In one study, dogs with DCM were given taurine supplements, and their conditions improved. If your dog has been diagnosed with DCM, reconsider their diet and ask your veterinarian to test taurine levels in your dog.
How can you tell if your dog has DCM?
Some breeds may have higher susceptibility to the disease due to genetics, so ask your veterinarian if your dog could be predisposed. Cases of DCM also increase with age, typically appearing in dogs ages 4-10.
Symptoms of DCM include:
- Rapid and excessive breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal distension
- Weight loss
- Occasional loss of consciousness. 4
Do right by your pup and feed them nutritious, high-quality dog food
To help prevent these complications, ask your veterinarian about your dog’s diet and be very skeptical of restrictive diets as seen in advertisements. Here at Wag Tantrum, we aren’t concerned with fad diets. We are concerned with what we know is healthy for your dog. That is why our healthy, organic dog food contains grains and meats. Dogs are not carnivores – they need a well-balanced diet, and healthy grains are part of that. Numerous studies show that dogs do indeed need grains for health benefits, so we made sure to include organic brown rice in our human-grade blend. We believe it’s time to start paying less attention to what’s trendy, and more attention to the science of what our dogs are eating.
1 Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
2 The food that could give your dog heart disease. Reader’s Digest. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
3 A broken heart: Risk of heart disease in boutique or grain-free diets and exotic ingredients. Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
4 Enlarged heart (Dilated Cardiomyopathy) in dogs. PetMD. Retrieved August 29, 2018.