Grain-Free Foods for Dogs Cause Heart Disease
FDA found evidence of grain free foods causing dogs to suffer from canine dilated cardiomyopathy even when their breed isn't predisposed to the condition.

Grain-free food for dogs has been a growing trend, often considered by pet owners as a healthier option, but a new report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed that such a diet might actually increase the risk of canine heart disease.

“They also noticed that both the typical and atypical breeds were more likely to be eating boutique or grain-free diets, and diets with exotic ingredients—kangaroo, lentils, duck, pea, fava bean, buffalo, tapioca, salmon, lamb, barley, bison, venison, and chickpeas. Even some vegan diets have been associated. It has even been seen in dogs eating raw or home-prepared diets.”

The FDA issued a warning to pet owners and veterinarians about feeding grain-free dog foods following reports that cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) increased in pets whose diet mainly contained lentils, legumes, peas and potatoes in the ingredients.

Defining Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Canine dilated cardiomyopathy is described as the enlargement of the heart in dogs. It leads to the inability of the heart to generate the right pressure to pump and distribute blood to the rest of the organs. DCM might also cause the heart's valves to leak and result in a build-up of blood in the dog's abdomen and chest. At its worst case, DCM could lead to congestive heart failure.

Experts have not determined a definitive cause for DCM but most veterinarians believe this condition develops due to factors like genetics and nutrition. DCM is common to breeds like Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Doberman pinscher, Great Danes and Saint Bernard.

Dogs Without Predisposed DCM

The FDA, however, indicated in its report that dog breeds not genetically prone to develop DCM were found to have this heart disease. This included breeds like Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Shih Tzu, bulldogs, schnauzers and whippets.

The agency learned that many of these dogs were fed food that commonly had potatoes, legumes and other grain-free ingredients. It's unclear, however, how these ingredients cause DCM but the dogs' medical records revealed lower levels of taurine.

Experts have long asserted that a deficiency in taurine could lead to DCM. This type of amino acid helps a dog's heart muscles to develop and function well. Cocker Spaniels with low levels of taurine improved their heart's condition after receiving taurine supplements in a clinical trial conducted in 1997.

Grain-Free Food with Exotic Ingredients

The FDA stated in its report that the Center for Veterinary Medicine is looking into the links between grain-free dog foods and DCM along with the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network. Initial findings revealed that the dogs with DCM cases have been on a grain-free diet for years.

The experts, however, also discovered that these grain-free dog foods also contained exotic ingredients like chickpeas, fava beans, or buffalo, duck and kangaroo meat. DCM, however, is also common in dogs with vegan or raw diets prepared by its owners.

Grain-Free Dog Food's Popularity

Because of domestication and evolution centuries ago, dogs have learned to adapt to foods like corn and wheat. However, pet owners worry that dog food products manufactured with these ingredients make use of genetically modified variants and additives.

With the emergence of Paleo and gluten-free diets in humans, a grain-free dog food diet soon became the trend. These products, however, were marketed with the pet owners in mind, who wanted more options on what they can feed their dogs.

Manufacturers pushed grain-free dog foods as the healthier choice because these apparently don’t cause dog allergies and skin irritations or don’t contain high amounts of carbohydrates that could lead to chronic health problems in pets.

Grain-free, however, doesn't always mean it's the healthier choice. Veterinarians maintain that whether dogs are fed with grain-filled or grain-free foods, their main diet must always have high quality protein first.

To know the best food for your pets, consult with a veterinarian. Your dog needs to be weighed and evaluated based on his breed, his medical needs and his general health condition.

ASK A VET: 5 Reasons Why Grain Free Diet May Not Be Right for Your Dog

Rita has a Master's degree in Biomedical Sciences and has worked in many different research laboratories. As a long-time dog owner, she's been trying to apply her skills, expertise and experience in the scientific field to writing about dogs and providing science-based information for other dog owners.