Is There a Link Between Grain Free Diets and Heart Disease?

Conscientious pet parents are always on the lookout for ways to enhance the lives of their pets. We vow to take them on more walks, buy them the latest Furbo, and make sure to schedule a wellness exam every year. But what about the food we give them?  

Research shows that feeding your pet a high-quality diet is linked to better health outcomes and a longer lifespan. However, some diets are causing concern among veterinary specialists. In fact, earlier this summer, the FDA issued a cautionary statement that grain free diets may be linked to the development of a condition in dogs called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). However, as of this fall, veterinary experts are linking the problem instead to boutique, exotic, or grain free diets. Stay tuned as we explore the possible link between grain free diets and heart disease.

Heart to Heart

Canine DCM causes an enlarged heart, which means it becomes harder for the heart to pump blood, resulting in a buildup of fluid in the lungs and congestive heart failure. While the cause of canine DCM is unknown, it’s typically thought to have a genetic component. Concern is growing because dogs with no genetic markers for the disease are exhibiting heart failure.

Although the FDA has not determined a causal relationship between grain free diets and heart disease, one common factor in cases of canine DCM has been a diet that features legumes, peas, lentils, or potatoes as the main ingredient. Currently, the FDA and veterinary cardiologists are studying the issue to find answers as quickly as possible.

Diet Deficiency

In some cases of canine DCM, low taurine levels have been reported. Taurine is an amino acid that most animals can produce on their own. Dogs get a lot of it from their diet, especially from chicken and beef. Grain free dog foods may contain ingredients low in taurine, which may be problematic for some pets. However, according to veterinary cardiologists, simple taurine supplementation is not recommended.

Another consideration is that small, boutique dog food manufacturers may not be adequately testing the effects of their products. According to the FDA, it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to make sure their products are safe, and large companies simply have more resources to test their products extensively.

Whenever possible, purchase pet food that features a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) verifying the product is nutritionally complete and balanced. Although the AAFCO does not have regulatory authority, it does monitor the sale and distribution of pet food and recommends nutrient profiles for dogs and cats.

Allergy Concerns

Many pet owners are concerned about allergies in their dogs. It’s important to know that most dogs are allergic to protein, not grains. Chicken is the most common allergen, although some dogs may be allergic to corn or wheat. However, it’s rare that a dog would be allergic to all grains.

Because pet food trends usually follow human diet fads, a grain free diet has been marketed as a healthier option, but this isn’t always the case. Be sure to consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet’s food.

Grain Free Diets and Heart Disease

For dogs with a genetic predisposition, canine DCM is irreversible. However, when there’s a dietary component, avoiding a boutique, grain free diet can help if the disorder is caught early enough. Heart medication and taurine supplements may be needed, as well.

If your dog is on a boutique and/or grain free diet, we encourage you to contact us to discuss other options. In some cases, there are no clinical symptoms of DCM. If your dog is coughing, has low energy, is weak, or faints, please bring them in to see us right away.

If you have any questions about grain free diets and heart disease, don’t hesitate to give us a call. The team at Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital is always here to help!

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