by: Julie R. Gamble, DVM, ABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
There has been a lot of talk recently about grain-free diets and the risk of heart disease in dogs We want to help you to understand what is currently known about the risks of feeding these diets.
Some things to consider:
- Grain-free diets may be associated with dilated cardiomyopathy which is a serious heart condition that can lead to a poor quality of life and death.
- These diets may not be necessary as grains can provide valuable sources of many nutrients.
- Many grain-free diets have not been AAFCO feed tested for nutritional adequacy.
- Grain-free diets are often high in fat and calories, making weight control difficult.
- There is no medical or nutritional indication for “grain-free” although some veterinary therapeutic diets recommended to diagnose and treat allergies are grain-free. They are chosen because the ingredients are novel for the specific patient, not because they lack grains per se.
- Grain-free is simply a marketing category and there is no specific health benefit.
What should you do if your dog is on a grain-free diet? If a grain-free diet is not medically necessary, transition them to a quality diet with grains. If they do need to be on a grain-free diet (examples are dogs with food allergies, gastrointestinal disease such as inflammatory bowel disease or lymphangiectasia) make sure that they are on a diet from a reputable company that has performed long term feeding trials with the diet to ensure appropriate balance of necessary nutrients and no evidence of heart disease from the diet. At this point, no therapeutic diets, manufactured by the major pet food manufacturers (Hills, Purina, Royal Canin), have been associated with current cases of diet-associated cardiomyopathy. Talk with your veterinarian to ensure that your pet is on the best diet for them.
Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital recently published a case study about a dog that was diagnosed with heart disease caused by feeding a grain-free diet. If you are interested in reading about this case here is a link to that article: https://www.cliniciansbrief.com/article/respiratory-distress-inappetence-border-collie
Additional resources discussing grain-free diets and the link to heart disease are listed below.