In the same way that proper diet and nutrition play a dramatic role for health in humans, a well-balanced diet is critical for the long-term health of your furry companion. Recently, there has been a movement against grain-free dog food spurned by an FDA investigation, where a 2018 press release linked grain-free dog food to canine heart disease.
With only one initial report published in 2018 and a short follow up report from earlier this year, it is certainly valid to pose the question: is grain-free dog food legitimately linked to canine heart disease? If you are worried that your dog food is causing heart disease in your four-legged companion, this blog post is for you. This article will review the link between grain-free dog food and heart disease and discuss whether or not it is a valid concern.
What is Canine Heart Disease?
Canine heart disease is a general term for degenerative heart failure in dogs. With regards to the current FDA investigation, grain-free diets are being linked to a specific kind of heart degeneration called canine dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM.
DCM is a degenerative disease that slowly deteriorates the heart’s muscles, leading to the inability of the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. In their reports, the FDA states “Dilated cardiomyopathy is recognized as a genetic condition in dogs, typically in large or giant breeds, such as the Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, or the Irish Wolfhound.”
What is the Basis of the FDA’s claim?
The ongoing FDA study currently examining the relationship between DCM and grain-free diets, hinges on the recent increase in DCM in breeds that typically do not suffer from the disease. Specifically, reported increases of heart conditions in Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers have given credence to the claim that a grain-free diet may be inducing heart failure.
Retrievers of all kinds are linked to deficiencies in taurine, which itself increases the risk of DCM. However, the lack of taurine in grain-free diets may be exacerbating the deficiency in these breeds, leading to DCM sooner in life than if taurine was included in their daily diet.
While Retrievers have seen the largest spike in DCM numbers, the FDA has reported that
“A wide range of dog breeds, ages, and weights,” who are not commonly associated with the disease have also been affected.
Is All Grain-Free Food Bad?
Not all grain-free food is bad for your dog, and not all grain-free food will cause DCM. Up until the release of the recent FDA investigation, grain-free dog food was touted as being a much healthier option for dogs. Previously, dog owners had been operating under the assumption that a grain-free diet, free of highly processed carbohydrate fillers, was a better dietary option.
Some dogs are allergic to grain the same way people are. There is a school of thought that suggests a dog’s digestive system is not meant to handle an excess of grain as dogs are mainly a carnivorous species. In the recent study conducted by the FDA, it was concluded that the grain-free dog foods, potentially linked to canine heart disease, were high in grain substitutes like peas, legumes, and potatoes.
The FDA released the following names of 16 brands potentially linked to DCM:
Rachael Ray Nutrish
Taste of the Wild
Each of the aforementioned brands had at least ten cases where a complaint was filed naming that brand as the primary source of food for a dog who had been diagnosed with DCM.
What Can I Do as a Dog Owner?
So far, the investigation regarding grain-free dog food and heart disease has proved to be inconclusive. However, many veterinarians and other dog nutrition experts are warning to try and avoid grain-free dog food as a precaution. As stated in the FDA’s findings: “The significance of this is unknown, but it may be that some cases are genetic in origin or a combination of diet and genetic tendencies.”
It appears that the current sample size is too small for a definitive conclusion regarding the relationship between grain-free dog food and DCM. The FDA has made numerous reassurances that the investigation into the link between grain-free dog food and canine heart disease is ongoing.
If your dog has suffered from DCM and has also been fed a grain-free diet, use the safety reporting portal to report the details of your case to the FDA. Your vet is your greatest resource for your dog’s long term health and can help you make the best dietary decisions for your pup’s long-term health and well-being. While news like this can be frightening, our duty as dog owners is to be a knowledgeable and diligent observer of our dog’s behaviors, ensuring that he remains cared for at all times.
Waggener, N. (n.d.). Is Grain-Free Dog Food Linked to Canine Heart Disease? Retrieved from https://www.southbostonanimalhospital.com/blog/is-grain-free-dog-food-linked-to-canine-heart-disease