Manchester Veterinary Clinic

156 Spencer Street
Manchester, CT 06040


Grain Free Foods - related to FDA Report

Publish Date: 10/26/2018 7:07 AM

You may have seen an alert on social media concerning an FDA report about a link between grain free diets for dogs and development of heart disease.

There is currently research undergoing the possible link. Here is what we know so far:

  1. The type of heart disease they are concerned about is called Dilated Cardiomyopathy. It is a thinning and stretching of the heart muscle that results in an enlarged heart that does not contract well.
  2. Most cases of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) occur in specific breeds including Boxers, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Dobermans, St. Bernards and Irish Wolfhounds, and therefore thought to have a genetic basis. There is a form of DCM that occurs in Golden Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels that is related to a deficiency of the amino acid taurine.
  3. What is being observed now is cases of DCM in dogs that are not of typical breeds affected by the disease. Several of these dogs did have low blood levels of taurine, but even some that did not are responding to taurine supplementation.
  4. The dogs who are affected are of a wide range of breeds (Labradors, Miniature Schnauzers, and Shih Tzus), but they are consistently eating grain-free commercial or home-prepared dog foods. The diets they are eating typically contain legumes and/or potatoes instead of grain, and in several of the dogs the protein source was “exotic,” such as kangaroo or duck.
  5. Initial reports implicated only three brands of commercial food, but that has since been expanded.

The feeding of grain-free diets has exploded in popularity in the past ten years, based largely on the belief that dogs have no biological need for grain (likely true) and can’t digest it (not true). Many believe that grain causes allergies in dogs. While dogs can be allergic to grain, the vast majority of allergies are to protein sources and that can vary widely. Dogs have also evolved an enzyme that wild canids such as wolves do not possess that allows them to break down carbohydrate and use it effectively, so they can in fact digest it.

At this point, we do not have enough information to make a blanket recommendation regarding foods to avoid or specific foods to feed. What we can say is what we always recommend: unless your dog has a known food allergy or intolerance, rotate through several different types of foods including brands and protein sources. Include some foods in there that do not contain legumes (lentils, peas, etc.) and that do contain small amounts of grain such as rice, oatmeal, or barley. We still maintain that grain should not be the basis of a diet for dogs, but for the vast majority small amounts are not harmful and may in fact be proven to be beneficial. If your dog has food allergies or intolerance, please contact us to discuss this further.

As more information is obtained over the next months, we will update our recommendations. Please note this does NOT apply to cats, who have different digestive tracts and nutritional needs than dogs do.