Grain-Free Diets: Good or Evil?
Pet food companies have been marketing grain free diets in the past decade, and insinuate that these diets are much healthier for our pets, as though corn, wheat, and rice are harmful. Most veterinarians have been skeptical of these marketing gimmicks. They have made pet food companies a lot of money, but most veterinarians have been skeptical about benefit claims of these foods. Research is indicating that not only are they not beneficial, they could be downright harmful.
New research has indicated a link between grain-free diets and a heart condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy. This is a heart condition that causes the heart to become enlarged and walls of the heart to become thin. In-turn, the heart can not function the way it is supposed to, and eventually leads to heart failure which can be life-threatening.
In grain-free diets, the grains are replaced with legumes, which are another plant. The most common legumes found in grain-free diets are peas, chickpeas, lentils and soybeans. The lack of grains in these diets cause a decrease in an amino acid called Taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that is found in high concentrations of the heart muscle. The lack of this amino acid in grain free diets is what newest research is indicating as being a possible link to developing heart disease.
Many times in our allergy patients, owners choose to put their pets on grain-free diets to help with clinical signs of allergies and believe that their allergies have improved. When in actuality, the allergy clinical signs have likely resolved because of the change to a novel protein (protein pet has never been exposed to before) in the diet that many limited-ingredients and grain-free diets encompass (IE: venison, rabbit, kangaroo, bison, salmon etc). Grain-allergies in dogs are very rare and majority of dogs food allergies are from the meat proteins in their diets.
Grains are a great source of proteins for your pets and do not need to be avoided. Much of this research is in the early stages but at this time, we are recommending that if your pet is on a grain-free diet to reconsider this dietary choice. Changing your pet’s diet is the most conservative action until more definitive research regarding this is emerging concern is recognized. If you do not wish to change your pet’s diet, an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) and blood Taurine levels is recommended to screen pets for changes related to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).
Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a devastating disease. Our goal is to give you the latest information on this emerging medical research so that we can keep your pet as healthy as possible.
If you have any questions about grain-free diets, switching your dogs diet or screenings for heart disease feel free to contact Mill Creek Animal Clinic.