August 7, 2018
by LG Nixon
Recently, the FDA released a warning to inform pet owners of the potential dangers of
feeding a grain-free diet sourced mainly from peas, pea starch, potatoes and legumes as the
leading main ingredients. The FDA has received numerous reports from veterinary professionals
and from pet owners regarding the condition known as Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy, or
DCM, in dogs eating certain grain-free pet foods.
DCM is the enlargement of the heart muscle and its chambers, causing increasing
difficulty for the heart to pump, and leading to fluids building up in the chest cavity which will
compound the problem. The heart valves, under pressure, may begin to leak, further advancing
the enlargement of the heart and often results in congestive heart failure.
The reports are unique because DCM is seen to be occurring in breeds that are not
typically prone to heart issues like the large breeds of Great Danes, Dobermans, and Boxers.
Reports indicate that small and medium size dogs of pure breed, and even some mixed breed pets
are included in the report which listed Golden, and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, ShiTzu,
Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers. See FDA.gov for the complete report. You can also access
the article on AmericanVeterinarian.com.
While no manufacturers of these grain-free foods have been identified, it is important to
note that the dogs impacted by this condition had been fed a grain-free diet for a period of time
ranging from months to years. There currently is no direct link between the diet and the
development of DCM, however, the grain-free diet was a common link with all the reported
cases. The FDA states they are working with pet food manufacturers and board certified
veterinary cardiologists and nutritionists to investigate these reports. Of the diets reported, these
diets included a grain-free diet high in the above listed ingredients.
Diet has a direct impact on the health of your pet, whether feline or canine. Grain-free pet
diets have only been around for a few years, following the big up-swing in human consumption
of gluten-free, grain-free and paleo style diets. While manufacturers have recognized that pet
owners may find similar diets appealing for their pets, is it really necessary? We all know a quality diet is necessary to maintain optimal health for ourselves and for our pets, but it can be
confusing when trying to choose correctly for our four legged family members. Let’s look at a
Gluten-free may or may not contain grains, but it is free of the gluten protein contained
in wheat, rye and barley. It could still contain grains such as millet, amaranth, quinoa, oats and
many others which do not have the gluten protein. We should also note, a dog food which
contains grains is not necessarily a bad thing. There are many high quality gluten-free dog foods
which contain grains. In the proper balance and not as a main ingredient, grains, along with
quality sources of proteins, fruits, vegetables and good quality fats, can add an extra energy
component. For example, oat is a good source of B-vitamins and dietary fiber.
Grain-free is just that – grain free.
Grain-free diets often claim that grains are an unnatural source of nutrition and therefore
unnecessary as they offer little to moderate nutritional value, and are often used simply as
inexpensive fillers. After all, they say, dogs are descended from carnivores.
Others champion grain-free because of reduced allergies. However, it is important to note
that while food allergies can occur, grains in particular, are possible but not common sources for
allergies. Beef and dairy are common allergens and should be regulated in your pet’s diet.
Environmental contaminants and fleas are the main sources for allergies, whether human, feline
or canine. Please refer to petmd.com for more information on pet allergies. You can also check
out rover.com for an excellent article on which brands of grain-free foods rank higher.
We all need balanced nutrition based for our life stages. Puppies require more protein for
growing bones and muscles, adults need more carbohydrates for boundless energy, particularly
active breeds, while seniors require a balance of protein and carbohydrates for weight
management and additives such as glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. It’s important to
discuss your pet’s nutritional needs with your veterinarian before making any changes to diet.
When our boxers, Mindy and Morgan, were becoming a bit sluggish and shedding a lot, I
tried a holistic grain-free dog food, and gradually switched their food to the new brand. Within a
few weeks, I was noticing not only a significant reduction in the shedding, but they were more
energized and playful, and their coats glistened. Mindy also didn’t eliminate as much as when eating the previous diet which contained several grains. (Just so you know, we used to call her
Miss Poopsalot). Morgan and Mindy remained on the new diet for several years and did great,
with Mindy living to nearly fourteen years old.
My main concern with typical grocery store, warehouse and off brands is the amount of
unacceptable ingredients used. While they offer a lower price point, quality nutrition just isn’t
there. Some use a high degree of corn, corn germ meal, whole grain corn, soy, and caramel
coloring (found to cause cancer in laboratory animals). This list came from a well established
name brand. Others use wheat, and wheat middlings. You can check the reviews at
DogFoodAdvisor.com for more information. They include a comprehensive list of ingredients
for each brand so you can see exactly what is in your pet’s food, both dry and canned.
Some manufacturers use carrageenan, also a known carcinogen, and BHT or BHA (color
preservatives developed by the Eastman Kodak Company to preserve color film. BTW – it’s in
your food, too). Several manufacturers use all of the above along with added hydrochloric acid,
and propylene glycol. I have to wonder. Are they producing pet food or antifreeze? No wonder
our pets need to poop more. They’re trying to get the gunk out.
A food isn’t automatically a healthy food just because it is grain-free or gluten free.
Check the list of ingredients. Proteins should always be the leading ingredients and contain a
variety of quality sources for added protein along with a good balance of fruits and vegetables.
Chelated minerals and probiotics are a must to be sure our buddies are getting a well balanced
diet. The food also shouldn’t contain low-quality meat by-products and fillers. If you change
Fido’s food to a protein based food, you will notice your pet’s elimination schedule will change
slightly. By eating a protein based, nutrient rich diet, they will not need to eliminate as much.
However, don’t be quick to change your pet’s current diet. Talk first with your veterinarian about
If you are wondering where your pet food ranks, check out the reviews at
DogFoodAdvisor.com. They have done independent reviews on the majority of pet food
manufacturers. DogFoodAdvisor does not allow or accept paid advertising or promotion of any
pet food manufacturers. They also will notify you by email if there is a food recall. It’s free to
sign up at their website.
It isn’t necessary to purchase the most expensive food available. It may not meet your
buddy’s dietary needs. It’s more important to provide the most balanced, healthy food available
to you in a price range you can afford. There are many fine manufacturers, and many different
price ranges available. Do the research and check the ingredients in your pet’s food. If it is plant
based, you may want to consider a change. Or maybe you use Fido’s numerous offerings in the
compost pile. It’s one way to use all that material.
Either way, gluten-free or grain-free, be sure to keep on eye on your pet’s diet and discuss any changes in his/her behavior with your vet.