“To Grain-Free or NOT to Grain-Free?”—That’s the question
“My friend told me I should switch my dog to a grain-free diet. What should I do?” We all want to feed our fur-babies what’s absolutely best for them, but sometimes, despite our best intentions, we get swept away by today’s latest food trends. One of the current food trends suggests that owners should feed their pets grain-free food. The truth is, dogs have been man’s best friend long enough that they require grains to keep their hearts happy and healthy. Wolves, coyotes, and other wild dogs are also known to purposefully eat the stomach contents of their prey to meet their grain requirements, too.
“But wait, my cousin’s dog is allergic to grain!” While a VERY small percentage of dogs do have a grain allergy, if your dog does have a food allergy, it is mostly likely due to chicken or beef proteins. Food allergies in dogs generally present themselves through the skin in what we call “hot spots.” If you think your dog has a food allergy, it’s best to have it confirmed first by your veterinarian before trying new diets.
“But, is there any harm to a grain-free diet?” Dilated cardiomyopathy, DCM for short, is a disease that causes the chambers of the heart to become too large for proper function. Veterinarians have been suspecting that grain-free diets lead to DCM for some time. In June 2019, the FDA released an updated report that there IS a correlation between grain-free diets and DCM. However, it’s important to note that improper diet isn’t the only cause for DCM; genetics plays a large role as well. Non-diet related DCM is typically diagnosed in large or giant breeds, such as the Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, or the Irish Wolfhound.
“I’ve been feeding my dog a grain-free diet for years, what do I do?!?” First of all, don’t panic, and secondly, don’t blame yourself. Only a small portion of pets on grain-free diets develop DCM. As long as your dog isn’t experiencing signs of heart disease (shortness of breath, frequent coughing, exercise intolerance), you most likely have nothing to worry about. Bring your pet in for their regular wellness exam, have your doctor give their heart a good listen, and let’s talk about how to transition to a proper diet.