Over the last several years, as people have been trying carbohydrate-restricted diets, grain-free foods have become increasingly popular with dog owners.

In part, this may be due to human experience on diets such as the Akins diet as well as the newer Keto-diet. Also, people are concerned that their dogs may be allergic to grains.

It’s important to remember that dogs are not people and have different metabolic and caloric needs. Food allergies are rarer than one would think. In dogs with year-round allergies, food allergies make up only 20% of the cause of canine allergies. For the small subset of dogs with food allergies, it is the protein as well as the grain that matters. So, more than just the grain, the protein also needs to be addressed.

Then comes the question, are gains harmful to dogs? There is no reason to think, that grains in a general sense, are harmful to dogs. While grain-free has gained in popularity, that might be about to take a nose-dive as new evidence comes to light that links certain grain-free foods with canine heart disease.

There has been mounting concern about the risk of grain-free diets over the last several months. The concern has to due with an FDA warning as well as reports to the veterinary community about a particular type of cardiac disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) that has been occurring in atypical breeds.

dog heartThe one common link found was all these dogs were eating foods that contained a high amounts of legumes, pulses (seeds of legumes), and/or potatoes as main ingredients in the food. This also includes protein, starch and fiber derivatives of these ingredients, (e.g., pea protein, pea starch, or pea fiber).

Grain-free diets have found themselves under increasing scrutiny as legumes and potatoes are often found in grain-free diets. While the exact cause for the development of DCM hasn’t yet been established, the link with legumes and potatoes is there. The concern is that these ingredients may lead to dog’s becoming taurine deficient.

Taurine is an amino acid that is not nutritionally essential for dogs and is not required to be in dog foods. However, there are dietary factors (such as protein source, fiber type and concentration, and cooking or processing methods) and individual dog characteristics (such as breed and calorie needs) that impact how efficiently taurine may be made by the body.

Taurine is a needed nutrient for the heart’s muscle integrity. DCM has long been linked to animals that are taurine deficient.

In the past we have also seen cases of dilated cardiomyopathy and taurine deficiency in dogs eating home-prepared diets (with either cooked and raw ingredients and those with and without meat), and other commercial diets with various ingredients and nutritional profiles. Some of those cases and investigations have been published:

Right now, cardiologists, veterinary nutritionists and the FDA are investigating the foods and the link to taurine and DCM. How the pieces fit together is currently unclear. What is clear though, is that traditional dog food diets containing grains such as rice, have not been implicated in the recent reports of DCM. This is certainly imprtant to consider when choosing your dog’s food. One could say, it gives us food for thought.

For more information, please visit the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.

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