Over the past few years, there has been an influx of grain-free diets into the market for our pets. People are now viewing animals as more of a family member then property and they are trying to figure how to make our pets live a longer, healthier life. With all the marketing that came with the grain-free, boutique and raw diet movement they not only believed but were mislead as to what is best for their animals. People believe that they are helping allergies, remove fillers and do so much more for their pet but what we are seeing now is the nutritional deficiencies from these diets. There is no evidence that these diets are superior to the traditional kibble that our pets were on previously.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about grain-free, exotic and boutique foods causing a heart condition in our dogs. Some people may not believe it, others have never heard of this and some even think it is only related to a deficiency in taurine, so in turn they add taurine into their diets. The pet food industry recently exploded as many people tried to benefit from the trend that was being set. Whether it was grain free, boutique foods or even raw diets people started creating many different types of dog foods. The problem with this is the companies did not do research behind the ingredients they were supplying and used marketing and the current human food trend to sell. Without having the same quality control or nutritional expertise, nutritional deficiencies were bound to happen.

So what is going on with our pet’s food?

Well, recently cardiologists have been seeing an increase in a heart condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). While this typically occurs in larger breed dogs (Dobermans, Boxers, Great Danes) with a genetic component, they started seeing a trend in other breeds especially Golden Retrievers. After investigating further they noticed that these dogs were on either a grain-free diet, a boutique pet food, a homemade diet or a raw diet. While we are not yet completely sure of the cause veterinarians are concerned that it is caused by the ingredients they used to replace the grains. 

Is it from low taurine?

When this first started appearing many veterinarians thought it may have been by low taurine levels. With studying the animals further they noted that not all of the dogs had a low taurine level. So the theory that it was due to low taurine all the time was not true. Although some dogs do have low taurine levels it is not the sole culprit. 

How do they know it is the food?

With some dogs that are diagnosed with DCM cardiologists have been switching their foods to a company that has scientific research and the DCM resolved. This indicates that there is a diet component but veterinarians are still unsure what exactly is causing the problem.

Can you switch to a homemade diet?

The recommendation is if you switch to a homemade diet you should consult with a board-certified nutritionist. If the diet is not formulated correctly not only can your dog be at risk for DCM but can also be at risk for other diseases and problems especially when the diet is not balanced.

So what is the cause?

Unfortunately, we are not sure yet. The FDA is currently investigating this issue to find the true cause for the diet-associated DCM.

How do you know if your dog is affected?

It is recommended to gradually transition any dog on a grain-free diet, exotic diet, boutique food, homemade diet or raw diet be switched to kibble from a company that has the research to support their foods. If someone still wanted to cook for their pet then having a consultation with a board certified veterinary nutritionist is recommended.

Unfortunately, there is no way to know if your dog has DCM without a cardiology consultation and echocardiogram. DCM can also occur and your dog may not have any symptoms until its too late. So switching your dog off this food as soon as possible is important.

What to do if you think your dog is allergic to grains

The truth in that statement is most dogs are not allergic to grains. Most dogs are allergic to the protein in their food. While figuring this issue out it is recommended to switch foods to decrease the chance of your dog being affected.

If your dog is on one of these diets make sure you discuss this with your veterinarian. Nutrition is important in animals and your veterinarian will be able to discuss what foods will be best for your pet. 

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Do you have a pet and have questions? Head on over to Ask The Veterinarian