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Advice From Your Vet: Grain-free diets and canine heart disease


Over the past few weeks, there has been information in the media around popular grain-free diets and canine heart disease. This article was written By Drs. Rob Memmen and Andrea Johnston for Wayzata Life magazine this month and shares the most up-to-date information regarding popular grain-free diets and canine heart disease.

For years grain free diets have been wildly popular in the pet food industry. People have been drawn to these diets for a variety of reasons including avoiding allergens, minimizing excess calories and feeding ingredients like diets dogs eat in the wild.

While many of the reasons these diets have gained popularity don’t necessarily hold true for every patient, there have not been any reasons to necessarily avoid grain free diets. Recently there has been some research that raises new questions about risks associated with grain-free diets. There are several scientific studies looking into a possible correlation between dogs on grain free diets and an increased incidence of a common heart condition in dogs called dilated cardiomyopathy.

The initial conclusions of these studies found some correlation between dogs on grain free diets and an increased risk of heart disease. The theory behind this correlation involves a deficiency in an essential amino acid called taurine. Many grain free diets tend to contain lower levels of this amino acid and the long-term deficiency may contribute to the development of this type of heart disease.

It is important to remember that while these findings are certainly noteworthy, definitive conclusions have not been reached. While there is no evidence to suggest that every dog who eats a grain free diet will develop heart disease, we cannot say with certainty that there not some risks associated with feeding grain-free diets.

If you decide to change your dog’s diet, please do so under the guidance of your veterinarian. The most common question or concern we receive when people consider switching off a grain free diet is the potential for worsening allergies. It is important to know that while food allergies, and particularly grain allergies do exist, they are not common. Less than 10% of dogs with allergies have food allergies, and most of those food allergies are to the protein source in the diet and not the carbohydrate.

Unfortunately, there will never be a one-size-fits-all dog food. Our pet’s nutrition requires us to think about their individual needs and health risks. The good news is there are a number of reputable food companies and veterinary researchers who are working tirelessly to continue advancing animal health and nutrition and who provide safe and healthy options for our beloved pets.