Grain Free Diets

Tabatha Regehr, DVM
Associate Veterinarian at Pet Poison Helpline
July 30th, 2019

Grain free diets, boutique diets, and exotic meat diets have exploded in popularity over the past several years. In June of 2019 the Food and Drug Administration released a report proclaiming a link between these diet types to a heart condition in dogs called dilated cardiomyopathy.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) causes the 4 chambers of the heart to stretch, changing the normal blood flow through the heart. DCM can even progress to congestive heart failure. There are some breeds of dogs that we know are more likely to develop DCM. They are usually large to giant breed dogs with one example being the Doberman Pincher.

Over the past 5 years the FDA has received reports of dogs developing DCM that are not in the normal genetic risk group. The link between these dogs is the feeding of grain free, boutique, or exotic meat diets. Instead of grains, these pet foods often contain tubers like potatoes or legumes like lentils and peas.

These ingredients have low levels of certain amino acids the dog’s body needs to make taurine. Taurine is an amino acid the dog’s body can produce by itself. Taurine deficiency over the long term can progress to DCM. The good news is this type of dilated cardiomyopathy is reversible by returning your pet to a balanced diet with grains such as corn. It is important to understand that grains do not increase your pet’s risk of skin or food allergies.

If you have been feeding a grain free, boutique, or exotic meat diet, please speak with your veterinarian about transitioning your dog to a balanced diet that has undergone feeding trials and meets AAFCO standards. Pet foods have no requirement to undergo feeding research before being available on store shelves. This can make selecting the right food for your pet challenging. Your veterinarian is trained to help you.

The 10 most commonly reported brands reported were Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earth Born Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, and California Naturals. An extensive list can be found on the FDA website.