Speaking of Pets: The Grain-Free Debate
Speaking of Pets
Several years ago, dog food manufacturers began proclaiming the benefits of their foods as grain-free, thus launching the Great Grain-free Debate.
Are Grains Problematic?
Some proponents of grain-free diets believe their dogs are intolerant of grains—but while diets without grains are beneficial for humans with conditions like celiac disease, very few dogs suffer from these same disorders (although some dogs do have a genuine allergy to gains). Others claim that because the dog’s wild ancestors didn’t eat grain, neither should our dogs—but in fact, dogs’ genes have evolved over the years to digest many different kinds of foods, including grain.
Grain-Free and DCM
In 2018, an FDA study showed a possible link between grain-free diets and a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which weakens a dog’s heart, leading to an enlarged heart, congestive heart failure, and even death. Subsequent studies looked further at this possible connection, but came to no definitive conclusion. Remember the old adage that correlation does not equal causation.
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More Studies Needed
Even the FDA admits that more studies need to be done before we can say with absolute certainty whether diets based on grain-free foods have any role in DCM. In the vast majority of cases, researchers simply don’t know what causes this disease, or how diets containing these ingredients affect some dogs.
No dog food has been recalled because of these studies, but because DCM is life-threatening, many veterinary experts are suggesting that until we know more, dog owners should consider changing their dog’s diet to food that doesn’t label itself as grain-free.
Finally, keep in mind that I’m not presenting myself as a veterinary expert, but am merely sharing the most recent thinking on the subject of DCM and grain-free diets. As with all things, please talk with your veterinarian about this most important decision in order to do what’s right for your dog.
Joan Merriam lives in Northern California with her golden retriever Joey and Maine coon cat Indy. She emphasizes that she’s not a veterinarian or animal behaviorist — just an animal lover who’s been writing about pets since 2012. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.