Many pet parents believe that grain free diets are better for their pets. They feel that grain-free diets are more natural, carbohydrate free, and less likely to result in health problems, especially allergies, in their pet. However, this is not the case.
In July 2018, the FDA announced that it had begun investigating reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods, many labeled as “grain-free,” which contained a high proportion of peas, lentils, other legume seeds, and/or potatoes in various forms as main ingredients. Many of these case reports included breeds of dogs not previously known to have a genetic predisposition to the disease.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a type of heart muscle disease that causes the heart chambers to thin and stretch, growing larger. It makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. It basically results in a big, flabby, inefficient heart, that in turn, can then lead to congestive heart failure.
We don’t know the exact reason why these diets are linked to the development of heart disease. It is unclear if it is the lack of grain, the addition of peas or lentils, a different ingredient, or an interaction of those ingredients with genetics.
If your pet is currently on a grain-free diet, we recommend you transition your pet to a diet that is not grain-free. Have your veterinarian examine your pet and listen for a heart murmur. If a heart murmur is heard that was not previously heard, we recommend getting your pet an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart).
Some good news is that the duration of feeding a grain-free diet prior to correction can impact prognosis. New studies are showing that heart failure may be reversible if caught early and the diet is switched.