Grain Free Diets and Heart Disease: Is There a Link?

Food trends are frequently seen in human medicine and are constantly changing (kefir, kale, nut milk, etc.). We also see food trends in veterinary medicine (raw, dehydrated, protein-rich, etc.). I tell pet owners not to get too hung up on the trends. Always talk to your veterinarian and find out which companies have expertise in making high-quality, nutritious pet foods.

One of the more popular foods trends we see is grain-free diets. Health-conscious pet owners are willing to pay a premium for dog food marketed as “grain-free” because it sounds like a healthy option.

Currently, the USDA began investigating grain-free dog foods as there appears to be evidence linking these diets to heart disease in dogs. Grain-free diets often contain ingredients like potatoes, chickpeas, lentils and other legumes as main ingredients, these to humans seem very healthy. For dogs, there are some growing concerns that they may be linked to a potentially deadly canine heart disease known as dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). In DCM, the heart is enlarged and weakened and can lead to congestive heart failure.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a condition thought to be related to taurine (an amino acid) deficiency. Certain breeds Boxers, Doberman Pinschers and Irish wolfhounds have for a long time been genetically predisposed to DCM. More recently, dogs not considered to be genetically predisposed have to be reported as having DCM.

Grain-free diets are often advertised to appeal to pet owners using unproven notions about protein-rich diets and gluten sensitivity. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and researcher at Tufts University, notes, “Contrary to advertising and popular belief, there is no research to demonstrate that grain-free diets offer any health benefits over diets that contain grains.”

Researchers do acknowledge that it doesn’t mean their clients are wrong when they report apparent health benefits from feeding their pets grain-free diets. Currently, there is no research-based evidence that dogs are gluten-intolerant.

So the questions we have are Grain-Free dog foods risky to feed to your pet?
This question certainly warrants investigation and consultation with your dog’s veterinarian. It is difficult to find answers when there seems to be so much conflicting information.

When people ask me for recommendations, my suggestion is to feed a diet made by a company that has a long track record of producing good quality diets. It is also important to look for brands who employ a variety of board-certified specialist in the animal nutrition field. I don’t recommend one specific company, trend or diet and base my recommendations on the individual animals’ needs.

Currently, no recalls on these grain-free foods have been issued. The FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine is investigating after hearing troubling reports of DCM occurring in dogs that were consistently fed these diets.

If you have any concerns about your dog’s health, symptoms or risk factors for DCM, or want to discuss your pet’s diet and get recommendations, please give us a call or book an appointment with your veterinarian.

Written by: Dr. Jane Corkum, DVM

South Boston Animal Hospital



The Importance of Microchipping Your Pet

Pets can get lost which can be a traumatic and possibly tragic event.  It’s important to have a collar and ID tag, but these are not foolproof.  Collars can break or fall off leaving your pet unidentifiable. This can be prevented with the use of a microchip. As noted in the Dartmouth Tribune in April 2017: A pet is lost every seven seconds One in three pets will go missing in their lifetime Only 2 percent of lost cats and 17 percent of lost dogs with ID return home When a pet gets lost, they are 20 times more likely to make their way back home when they have a microchip A microchip is a small chip that is encoded with a unique identification number.  It is no bigger than a grain of rice and implanted just under the surface of your pet’s skin.  The process is similar to receiving a vaccination through a needle and is virtually painless to pets.  Once implanted, the microchip remains between the shoulder blades just beneath the skin for the rest of the animal’s lifetime, becoming a permanent form of identification. Since it’s under your pets’ skin it can’t break or fall off like a collar or tag. The chip is powered by a scanner which sends a signal to the chip and receives the identification number stored on it.  A vet or shelter can use the scanner to read your pet’s chip.  With the identification number, your pet’s information is a phone call away. When your pet is microchipped, it is linked to a database with your contact info.  It is essential that you register the microchip and ensure your contact information is kept up to date.  If you move or change phone numbers be sure to update your information.  Microchips are reliable and use nationwide registries, but they depend on the information you provide. If you want to improve your chances of getting your pet back home quickly and safely microchipping is highly recommended.   Written by Tracy LeFler, Site Coordinator Edited by Janis Wall, RVT

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