Is a Grain Free Diet Good or Bad for My Pet?

There have been some recent reports noted throughout the past roughly 6 months regarding diets and some potential concerns associated with some fairly rare diseases developing. The biggest one that we have seen through here at Baxter Animal Hospital has been concerns with the use of Grain Free diets and their potential for causing a disease known as Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a disease in which the heart muscle becomes thickened, to the point at which the muscle is unable to contract and pump blood as effectively. It is a disease that is most commonly associated with Dobermans, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Boxers, Newfoundlanders and Portuguese Water Dogs. DCM is a disease that is unfortunately irreversible, once it begins we can only offer supplemental medication in an effort to maintain cardiac function and help support.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy was found to be caused due to a number of different reasons:

  1. Genetics
  2. Toxins
  3. Taurine Deficiency

Taurine deficiency was previously found to cause DCM in cats, at which point the food producers started to supplement Taurine into the diet and the number of cases reduced, it has become a much rarer disease in our feline patients because of this.

What has been found recently has been an increase in breeds that are not commonly known or recognized as having this, recently 3 Golden Retrievers and 1 Labrador were found to have a low Taurine level within their blood. There have also been a number of other breeds that had DCM develop without any abnormalities in the taurine levels within the blood.

The US FDA is currently in the process of investigating a potential correlation between a low taurine diet and the development of DCM in these atypical breeds. The current concern is associated with these patients being on a Grain-Free diet and potentially having a weaker ability to absorb Taurine. Meat is a fantastic source of Taurine, there is a concern that diets high in legumes, pulses or starches may block the ability of the body to absorb this. That is not to say that all Grain-free diets are problematic.

The Canadian Food and Investigation Agency along with Health Canada currently have not released any information about this at this point in time.

At this time, we are more than happy to offer any guidance and information along with answer any questions that you might have in regards to the potential concerns that you might have regarding DCM and diet. Whilst we will answer questions wherever we possibly can, there is still a degree of the unknown to this. As more information becomes apparent, we will happily distribute this back to you.

For further reading of your own, please feel free to refer to this website (US FDA) about the current state of information along with the investigation that is being performed.

Written by: Taylor Whitcombe, Associate Veterinarian