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Warning About Grain-Free Diets for Dogs

On July 12, the Food and Drug Administration issued an urgent warning to pet owners: grain-free diets may be hazardous to your dog’s health. The evidence is inconclusive – but growing – that use of some grain-free pet foods may be linked to a potentially fatal illness called canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). In particular, the warning targets dog foods that list legumes (like peas or lentils) or potatoes as a main ingredient. While DCM is not uncommon among certain breeds, the FDA is warning that grain-free foods could be linked to DCM in breeds that are not normally predisposed to it.  The FDA has not issued any recommendations for pet owners, but there are several factors that you should consider before deciding on a course of action.

I admit this warning has given me pause: I feed my own dog a brand of food that lists sweet potatoes as a main ingredient. My dog is a Boxer, a breed genetically predisposed to DCM (as several large breeds are), and while I have found that this particular diet helps keep his allergies under control, I certainly don’t want to increase his chances of developing DCM.

Does your dog’s food fall under the FDA’s warning? It might if the main ingredients include potatoes (or sweet potatoes), peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans and/or peanuts. Many of these grain-free diets are manufactured by small or boutique manufacturers and use exotic proteins, like venison, rabbit, or lamb. Note that rice-based foods are not considered cause for concern. At this time the FDA does not know what, exactly, about these foods may be leading to DCM, though a study at the University of California, Davis points to a nutritional deficiency (we know that DCM in cats can be caused by nutritional deficiencies).

What are the warning signs of DCM? Again, this is a disease any dog can develop, and it’s more common among large breeds like Boxers, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pincers. It’s a disease of the dog’s heart muscle that results in an enlarged heart and, in later stages, congestive heart failure. Some warning signs that your dog is having heart trouble are decreased energy, coughing, difficulty breathing and/or collapsing. These signs may indicate a serious problem, but in dogs that are not genetically predisposed to DCM, treatment may significantly improve heart function. The key, though, is early intervention, so if your dog is showing these symptoms be sure to make an appointment with your vet.

What should you do if your dog is on a grain-free diet? It’s best to discuss this with your vet; right now the FDA is not issuing any recommendations to pet owners other than to be alert. Drastic changes to your dog’s diet for any reason can lead to an upset stomach at the very least, so we recommend a cautious approach. Grains are perfectly normal and healthy for your dog to eat; absent any underlying medical condition, there’s no nutritional reason to have your dog on a grain-free diet.

All of these are questions you should raise and discuss with your vet.

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Should you have any questions, comments or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us by phone at 845-876-6008, or by e-mail at [email protected].

Thank you for continuing to trust Rhinebeck Animal Hospital as part of your pet's healthcare team!

With warmest regards, Your friends at Rhinebeck Animal Hospital

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