Dr. Nichol: Well, I thought you’d never ask. Considered a fad diet by many, grain-free has been dogged by controversy from the get-go. There are a small number of dogs suspected of gluten intolerance who’ve improved with these special foods but we have little in the way of research supporting their value outside of this small subset. Information from the Food and Drug Administration, on the other hand, shows a link between grain-free pet foods and a potentially fatal disease of the heart muscle called dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM. The peas, lentils, potatoes and legumes that are often used in place of grain in these diets appear to have resulted in a deficiency of the amino acid taurine. Investigations are continuing.
Dilated cardiomyopathy has long been considered a genetic disease affecting primarily large breed dogs and cocker spaniels. Beyond diet and heredity it is likely that there are other contributors. The FDA has issued this statement: “Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs is a complex issue that may involve multiple factors.”
I do not advocate continuing risky feeding practices, hoping that lightning doesn’t strike the dog you love. If you’re feeding grain-free you could wait until your pupster shows signs of heart failure. But by the time she’s coughing, breathing with difficulty, chronically fatigued and maybe collapsing, well, the damage has been done. Feline diets, produced with taurine, appear generally safe.
You may feel strongly about your war on grain. In that case your veterinarian can submit a blood sample for taurine analysis. Or you could supplement your dog’s diet with 250 mg of taurine daily. It’s safe and cheap. You’ll also want to purchase a gym membership for your chunky monkey; these diets are often high in fat. Obesity would be no friend to his joints or his heart.
Personally, I have no beef with grain. The Nichol family has one dog and two cats who eat Royal Canin, which has a bit of grain. All three pets have good hearts.
Dr. Jeff Nichol provides pet behavior consultations in-person and virtually by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.