Unpacking the Myth of the Grain Free Diet

A year after the FDA warned about “grain free” diets possibly being linked to canine dilated cardiomyopathy, they have gone a step further and have identified 16 brands to be associated with the disease. While FDA is not calling for a complete stop in the use of said brands, many vets are suggesting to move away from grain free brands that don’t meet nutritional standards.

With all this controversy surrounding it, we wanted to share some facts that every pet owner should consider before taking a side.

The History

One of the arguments supporting grain free diets for dogs is the fact that wolves, the ancestors of dogs, don’t eat grains in the wild. However, dogs aren’t wolves, they’re dogs, and that over time they have evolved to be able to consume grains and carbohydrates through living alongside humans. The real reason grain free diets for dogs have become so popular is not because they’re necessary, but because they’re easy to market.

The Science

Not all grain-free diets are created equal, and this seems to be the source of the problem. Many brands that sell grain-free dog foods are replacing nutrient-dense meats with plant-based proteins like potatoes, which are an inadequate substitute for real meat. When you feed your dog grain free food, it usually ends up having more fats and more complex carbohydrates from those replacement ingredients like potatoes and lentils, which leads to your dog gaining weight over time.

The other issue at the heart of the grain-free debate is taurine, an amino acid found only in animal tissue, which plays a vital role in maintaining cardiac functions in dogs. Since many grain-free dog foods are using these real meat alternatives, dogs aren’t receiving the proper protein to produce the taurine they need. This isn’t the case with fresh diets, where whole, quality meats are a sufficient source of taurine.

The Effects

Along with causing weight gain, low quality grain free diets may actually contribute to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and other types of heart disease. There are over 500 grain free dog food brands that are currently being investigated by the FDA for their effect on DCM in dogs, and the FDA has recently released their first list of brands to be directly linked to the disease. While the FDA hasn’t mandated for owners to change their pets diets, they do warn against food that contains lots of lentils, peas, and potatoes, and not enough meats.

The full warning list

  • Acana
  • Zignature
  • Taste of the Wild
  • 4Health
  • Earthborn Holistic
  • Blue Buffalo
  • Nature’s Domain
  • Fromm
  • Merrick
  • California Natural
  • Natural Balance
  • Orijen
  • Nature’s Variety
  • NutriSource
  • Nutro
  • Rachael Ray Nutrish