A Year in Review; Why Grain-Free May be Dangerous

2018 was an interesting year for the pet and veterinary industry. Several changes and big discoveries were made. This week, I want to kick off the year with the biggest of them all (in my opinion), the work done around grain-free diets and their connection with Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

First a little about Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). The heart is just a set muscles with valves, vessels and electrical signals that acts as a pump. That muscle, known as cardiac muscle, is specific to the heart and clearly crucial to it function. In DCM, the muscle gets weaker and “stretches” so the heart looks rounded and enlarged on radiographs (x-rays). Once the muscle damage is done it cannot be repaired, only managed and ultimately, shortens the pet’s life.

In this past year, certain categories of pet foods were implicated and proven to lead to DCM. As described by Lisa M. Freeman DVM, PhD, DACVN (a specialist in pet nutrition from Tuft’s) in her pet nutrition blog, Petfoodology, these dangerous diets fall into “BEG” Categories. “BEG” stands for Boutique Diets, Exotic Ingredients and Grain-free Diets. Boutique diets typically are not “name brand” or commonly known, tout their special formulas or special ingredients, and are expensive. Exotic ingredients include items like alligator, venison, ostrich, bison etc. The vast majority of pets do not need these unusual meats (or the price tag associated with them), they do not prevent allergies, and they may not include the vitamins and minerals needed. Grain-free diets are just that, corn, wheat, barley etc. free.

The result, as noted by Dr. Freeman, is that there are nutrient deficiencies in these diets that do not allow the heart muscle to live and function in a healthy way and can induce DCM in some animals. More research is underway and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating intensively. If you have concerns or questions about your pet’s diet, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible!

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