Is Grain-Free Dog Food Actually the Right Choice?

What’s the most challenging aspect of looking after your dog? Of course, you want to provide your furry companion with all material comforts within your reach and chances are you already spoil them with a plethora of treats and toys. However, as a dog parent, your biggest responsibility is to provide your pooch with a healthy and balanced diet. This is because a nourishing diet is essential for your dog’s overall physical and mental development. Also, it provides them with adequate energy to be their usual playful selves throughout the day.

The Dog Food Universe: A Closer Look

Nevertheless, creating the right diet plan for your dog can be complicated. This is because of the wide variety of dog food available in the market. Raw, dry, canned, grain-inclusive, semi-moist, grain-free – this is just a glimpse of the broad spectrum of dog food you’ll find.

Whether you’re shopping for dog food at your local pet store or an online store, such as, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The more you start reading online about different dog diets, the higher your chances of getting confused.

For instance, in recent years, there’s been a huge debate about the risks associated with grain-free dog food. Whether you’re feeding your dog a grain-inclusive or grain-free diet, it’s important to carefully weigh the pros and cons of both.

That’s why in this blog, we’ll take a closer look at the conversation surrounding grain-free dog food. This, in turn, will help you assess whether it’s the right choice for your canine companion. Let’s get started.

What is Grain-Free Dog Food?

Traditionally, most dog parents have included grains, such as wheat, rice, soy, corn, etc. in their dog’s diet. This isn’t surprising considering that grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates, which, in turn, provide your dog with plenty of energy.

However, a couple of decades ago, grain-free dog food started invading the supermarket aisles and soon caught the attention of dog parents. As the name suggests, such foods substitute grains with other ingredients, such as:

  • Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Pulses
  • Potatoes

The idea is to provide your dog with their daily dose of carbohydrates minus the side effects associated with grains. The rise of grain-free dog food coincides with the bad rep grains have been attracting for causing allergies and weight gain.

Nevertheless, there are many myths and misconceptions associated with including or removing grains in your dog’s diet. So, are grains all that bad for your dog? Let’s find out.

The FDA Investigation

The conversation about the harmful effects of grain-free dog food started with the onset of the FDA investigation in July 2018. The federal agency announced that they were investigating a possible link between dilated cardiomyopathy in atypical dog breeds and grain-free or legume-rich diets.

The investigation was being conducted by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN).

What is Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)?

Canine DCM causes dilation of the heart muscles. This leads to enlarged heart chambers with a thinning ventricular wall. Also, it interferes with the heart’s pumping function.

DCM leads to weakness, lethargy, fainting, coughing, etc. in dogs. In some cases, it could also have fatal consequences, including congestive heart failure. Scientists have been unable to find what causes DCM in dogs.

However, researchers have found that larger dog breeds, such as Great Danes, Irish wolfhounds, Saint Bernards, etc. are more susceptible to the disease. Veterinarians also believe that diet and genetics play a key role in the development of DCM in dogs.

What Did The FDA Find?

The FDA received 515 reports of canine DCM between January 2014 and April 2019. This included a total of 560 reported cases (because some households reported multiple cases). Most of these reports came in between 2018 and 2019 after the FDA formally announced their investigation.

While DCM isn’t uncommon in dogs, the FDA found that many of the reported cases included dog breeds that weren’t genetically predisposed to the disease, such as:

  • Shih Tzus
  • Whippets
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Golden Retrievers

On digging deeper, the researchers found that 91% of the dogs among the reported cases were on a grain-free diet. They were fed diets that contained peas, lentils, beans, potatoes, etc. as one of the main ingredients. Also, certain pet food brands were cited more often than others in the reports.

This led the CVM and Vet-LIRN to alert dog parents and the veterinary community about the risks of grain-free dog food. However, the FDA still maintains that they haven’t ordered any pet food recall or issued any advice against the consumption of certain types of food.

Other Risks of Going Grain-Free

The topic of canine DCM and its link to grain-free dog food is still being debated. However, this isn’t the only reason you should tread cautiously while eliminating grains from your dog’s diet.

To begin with, the ingredients in grain-free dog food can increase your dog’s intake of soluble carbohydrates. This, in turn, will lead to obesity and digestive disorders. It could also interfere with the absorption of taurine, an amino acid that protects dogs from DCM.

The Final Verdict

It’s worth mentioning here that grains aren’t all that bad for dogs. They provide your pooch with the right amount of energy to carry on with their daily activities. Also, they improve digestion and metabolism.

Even if your dog is allergic to gluten, you could consider including gluten-free grains, such as rice and corn, in your dog’s diet. Also, if your dog is obese, simply cutting grains out of their diet won’t be of much help.

Having said that, in some cases, a grain-free diet might be the right choice for your dog. However, make sure you consult your vet or an experienced canine nutritionist before making any drastic changes in your dog’s diet.

Have you ever considered a grain-free diet for your dog? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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