Over this past year there has been growing evidence of a possible link between certain types of dog food and the development of heart disease in dogs. When attention was first brought to this issue it appeared that grain-free diets may be contributing to dogs developing dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart condition in which the heart wall gets thin, weak, and can’t pump blood efficiently throughout the body. It was thought that the grain-free diets were either deficient in an amino acid, called taurine, or that they changed the way taurine was metabolized in the body. This is important because taurine deficiency is known to cause dilated cardiomyopathy in both cats and dogs.
After more investigation, however, the food in question has been expanded to include not only grain-free diets, but also diets from boutique companies and diets that contain exotic ingredients (kangaroo meat, for example). Currently “BEG” diets (boutique, exotic ingredients, grain-free) are being examined as a culprit for the increase in heart disease cases in dogs throughout the US. There is not a definitive answer as of yet as to why these diets may be linked to heart disease in dogs (or even if they are truly the cause), but suspect they may just not be as nutritionally balanced as they should be. Investigations are still under way.
The current recommendation by veterinary cardiologists is to feed a commercial pet food made by a well-established manufacturer (Hill’s, Purina, Royal Canin, etc.) that contains common ingredients such as chicken, beef, and even grains. For the most part, dogs do just fine eating grains and they are a good source of energy. There is actually only just a small percentage of dogs that may develop a true grain allergy (Wheaten Terriers are the main breed affected). Usually food allergies in dogs are due to the protein source, not the grain.
If a dog needs a special diet for a medical condition, consulting with their veterinarian or even seeking out a diet plan from a Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist (acvn.org) is the best way to go.
Updated Information about Grain-Free Diets & Cardiomyopathy:
Article by Leslie Brooks, DVM