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What You Didn’t Know About Grain-Free Dog Food

August 23, 2021 5 min read

dog with dcm

Grain-free dog food has been rising in popularity ever since the harmfulness of standard kibble has been exposed. Packed with fillers, preservatives, and chemicals, dog owners have convinced themselves that grain-free dog food is a healthier option for their dogs. 

Those who feed their dogs grain-free dog food for the health benefits are on the right track- but grain-free dog food has a lot more to it than removing the presence of grains. Though grains are indeed harmful to a dog’s health, grain-free dog food has even more drawbacks than lacking biological nutrition.

What Is Grain-Free Dog Food and Is It Harmful?

Grain-free kibble removes some common filler ingredients present in standard kibbles like wheat, corn, and rice, replacing them with ingredients like lentils, sweet potatoes, or peas. This may seem like the healthier option, but there is much more behind it:

study by veterinarians at the University of California, Davis, has revealed thatthese grain-free dog foods are linked with nutritional deficiency and a canine heart disease known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

DCM is a heart disease in which the heart enlarges, causing its chambers to dilate and ultimately making it difficult for the heart to pump blood. If left unchecked, a dog’s heart valves inflicted with DCM may leak, building up fluids in the abdomen and chest, causing congestive heart failure. 

In a separate study held by the FDA, it was discovered that the leading cause of DCM in grain-free dog foods is the presence of legumes, various types of potatoes, and lentils. According to the FDA, there is no apparent reason why these ingredients cause DCM in dogs, but it could potentially be linked with taurine deficiency.

Taurine is an amino acid that, when low in a dog’s body, can be a cause of dilated cardiomyopathy. Taurine deficiency is linked to grain-free and exotic kibble brands. In a study by Dr. Josh Stern at the University of California, Davis, it was discovered that adding taurine supplements to your dog’s diet is an effective preventative measure for taurine deficiency-related cases of DCM.

What Dog Foods Should I Stay Away From to Avoid This?

Grain-free kibble brands are the main culprit of DCM and taurine deficiency. The FDA has compiled a document of 5 years of reports of dog food-related DCM cases, outlining which exact kibble brands put dogs at risk for the disease in the past. It’s prevalent that grain-free dog food is the most prominent link to this heart condition.

However, avoiding grain-free dog food won’t do much to improve your dog’s overall health; it may prevent the specific issue of DCM, but it will open up doors to many other kibble-related health issues.

If your dog’s health is one of your concerns (which it should be as a dog parent!), it’s best not to feed them kibble at all. However, we understand that feeding completely raw may not be affordable, so using raw food as a topper is also an option. 

There is a list of reasons why kibble is detrimental to your dog’s health- which we won’t delve into here, but you can check out this blog on why you should quit feeding your dog kibble. To avoid oral issues, allergic reactions, malnutrition, dehydration, and DCM, it’s best to switch to a fresher form of dog food.

We recommend feeding your dog a BARF (Bones and Raw Food) diet for optimal health and nutrition. Not only is it 100% natural and biologically appropriate, but it will also deliver health benefits to your pup as you’ve never seen before. A few of the many benefits of a raw diet are listed below:

  • Stool Improvement
  • Skin & Coat Improvement
  • Allergy Relief
  • Improved Oral Health
  • Increase Energy
  • Less Inflammation
  • Weight Management
  • Improved Digestion
  • Reduced Risk Of Disease
  • Fewer Vet Visits

Read more: Benefits of a Natural Raw Diet for Dogs

Is My Dog At Risk for DCM?

Some dog breeds are more prone to dilated cardiomyopathy than others. Large dog breeds are especially prone by genetic background, but other breeds are affected by their diet more than other breeds. Here are a few dog breeds which statistically have the highest cases of DCM:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Shih Tzus
  • English and American Cocker Spaniels*
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Whippets
  • Great Danes*
  • Newfoundlands*
  • Bulldogs
  • Saint Bernards*
  • Doberman Pinschers*
  • Irish Wolfhounds*

*These dog breeds have a genetic predisposition to DCM and are at a higher risk of developing this disease.

It might be worrying if you see your dog’s breed under this list, but there are ways to prevent DCM. With the proper diet and care for your dog, they will be at a much smaller risk of DCM or taurine deficiency-related illness.

Preventing DCM in Dogs

Since dilated cardiomyopathy is complicated to reverse, it’s essential to try your best to prevent it. With proper care and a species-appropriate diet, we can positively impact our dog’s health and prevent a broad scale of developmental illnesses.

healthy complete and balanced dog food

The Best Diet for DCM Prevention

As previously mentioned above, a raw diet is much healthier than kibble and has many benefits for your dog’s health, also working to prevent dilated cardiomyopathy. This is because, with proper nutrition and a balanced diet, your dog is getting all the nutrients they need for a healthy heart- including taurine. 

It’s also practical to feed your dog healthy treats to avoid any fillers, preservatives, chemicals, or other hazards entering your pup’s body. Crafted Dog Treats has many single-ingredient treats and chews, ensuring that your pup enjoys the tastiest and healthiest treats possible! 

Do Taurine Supplements Work in Preventing DCM?

If you feed your dog a healthy and balanced diet, there is no reason for supplementing your dog with taurine. Since taurine can only be found in meats, eggs, and dairy, feeding your dog a raw diet and giving them healthy snacks like eggs are effective ways to deliver taurine to your dog without using supplements.

If your dog has a taurine deficiency, however, adding taurine supplements to your dog’s diet may be beneficial in preventing DCM or other related health issues. In multiple cases, taurine supplements have been proven to help treat and prevent DCM in dogs with taurine deficiency- but not so much for dogs with a healthy level of taurine in their systems.

Adding taurine supplements to your dog’s diet is entirely up to you, but feeding a healthy and balanced diet has been proven more effective in the long run if your dog doesn’t already have a deficiency.

Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy

The signs and symptoms of DCM vary by your dog’s age, breed, and developmental stage of the disease. If you suspect that your dog has dilated cardiomyopathy, watch them closely for any of these symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale gums
  • Periods of weakness or fatigue

If you notice that your dog is displaying any of these symptoms, notify an integrative veterinarian immediately. In some cases, DCM is asymptomatic, which is why it’s so important to take your dog for annual checkups. 

Overall, the best thing you can do for your dog’s health gives them all your care and have an integrative veterinarian back you up. In combination with a fantastic diet, an informed veterinarian, and a loving dog parent, your pup will be able to avoid not only DCM but many other illnesses as well.