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dog parent must-knows
Are grain-free diets bad for dogs

The essentials

  • Grain-free diets are not low-carb — “Grain-free” simply means food without grain. It may have other starchy and sometimes high-fat carbohydrates as fillers.
  • There is no evidence that a grain-free diet is healthier — These replacement ingredients, such as potatoes and legumes, could actually deprive your dog of much-needed nutrients and cause harm.
  • Grain-free diets are linked to heart problems — There is evidence to suggest a connection between dogs that eat a grain-free diet and dilated cardiomyopathy, which can lead to heart failure.

Feeding our dogs wholesome, tasty food to keep them healthy and happy is a top concern for pet parents. But healthy dog food brands have become as varied and confusing as health food choices for humans. Grain-free diets and raw-meat diets are all the rage, claiming to be more historically accurate and similar to what dogs would eat in the wild.

But this trend is not without controversy. Concerning evidence shows possible connections between grain-free diets and heart problems. Additionally, there is no evidence that grain-free diets are better for your dog. While picking the right dog food for your pet may seem overwhelming, it all comes down to your dog’s breed, age, and health needs. Talk with your veterinarian or breeder about what brand of dog food they recommend for your four-legged best friend.

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What is a grain-free diet? 

Grain-free dog foods have no wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, rye, or soy. However, starch and carbohydrates are often still present in “grain-free” dog food by substituting legumes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or quinoa. While this might lead pet owners to believe they’re helping a dog with food allergies, that typically isn’t the case. For every 9 in 10 dogs that do suffer from allergies, the allergy is environmental rather than food-related.

Are grain-free diets bad for dogs?

Despite good intentions, dog owners who choose grain-free diets might inadvertently cause more harm than good. Our furry friends need carbohydrates as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Whole grains provide the body with iron, magnesium, fiber, selenium, B vitamins, and carbohydrates for energy. Dogs require these essential nutrients to stay healthy. Grain-free diets lack many of these much-needed vitamins and minerals.

In June 2019, the Food and Drug Administration released an investigative report pointing to a possible connection between grain-free diets and canine and feline dilated cardiomyopathy. Findings from this investigation noted dog food containing lentils, legumes, or potatoes as a primary ingredient seemed to have the greatest connection to cardiac diseases.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a potentially fatal type of heart disease in dogs. DCM specifically attacks a canine’s heart muscle, making it harder for a dog to pump blood. This condition can result in congestive heart failure. Large dog breeds such as the Great Dane or Irish wolfhound are predisposed to DCM, but both English and American cocker spaniels have also been known to develop the condition. While some dogs may be able to recover by switching back to food that contains grains, others are not so lucky and succumb to the illness.

Taurine deficiency

Taurine deficiency could be an additional cause for concern in dogs, particularly breeds of medium to large sizes. An essential amino acid for dogs, taurine helps regulate cholesterol and contributes to healthy heart functioning. Dogs with grain-free diets seem to be at greater risk for developing taurine deficiencies.

Potential health benefits of a grain-free diet

Most veterinary experts agree that there truly aren’t any real benefits to a grain-free diet. While some argue benefits for dogs with food allergies, hypoallergenic dog foods dog foods can help your pup get all the nutrients they need, safely. Others note that grain-free diets may work better for picky eaters, but that could just be a matter of finding the right food for your dog.

👉 If your pet is healthy, energetic, and regular on the food they’re eating now, there’s no reason to switch things up.

Alternatives to a grain-free diet

If you’re concerned your dog may need an extra boost to their immune system or help to get some pep in its step, some alternatives don’t include going grain-free. Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for a dog’s well-being and vitality, especially as they age. Fatty acids can also help with allergies and give your dog a silky, shinier coat.

ZipZyme™ Omega is a direct source of DHA, the most important type of omega-3, and is easy to add to your dog’s routine. It comes in one-teaspoon servings that can be mixed into your dog’s favorite food. In other words, rather than replacing your dog’s food, add to it with omega-3s.

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Frequently asked questions

Is there any medical reason my dog should eat a grain-free diet? 

While food allergies (and especially grain allergies) are rare in dogs, they are possible. If you suspect your dog has an allergy, they may benefit from an alternative diet. Work closely with your vet to determine the cause of any allergies and the best dietary plan for your pet.

Have other health problems aside from DCM been linked to grain-free diets? 

Aside from a potential risk of dilated cardiomyopathy, there is some evidence to suggest that dogs on a grain-free diet are at an increased risk for taurine deficiency.

What are some dietary changes that would benefit my dog’s health? 

If your pet has no specific allergies, the best thing you can feed them is a diet compatible with their age, breed, size, and individual health needs. Talk to your veterinarian about the best diet plan for your dog.