Our Doctor's Concerns With Grain-Free Diets

In an effort to dispel some of the rumors and numerous questions about appropriate canine diets, Dr. Christman has put together this statement of her opinions and recommendations regarding grain-free dog foods.

As you may know, the FDA is in the process of an on-going investigation of a potential dietary link between
grain-free pet foods and heart disease, specifically a condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Not all dogs diagnosed with DCM that have been fed a grain-free diet will have a known nutrient deficiency.

The most current thought in veterinary medicine is that DCM can be separated into three categories:
1) Breed-specific (genetic/hereditary) DCM, which is completely unrelated to diet,
2) Diet-related DCM, caused by taurine deficiency in boutique and grain-free diets, and
3) Diet-related DCM caused by separate, but yet unknown dietary factors.

What counts as “grain-free”? Most pet foods that are grain-free will specifically state this claim on the product as part of marketing in an effort to make you believe grain-free is healthier or more biologically appropriate. Grain-free is defined as foods that do not contain corn, soy, wheat, barley, rice, or other grains. Because they do not contain grains, these foods will often have potatoes/sweet potatoes or legumes (peas, chickpeas, beans, lentils, etc.) as primary ingredients.

Be cautious of boutique pet foods, exotic ingredients, and any food labeled as “grain-free.” These diets are often manufactured by companies that do not have sufficient nutritional expertise and often lack rigorous quality control standards. These diets may also inadvertently include ingredients that are toxic to dogs (e.g. onions, garlic, etc.).  Proper manufacturing of pet food is a complex process and requires appropriately educated veterinary nutritionists to ensure that all required nutrients are present in the correct amount and proportions.

We recognize that you want to offer your pet the best nutrition available, but the recent explosion of boutique diets with outrageous label claims has made it increasingly difficult to select healthy, science-based options. If your dog (or cat) has been eating a boutique, grain-free, vegetarian, vegan, or home-prepared diet, we recommend switching diets at this time (unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian). Keep in mind to do a gradual transition over 3-5 days to minimize stomach upset. We trust and recommend diets prepared by well established manufacturers including Royal Canin, Purina, and Hill’s that contain standard ingredients (e.g. chicken, beef, rice, corn, and wheat).

You also may want to schedule an appointment for an examination to discuss diet concerns and whether or not your pet should have an echo-cardiogram to screen for non-symptomatic heart disease. If your dog is experiencing symptoms of decreased energy or appetite, cough, labored breathing, or collapse, we recommend scheduling an appointment as soon as possible to discuss your pet’s health, diagnostic recommendations, and treatment.

For more information, Click Here to view the study findings directly from at the FDA website.  

As always, you can also contact the clinic for more information.  We're always here for you to answer your questions and we want to do everything we can to make sure that your pet is happy and healthy.

Carla Christman, DVM


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Due to staffing shortages, medical questions and prescription refills called in after 12pm on Friday cannot be processed until the following Monday.

Healthy Pet Veterinary Clinic


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