In 2019, pet parents and pet food companies were shocked to hear of a possible link between grain-free canine diets and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. It left many with the question, are any grain-free diets safe? The short answer is yes.
After a 2019 FDA report suggested a possible link between grain-free canine diets and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, confusion and panic erupted in the pet community. Worried pet parents flocked to their veterinarians and pet stores wanting answers. Are grain-free diets safe? Should I switch my dog’s food? What do I do if my dog can’t eat grains?
The concern with grain-free diets
For years, grain-free diets flooded the market and many consumers became conditioned to believe that they were superior. Yet this wasn’t necessarily the case. “The problem with many grain-free diets is that manufacturers began using excessive non-grain starch ingredients to replace the grains,” says Scott Freeman, founder of pet food company Nature’s Logic. As the market for grain-free diets grew and became competitive, the price for ingredients became a big factor for manufacturers. To cut costs, companies began using high-glycemic ingredients like lentils and potatoes in multiple forms – a process called splitting ingredients. On top of that, byproducts of these ingredients such as pea protein were used to replace much of the more expensive meat protein ingredients.
Some manufacturers have even added grain-alternatives and synthetic taurine to their lines, to make up for the lack of animal protein. But Freeman says that’s not the answer. “The issue is that you can’t just add ingredients to a diet that will magically mitigate the issues with some of the grain-free diets on the market,” he cautions. “The problem isn’t grain or no grain. The problem is when, to make the diet more cost-effective, manufacturers replace healthy grains and animal proteins with legumes and their derivatives.” The key to a quality grain-free kibble is ensuring that the food only contains enough to bind the other ingredients together. Anything else added is just filler, and not nutritionally necessary for the kibble.
Three things to look for in a grain-free food
If you have a pet who requires a grain-free diet, here are three things you can look for in a food:
- 100% natural – check the label to ensure there are no synthetic vitamins or minerals
- High in animal protein – the protein source should be top of the ingredient list to ensure the food is full of natural taurine and methionine-cystine. This is especially important for pet parents who are seeking a heart-healthy diet.
- No high glycemic substitutes – the company shouldn’t replace grains with other substitutes like potatoes, peas, or legumes like chickpeas or soybeans.
It is possible to have a high-quality, heart-healthy, grain-free diet. Although most pets do benefit from healthy grains in their diet, there are some who don’t. For those pets, an all-natural grain-free brand is a logical, natural solution.