Grain Free Diets… Friend or Foe? It’s Complicated

There have been several articles in the news recently about the health concerns of feeding grain free diets. One of the articles was published here in the New York Times.

Articles like this one have focused on the concern about a heart condition called cardiomyopathy (DCM). The articles are a little misleading because, as of now, there has been no study that has been able to definitively link an exact cause of the increased DCM that cardiologists have seen. An important issue with pet food is to ensure that the diet fed meets the nutritional levels recommended by the AAFCO and that it is balanced to meet the nutritional needs of your pet. One of the nutritional requirements is that it should include Taurine, an amino acid that when low, has been linked to the development of cardiomyopathy (a serious heart condition).

To lump all grain free diets as problematic is not really appropriate, when there has been no scientific study definitively pinpointing the cause of DCM to grain free food. The real issue is not about feeding grains vs grain free but rather feeding a diet that is not nutritionally balanced. Because the pet food market has gotten so large and there is little regulation on nutritional requirements, there may be some foods that do not meet the nutritional needs of all dogs. As of now, no specific diets have been definitively implicated that may be causing the DCM issue.

The University of California Davis Veterinary School Nutrition Department has this to say about the current grain free discussion. “Due to the variable and sometimes incomplete reported diet history information for affected dogs, the inability to predict diet performance in any individual from nutritional profile/ingredient information, and lack of proof of causation, it is not possible to identify specific dietary characteristics nor specific products that are or are not recommended at this point.”

Mobile Pet Vet works with veterinary nutritionists to help formulate homemade diet recipes and we recommend commercial diets that are formulated to meet the AAFCO nutritional levels. We often do recommend removing wheat gluten and corn from our patient’s diet and continue to see benefits from diet change alone with patients who suffer from skin issues, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and even arthritis. We recommend asking us before changing your pet’s diet because as this article points out… it’s complicated to decipher all of the diets available to feed your pet these days!!

In cases where we are concerned about the potential for dilated cardiomyopathy in your pet, we may recommend getting blood Taurine levels or checking specific heart enzymes (a blood test) on your dog.  We also work closely with local veterinary cardiologists to further evaluate our patient’s cardiac health.


Lisa Beagan

Lisa Beagan

Dr. Lisa Beagan is a 1995 graduate of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. After working in an equine practice then a small animal clinic, she opened Mobile Pet Vet in 2003. Dr. Beagan has also completed a veterinary acupuncture certification through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society.

More from the Blog