Grain-Free Diets Linked to Heart Disease?

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Dr. Caroline Cervelli
Wellington Veterinary Hospital

If you are anything like us here at Wellington Veterinary Hospital, your dog (or cat) is your baby, your world, and you’d likely do just about anything for them. So of course they deserve the best food in the world!

Wild boar and sweet potato. Lamb and lentil. Wild-caught tuna and egg. Those sound like great foods, don’t they? Grain-free diets have become all the rage in the last few years. Since the emergence of gluten intolerance and celiac disease in people, pet food manufacturers have jumped on the trend to heavily produce and market grain-free dog and cat food. According to, nearly half of all foods on the market are grain-free. Is this shift based on any research or evidence that grains are bad? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

In July, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began exploring a link between grain-free diets and heart disease. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a type of heart disease common to certain genetically predisposed breeds. Think Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Boxer, or Doberman. Veterinary cardiologists across the US began to see a spike in the number of DCM cases in uncommon breeds, like Golden Retrievers, Labradors and even small breeds. The affected dogs all had one thing in common. They were all on diets with grain substitutes such as peas, lentils, or potatoes.

Heart disease can go undetected until it becomes severe or life-threatening. If your pet has a change in behavior or if you see any signs of weakness, shortness of breath, fainting, excessive panting, coughing, or distended belly, please see your veterinarian. The good news is the changes to the heart caused by grain-free diets are mostly reversible with diet change, if caught early. Though they’ve got a bad reputation, grains are an important source of nutrients and are not a common allergy. The FDA is conducting research into this link, but, in the meantime, talk with your vet about the best nutrition for your pet.

If you are choosing a grain-free diet in an effort to help skin allergies, GI upset, for weight loss or any other reason, give us a call or stop by so we can talk about what food is best for your pet. Please contact us at Wellington Veterinary Hospital for
more information about nutritional dilated cardiomyopathy.

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