Is Grain-Free Food Harming Your Pet?

What do you feed your dog? Chances are Fido gets to swipe a few bits of human food here and there, but when it comes to his regular meals, you have likely selected a brand and diet that is healthy and that he prefers.

Cat owners may have an even more difficult task. While most dogs will eat just about anything, cats can be picky about their food. Some cats may dislike dry food altogether, and for others, “tuna addiction” is a legitimate concern. Thus, feeding your cat a healthy diet can often begin to feel like rocket science.

Because of this, many pet owners often find their good intentions preyed upon by pet food companies and marketing agencies. One of the fads that became popular over the past decade or so is the grain-free diet. To push their agenda, many pet food companies alleged that the use of grain in pet food was often linked to a number of illnesses, including diabetes and obesity.

Naturally, many responsible pet owners decided to ditch the grain and went in search of healthier options. Pet food companies then took the opportunity to appeal to fur parents who are themselves on gluten-free diets and cutting back on carbs. Needless to say, it worked.


Grain-Free Pet Foods Linked to Heart Disease for Dogs

However, according to the NY Times, these options may not be so healthy after all. Research has linked popular grain-free dog foods to heart disease. The announcement first came from the FDA in July of 2018 and completely rocked the healthy pet food market, and the fur parents who believed they were purchasing the best possible meal option for their parents.

According to the deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Office of Surveillance and Compliance, Martine Hartogensis, D.V.M.:

We are concerned about reports of canine heart disease, known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), in dogs that ate certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legumes or potatoes as their main ingredients. These reports are highly unusual as they are occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease.

DCM occurs when a dog’s heart muscle becomes diseased. This causes the heart to weaken and become enlarged, which often leads to congestive heart failure. Symptoms often include lethargy, coughing, and even fainting. The good news is that these cases are not always fatal. If the disease is caught early, dogs may recover over time. Even so, the risk of DCM is a scary thought for many dog owners, causing many fur parents of dogs and cats to toss grain-free brands into the garbage can.

But, is grain-free pet food really the cause of the problem? Veterinarians agree that feeding your dog grain-free food brands positively correlates with the rise in DCM cases. Even so, it’s too early to draw definite conclusions. Martine Hartogensis advises that because these have yet to result in recalls, owners should not panic.

It should, however, compel owners to rethink the health benefits of gluten-free diets on their dogs. Lisa Freeman, who is a veterinary nutritionist and researcher with the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, cautions fur parents that contrary to what ads may say, “There is no research to demonstrate that grain-free diets offer any health benefits over diets that contain grains.”

For pet owners who are concerned about grain allergies, veterinarians say this is extremely rare. It is actually far more likely for your dog to be allergic to meat than grain.


Cats Not as Severely Affected

If you’re the proud human of a cat, you’ve probably been skimming this article wondering, what about the cats?! Well, the reason we didn’t delve too much into that is because, thankfully, neither cats nor cat food were mentioned in the FDA’s warning. In fact, so far there has been no reason for concern about the effect of grain-free diets on your feline friends.

Even so, veterinarians and pet nutritionists have arrived at the same conclusion. Not only do felines not require grain-free diets, but corn and other grains are the least likely allergens cats suffer from. Like their canine colleagues, the most common allergens include beef, dairy, and—believe it or not—fish! Yes, your feline friend is more likely to be allergic to fish than corn.


The Solution

So, if grain-free isn’t the healthiest solution, what is? Like humans, our pets are all different. What makes one healthy may be terrible for the other. Nevertheless, your best bet is to focus on the quality of the ingredients, irrespective of grain content.

This can be difficult to decipher on your own, but generally speaking, pet food that lists meats first in the ingredients tend to have a higher protein content, making it a healthier solution for your cat or dog. You should also speak with your vet and use a bit of trial and error. After all, your pet may just be one of the few who are allergic to grains, or who may have responded favorably to the diet change.


Add Exercise to the Mix

Is your cat or dog on a special diet to work off a few extra pounds? We strongly recommend complementing this with exercise. Whether you need a pet sitter to play with Mister Whiskers while you’re away for the weekend, or you’d like us to take Fido hiking while you finish up some long hours at work, we’ve got your back. Just give us a call at 781-922-1707 or shoot us an email at to get the ball rolling.





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