If you're on social media at all, I'm sure you've heard rumblings about grain free dog food and heart disease. Last year the FDA came forward with reports that there had been an uptick in dogs diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) - dogs who didn't represent the breeds where DCM is more likely. A common denominator was that these dogs were fed grain-free diets. Recently the FDA released a list of dog food brands that have been most frequently identified in the adverse affect reports submitted to them.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease where the heart muscle becomes thin and flabby. The heart can't pump with its usual strength, and the signs of heart failure and abnormal rhythms ensue. This condition is more common in Boxers and Dobermans, but it can be seen in other breeds. German Shepherds show up on our list of predisposed breeds, but even the GSD is not "classic." Flags were raised when "off breeds" were being diagnosed, and Golden Retrievers seem to be over-represented in this group.
Of course, there's the inherent bias of the economic status and dedication of clients who take their dogs to a cardiologist. It's reasonable to assume that those dogs would also be fed high-end dog food. So is that association really significant? Well, it appears it may be. There is ongoing research looking at what's in grain-free food, and what's not. Taurine has gotten a lot of press, but most of the off-breed DCM cases have normal serum taurine. So then is there something in the food that's causing the problem? Or something it lacks? We still don't know. Even the FDA admits that they don’t yet know how certain diets may be associated with DCM in some dogs
Below you’ll find a link to an article by Dr. Lisa Freeman at Tufts University. She's a veterinary nutritionist and has put together a good summary of where we are with this issue. Obviously, the vast majority of dogs on a grain free diet never have problems. But we don't know enough to say what characteristic of a grain free diet is the culprit. To be absolutely safe, moving away from grain free is an answer. However, if your dog has symptoms that are controlled because of the novel protein he's eating in his grain free food, it's a tougher decision to make.
There are a handful of excellent diets available that contain grain. Many are chicken/rice based diets. I personally feed Eagle Pack, and in the past I’ve fed ProPlan to my dogs. Obviously, the vast majority of dogs eating grain-free diets never have a problem, so the decision to switch foods isn’t cut and dried. Research is ongoing, and we’ll do our best to share what we know as it becomes available.
Here’s a link to Dr. Freeman’s article: https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/11/dcm-update/