Avoid a grain-free diet for pets for proper pet nutrition.

Remember when the Atkins diet was all the rage? It was soon replaced by the South Beach diet which was later supplanted by the Paleo diet. And there’s vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets to choose from as well. Lately, it seems that going “grain-free” is thing to do, and according to proponents of this lifestyle, eliminating grains like wheat, rice, millet, corn, barley, and oats, reduces symptoms of various conditions. But what happens when this human diet is applied to pet nutrition?

Cause & Effect

Some grain-free diets are advertised as weight-loss foods, but eliminating grains for pet nutrition can result in less high-value protein. In some cases, more fat is added to make the food taste better which inadvertently results in weight gain. In other words, the connection between obese pets and grain-free diets is increasingly common.

The Straight Story

This past July, the FDA published a report that sent ripples through the pet nutrition community. Charged with investigating the possible link between grain-free diets and canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), the administration found that dogs who were consistently fed grain-free products over months and years suffered signs of heart disease.

Signs of Trouble

The dogs that were part of the study showed signs of decreased energy, breathing difficulties, coughing, and episodes of collapse. Records indicate that these dogs had low levels of the important amino acid taurine, a building block of protein. Well-known for its connection to DCM, taurine-deficiency occurs in specific breeds like American cocker spaniels and Newfoundlands, among others.

Cats, obligate carnivores, depend on animal protein for taurine. Supplementation of taurine is vital for them, and is essential for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and maintaining heart health.


Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is characterized by an enlarged heart muscle that cannot effectively pump blood into the lungs. Fluid builds up in the lungs, the heart becomes overloaded, and congestive heart failure is the result.

Deficiencies in pet nutrition can contribute to DCM, while some breeds are genetically predisposed to it.

The Grain-Free Story

In addition to meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, and nuts, grain-free diets hinge on plant-based complex carbohydrates, such as starchy potatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, and carrots (all fruits and veggies are acceptable). The grain-free canine diets in question also included legumes such as peas, lentils, and seeds of legumes (called “pulses”) as their primary ingredients.  

High Value Pet Nutrition

Pet owners have the final say in what their pets eat, but we strongly encourage a consultation with a veterinarian or pet nutrition expert. Not only is this important when establishing lifelong health and wellness, but is a crucial first step before any potential changes are made to a pet’s diet.

Here to Help

Did you know we provide veterinary cardiology services? With helpful diagnostics, like ECG and ECHO, we can support your pet’s heart health and take extra care to prevent cardiac disease. Our veterinarians and staff members at Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital are always here for you.