It is irreversible, worsening over time (although progression can be slowed with treatment) and is the leading cause of congestive heart failure.
The FDA released a report citing a possible link between an increase in dogs with DCM and their diet. It’s important to note that it wasn’t “grain-free” that was called out specifically, but rather that diets being reported to the FDA were largely comprised of potatoes, peas, lentils etc.
DCM is further linked to a deficiency in an amino acid called taurine—which carbohydrates are devoid of. Taurine is found in most animal protein, especially in poultry, fish, heart, liver, and brain. It is crucial for the development of the heart and muscle cells, as well as eye, brain and immune function. Dogs are capable of producing their own taurine from other amino acids, and it’s therefore not considered an essential amino acid (essential meaning it needs to be obtained through consumption of foods since it cannot be manufactured by the body). However, the lines become blurred because not all the dogs in that study that developed DCM were low in taurine—thus it’s possible that they were deficient in other essential amino acids. The FDA also acknowledged that certain breeds are more genetically prone to the condition. The bottom line is there is no direct link between a grain-free diet and DCM.
With that said, many owners prefer grain-free kibble and cite the following benefits:
Reduced allergies: some dogs have sensitivities to the primary grains in regular kibble such as corn, wheat, and soy.
Weight management: grain-free kibble is higher in protein than regular kibble, with less starch, keeping your dog fuller for longer and therefore making it easier to manage your dog’s weight
Less digestive issues: higher protein, fewer carbs also means it’s easier for your dog to digest.
Healthier coat: the higher protein amount also contributes to an overall healthier, shinier coat and reduction in skin irritations
Cost-effective: grain-free kibble isn’t as cheap as regular kibble, but that’s because of the higher protein and better quality ingredients. It’s less expensive than feeding raw, which can be appealing to owners on a tighter budget or who own a few dogs, especially large breeds.
Convenience: without a doubt kibble is more convenient than raw; it’s easily stored and keeps for months. It’s also easier to transport, making family outings like camping and travelling less of a hassle than if you had to plan around your dog’s raw meals.
Consider these points when deciding whether a grain-free diet is best for your dog. Be aware of your dog’s unique needs, as no two are the same, and consult with your vet or canine nutritionist. The most important thing to consider is choosing a diet that provides complete and balanced nutrition. If you do decide to switch, do so slowly, gradually increasing the amounts over the course of a few weeks. Keep an eye on your pup’s poop, and if anything raises concern—constipation, diarrhea, hair loss, excessive itching, lack of appetite or thirst—again, bring it up with your vet.
Should you feed grain-free kibble to your dog? If feeding raw isn’t an option, grain-free is arguably the next best choice.
As always, it’s advisable to consult with your trusted veterinarian or canine nutritionist when deciding what the best diet is for your pooch.
Kibble has come under fire for being a less-than-desirable feeding option, mainly due to the fact that it is highly processed and contains many synthetic ingredients and fillers. Just as it is advisable for us to eat less processed foods with a long list of unpronounceable ingredients, so too is it for our beloved pets.
Grains such as corn, barley, wheat, oats and soy are typically the main ingredients in kibble. They comprise up to 60% of the commercial dog food diet. These were originally introduced circa World War II to function as inexpensive fillers, creating profit for dog food manufacturers. However, dogs are not biologically designed to process and digest grains with ease. They do not produce the enzymes needed to break them down, and then must rely on fermentation, which is also often left sitting in the gut. Over time this undigested food can compromise the lining and lead to digestive issues, ear infections, skin irritations, allergies/sensitivities, and obesity.
These grains are also known for containing hidden contaminants, such as mold or mites, because they are feed grade, as opposed to human grade.
So what exactly is grain-free kibble? Grain-free kibble is kibble that uses other plant proteins, such as lentils and peas, in place of corn and wheat. They are higher in protein, fibre and have a lower glycemic-index. If you’re not familiar with the glycemic index, it’s the rate at which carbs get broken down into glucose. The faster they break down and enter the blood stream, the quicker the spike in blood sugar. Keeping blood sugar balanced is important in preventing such illnesses as obesity and diabetes.
You may have heard that feeding a grain-free kibble diet can result in dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM is a life-threatening condition in which dogs develop an enlarged heart with weakening of the muscles. Over time fluid builds up in the lungs because the heart’s ability to circulate blood becomes compromised.
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