What you need to know about grain-free dog food and possible connection to fatal heart disease

Investigators

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — There’s an old expression that you are what you eat, and in the case of your dog–what he or she eats may be causing them to develop a fatal disease.

When it comes to dogs, grain-free diets are a big thing, but there are real concerns about grain-free dog diets.

Grain-Free — it’s a market that food makers are capitalizing on. It includes food as well as treats as owners try and keep their pets away from grain believing its a healthier lifestyle for their canine friend.

But, the FDA says it is seeing a worrying connection between grain-free dog food and deadly heart disease.

“The FDA has noted an association or correlation between dogs on a grain-free diet and a particular kind of disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy,” said Dr. Charles Livaudais, a veterinarian at Harmony Animal Hospital in Apex.

The disease literally causes the heart muscle in a dog to become thin and weak making the heart pump inefficiently. 

Livaudais said, “signs of it include exercise intolerance, lethargy, increased breathing rates, panting and weight loss.” 

Although more research needs to be done, the working theory is that the potatoes, peas, lentils, and other legumes, the grain-free dog food might be stripping away a dog’s ability to absorb Taurine–an amino acid that helps build muscles. Since the heart is a muscle, it’s affected.

Livaudais says the damage caused by grain free diets might not be permanent.

“When it comes to grain-free diets and the association there, if it is caught in time, the damage seems to be reversible if we take the dog off the grain-free diet,” he said.

However, he said, the reversal “has varied from dog to dog, but it would seem to take weeks to several months.”

“Whether it’s 100 percent reversible is a fair question,” said Livaudais. “We don’t know that.”

Veterinarians recommend your dog’s food contain a protein source — be it beef or chicken — as well as traditional ingredients.

“It probably makes sense to utilize a diet that has more standard carbohydrates that include grains at this point,” said Livaudais.

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