Grain-Free Diet FAQs

Since the FDA issued its report on the connection between grain-free dog foods and a heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), we have received many questions from people wondering what to feed their dogs. The original FDA report can be found here.

Read on for common questions we've received.

Our blog article about the report can be found here.

Some of the common questions we've received include:

Does AHNA recommend a particular brand of dog food?

There are an overwhelming number of dog foods on the market, and the choice is not one-size-fits-all. We follow the recommendation from veterinary nutritionists, which is to feed food from a larger brand (examples including but not restricted to Purina, Hill's, Iams, Royal Canin, Wellness). These companies tend to have veterinary or Ph.D. nutritionists on staff, have a more reliable source of ingredients and do frequent quality control. The WSAVA - World Small Animal Veterinary Association - has produced guidelines on how to choose a brand of pet food.

Some dogs may do better on a particular set of ingredients or a particular brand, but in general, these major brands are a good place to start.

What if my dog is on a prescription grain-free diet? Do I have to worry?

Fortunately, there have been no reports of well-established prescription diets being linked to DCM. These diets have been formulated and balanced by veterinary nutritional specialists to provide complete nutrition.

What if my dog eats some grain-free and some grain-containing diets? Do I have to switch?

​The FDA report states that if legumes (peas, beans, lentils, etc.) or potatoes are a "major" ingredient, there is an increased risk of DCM. The definition of a major ingredient is one that is found in the top 10 ingredients on the food label list. If your dog is tolerating grains in part of the diet, the safest thing to do is to switch the entire diet to a food containing grains.

Isn't corn the main grain in dog foods? I saw a commercial that said corn is bad for my dog!

It is true that corn is found in many dog foods. Corn and other grains including wheat, rice, oats, barley, and sorghum are a source of important fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and amino acids including the ones needed for the production of taurine. Domestic dogs have significantly evolved from their wolf ancestors, and are able to digest and absorb these nutrients effectively. 

It is suspected that the problem with DCM and grain-free foods is that legumes and potatoes may interfere with the absorption of some of these nutrients, and do not provide the appropriate balance of amino acids needed for dogs to make their own taurine.

What about by-products? I saw another commercial that said by-products are not as nutritious as real meat!

The definition of meat by-products is organ meat and any other meat product that is not skeletal muscle. It does not include hair, hooves, teeth, etc. When an animal hunts, they actually consume more by-products than they do "meat." By-products contain microminerals, essential amino acids, and vitamins, which are important parts of dog nutrition.

Should I just supplement taurine?

Dogs who have documented deficiency in taurine can receive supplements. However, as noted above, the FDA and cardiologists suspect that the taurine deficiency is the result of a suspected problem with the way some dogs absorb and metabolize the nutrients in grain-free diets. 

If your dog has specific dietary needs, please feel free to contact your veterinarian at Animal Hospital of North Asheville for guidance on what to feed.