There is a large misconception circling grain-free dog food and how it may be correlated to a condition known as DCM in dogs. DCM stands for Dilated Cardiomyopathy—a heart condition where the heart becomes enlarged and weakened, making it difficult to pump blood effectively. Researchers wanted to grab the facts to see if this correlation truly exists. What they found contradicts hundreds of other articles that can be found on Dr. Google.
What Does ‘Grain-Free’ Mean?
Before we dive into the study, it’s important to understand what grain-free is and why pet parents choose to offer it to their dogs.
Grain-free dog food has gained popularity among pet owners in recent years. This type of dog food is formulated without common grains like wheat, corn, and rice. Instead, it often relies on alternative sources of carbohydrates like potatoes, peas, lentils, or sweet potatoes.
The idea behind grain-free dog food is to provide an option for dogs with grain allergies or sensitivities. It's also sometimes chosen by pet owners who believe that dogs' natural diet should be closer to what their ancestors, wild wolves, would have consumed, which typically consisted of meat and vegetables.
Is Grain-Free Bad for Dogs? The 7 Month Study Set Out to Explore This Question
This groundbreaking research study, spearheaded by the largest pet care research company in the field, assembled a team of veterinary cardiologists—experts specializing in the study of the heart. The study was published in the esteemed journal called Frontiers in Animal Science, a publication known for its rigorous peer-review process and scientific credibility.
The primary goal of this study was to debunk any lingering myths and misconceptions surrounding the potential link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
Dr. Stacey Leach, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and a key contributor to this study, highlighted its significance by noting that it stands as the longest-running investigation to date that explores the possible relationship between diet and heart disease in dogs. To ensure that the study's findings were robust and scientifically valid, the research team meticulously designed four distinct diets for their canine subjects.
In their meticulous dietary approach, two of these diets were grain-free, featuring ingredients like peas, lentils, and potatoes, but varying in the levels of animal protein content. Conversely, the other two diets incorporated grains while excluding potatoes, peas, and lentils, and again, differed in their animal protein levels.
Over a comprehensive seven-month period, scientists closely monitored the dogs, examining heart markers, conducting echocardiograms, and even taking biopsies to gain an in-depth understanding of cardiac function.
The Study Reveals that Grain-Free Diets Are Safe
The study's outcome was particularly noteworthy, as it revealed that not a single one of the sixty-five dogs involved in the research exhibited any signs of heart-related issues during the observation period.
This compelling result led the researchers to a resounding conclusion: Grain-free diets are unlikely to be linked to the development of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. These findings offered a significant contribution to the ongoing science-backed recommendations regarding canine nutrition and heart health, providing valuable insights for pet owners and veterinarians alike.
Even More Data About Grain Free Diets for Dogs
To corroborate their findings and further substantiate the hypothesis that dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) may not be inherently linked to grain-free dog food, researchers conducted an extensive analysis encompassing a vast dataset.
They meticulously reviewed over 68,000 canine cardiology cases spanning a nearly two-decade period from 2000 to 2019. This comprehensive examination of cases provided a more holistic view of the potential associations between diet and DCM in dogs.
In their comprehensive study, researchers also delved into the economic aspect of pet food consumption, specifically focusing on sales trends. It was observed that there had been a remarkable 500% increase in pet owners opting for grain-free dog food during the same timeframe under investigation. This substantial surge in the popularity of grain-free diets among dog owners raised questions about whether this dietary shift was contributing to the occurrence of DCM.
Within the vast pool of canine cardiology cases analyzed, researchers made a significant observation. Only a small fraction, approximately 3.9% of the dogs, were diagnosed with DCM. This relatively low prevalence of DCM diagnoses within the studied population suggested that while it is a serious condition, its occurrence may not be directly and exclusively tied to the consumption of grain-free dog food. These findings prompted further investigation and underscored the need for a nuanced understanding of the factors influencing canine heart health.
Dr. Rob Franklin, Chief Medical Officer of FullBucket Health, explains what he has seen in his own veterinary practice:
“There was some notion that grain-free diets cause heart disease in dogs. This study shows that none of those diets caused changes to the heart. In my practice, I recommend that dogs and horses restrict access to simple grains, such as corn, wheat, and soy, in order to balance their omega fatty acids and reduce body inflammation. At my clinic, we see lots of sore dogs and horses who are eating grain-first diets.”
Do Your Research
Staying informed by keeping up with peer-reviewed studies is one of the most reliable ways to fact-check information, especially when it comes to topics like grain-free dog foods. These studies undergo rigorous scrutiny by experts in the field, ensuring that the research is credible and trustworthy.
One of the best resources for gaining clarity and understanding complex research is your veterinarian. Veterinarians are trained experts in animal health and nutrition and can help you navigate the scientific literature.
They can not only explain the results and implications of the research but also offer their professional advice and recommendations based on their knowledge and experience. This collaborative approach ensures that you can make well-informed decisions about your dog's diet and overall health.
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