Understanding Your Pet's Food: Flawed Studies on Grain-Free Foods

Young Jack Russel Terrier Dog looking into camera while looking at food bowl

Feeding your dog or cat a healthy and wholesome diet that suits their needs, age, and activity level is important. Still, you may be confused when hearing contrasting reports about pet food ingredients' quality and long-term effects. Perhaps you've heard rumors of grain-free food and its link to heart disease in dogs. But researchers are finding potential flaws in these studies and accusations. 

This article discusses the controversy surrounding insufficient studies, whether the information is contrived and why, and what you should do to care for your pet. 

The Reason Behind Grain-free Controversy

Leading up to 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received reports about numerous veterinary cases of dogs with canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Many of the pets were not genetically predisposed to the disease and were reported to receive "grain-free" food in their diet. This led to the FDA's 2018 statement that grain-free diets in dogs may be related to fatal heart disease.

But a few years later, the FDA is still in the thick of its research on whether grain-free dog food and DCM are related. Reports show that the FDA has "found no firm link between diet and dilated cardiomyopathy. Nor has [the FDA] rejected such a link, and research is ongoing."

Of course, this assumed connection between grain-free diets and DCM impacted the grain-free food industry. Some brands switched to saying "no-grain" instead of "grain-free" because of the bias towards the latter phrase. Regardless of the controversy, one 2021 study that examined pet owner food purchasing behaviors found that 27.4% of U.S pet owners still selected "no grain" foods for their dog or cat. 

Young mutt dog sitting on table at vet office while vet inspects kibble food in bowl

Flawed Studies or Contrived Information?

So why would the FDA launch such a detrimental statement? It's possible that these studies are flawed for the following reasons:

  • 100Reporters launched a six-month investigation and found that veterinarians responsible for selling grain-inclusive pet foods had also promoted the FDA's accusing stance on grain-free foods.
  • Veterinarians are known to receive industry funding. Those who reported to the FDA and prompted a connection between grain-free foods and DCM, could have received funding from grain-in brands. They then logged heart disease cases, specifically including details of their diet if it "suited" their case against grain-free food. 
  • The wording in reports protects grain-in brands while subtly slandering grain-free brands. 

What Should Pet Owners Do?

Don't believe everything you read. The simple truth is that grain-free food will not cause heart disease in your furbaby. 

DCM is commonly caused by gene mutations in certain dog breeds. It could also occur from a secondary cause like a toxin or infection. Many also link DCM to a taurine deficiency and its bioavailability in the body. But this is also under debate as taurine, an amino sulfonic acid, can be influenced by macro-nutritional ratios of certain ingredients

One 26-week feeding study by the Journal of Translational Animal Science found no link between a decrease in taurine status and no-grain food. Instead, they found an increase in whole blood taurine concentrations during the study.

Care For Your Pet as Best You Can

The tug-of-war and negative statements involving no-grain versus grain-in brands could come down to selfish agendas. Everyone is protective over their market and their supporting research. But the focus should be on the wellness of pets. That's where your priority should lie. 

Of course, each dog has unique needs, and speaking to your veterinarian remains your best option. Additionally, you can consult our Pets on Broadway specialists about your pet's dietary needs