Is grain-free dog food good for your pupper?

grain free dog food

When you hear the term ‘grain-free’, you naturally assume it’s healthy. But when it comes to dry food (also known as kibble) for pets, that’s far from the truth. The FDA published a study showing links exist between grain-free dog food and cases of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which created a lot of fear and confusion around the correct way to feed your dog. However, not all grain-free dog food is bad for your pup, and the FDA has named some of the main offenders which showed strong links to the rise in DCM cases. Here, we dispel the myths surrounding grain-free dog food and its relationship to DCM, and discuss the pros and cons of feeding grains to your dog. 

The link between grain-free dog food and DCM

The trend of grain-free dry dog food has emerged mostly in the last 10 years, spurred on by the human trend of grain-free, gluten-free foods. This trend for dogs would actually have some benefits when done correctly, as dogs don’t require grains in their diet, and can get their necessary carbohydrates from other, more nutritious sources, such as vegetables. However, the trend was taken over by dry dog food companies looking to cut costs, leading to unhealthy dry food being sold and marketed as the best thing for your dog, while in reality this kibble was causing serious health effects. 

Last year, the US Food & Drug Administration investigated reports of DCM in dogs, seeing a rise of the disease in breeds that are typically not very susceptible to it. The study found that many of these dogs ate certain pet foods labelled ‘grain-free’.  Most of these foods listed a high proportion of peas, lentils, other pulses and potatoes. And while not all grain-free food is bad, some vets are advising against grain-free dog food due to its highly publicised connection to DCM. 

What is DCM?

Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease that reduces the heart’s ability to generate pressure to pump blood through the vascular system. The fact that DCM is more common in specific breeds suggests it’s genetic. Susceptible breeds include the Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, Golden Retriever and Labrador. It can also be seen in Cocker Spaniels with taurine deficiency.

Some cases of DCM are caused by low taurine and L-carnitine levels, which are amino acids that can only be found in meat. While dogs can synthesise these themselves from other components of their food, many dogs cannot produce enough, so dietary supplementation is necessary. Symptoms can be hard to see, and can include lethargy, weakness, weight loss, or coughing . It can be fatal.

The issues with grain-free dog food

Due to production methods, dry dog food is typically mostly grain. However, once ‘grain-free’ became a buzzword connected to healthy diets, grain became less popular in dry pet food. To overcome this, commercial manufacturers have replaced grain with legumes and peas to maintain the texture needed for production and storage methods. The issue with this is, that in high quantities, legumes can cause health issues. This includes the heart disease canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

High fibre legumes aren’t always a good thing

Legumes, such as chickpeas and peas, are high in fibre and starch, which is why they’re used in dry food. A problem here is that dogs don’t actually need a high-fibre diet. Not only is it unnecessary, but high-fibre diets are shown to actively lower taurine levels, which makes them susceptible to DCM.

While legumes can be healthy for your pup in small amounts, the proportion of legumes in grain-free dry dog food is significantly higher than what is required nutritionally. This causes a decrease in taurine levels in your pup’s body due to the high fibre content, increasing the risk of DCM.

Low protein means low taurine

Dry dog food normally contains more than 50% carbohydrates, which means half a dog’s diet comprises non-essential sugars. In order to increase the protein amount on the label (which is already as low as 20-30% in most brands) without having to increase the proportion of meat, dry food companies will add legume protein. This may not immediately seem like a problem, but plant protein differs from animal protein in its amino acid components, meaning that dogs are not getting their required taurine and L-carnitine.

Another hidden danger: beet pulp

Not to be confused with nutrient-rich beetroot powder, beet pulp is another common filler used in many dry foods, both regular and grain-free. It is the fibrous by-product of sugar beet processing, which is sold cheaply to dry dog food companies. A 2016 study showed that beet pulp decreases the taurine levels in dogs, which again can cause DCM.

Lyka goes against the grain

You won’t find legumes in any of our Lyka meals, and if you’d like to give your pup grain-free food, our Free Range Chicken and Grass Fed Beef recipes are a great option for you. We use organic white quinoa in our Barn Raised Turkey and Grass Fed Lamb recipes. The level of carbohydrates in our recipes doesn’t exceed 17% (dry matter), much of which comes from vegetables such as purple sweet potato and butternut squash.  

The higher level of meat content in our meals gives your dog the protein and amino acids they need, and the ingredients exceed the minimum requirements for dogs to synthesise taurine and L-carnitine, making your dog less susceptible to DCM. 

Crafted with the help of our in-house vet Matthew Muir, our nutritious recipes are designed to give puppers a long and healthy life. 

Grain-free dog food FAQs

Q. Does Lyka provide enough carbohydrates for a dog’s nutritional needs?

A. Lyka provides carbohydrates through our use of vegetables and ancient grains. We are against adding higher glycaemic index carbohydrates like potatoes, rice and corn, which are linked to health issues such as bodily inflammation tied to chronic disease. Dogs don’t actually have a requirement for carbohydrates, however we use vegetables, quinoa and barley to provide dogs with the necessary micronutrients they require which cannot be found in meat. 

Q. Do I need to completely avoid grain-free ingredients linked to DCM?

A. Legumes are healthy for dogs in small quantities. However, the quantity in most grain-free dog food linked to DCM is too high. To be safe, we don’t use any legumes in our recipes. Beet pulp, however, offers very little nutritional benefits for your dog, and since it has been proven to decrease taurine levels we do not use it in any our foods. We do use beetroot powder, which is simply whole, dehydrated beetroot, in our lamb bowl, which is full of nutrients such as Vitamins A and C, manganese, and folic acid.

Q. Since Lyka doesn’t have grains, do I need to supplement my dog’s diet with added grains?

A. No, grains are not necessary for your pupper’s diet. The ingredients in Lyka contain the carbohydrates necessary for your dog’s diet. Our Lyka foods are complete and balanced, so you don’t need to add anything to your pup’s diet to supplement their nutrition. Simply adding grains to your dog’s diet will not help to prevent DCM, as grains contain no taurine. The right way to prevent DCM through diet is through added protein, so we ensure that all of our recipes are high in animal protein. 

Lyka: making the right nutrition easy

Here for pupper now and always. Our recipes are designed by our in-house vet Dr Matthew Muir to ensure that we give your pup a complete and balanced diet, backed by the latest scientific research. Why not try out a Starter Box for yourself today?