Gluten-free and grain-free diets are very trendy the past several years. In any gathering of people, you will find at least a few that are managing their food in this way.

Naturally, pet owners want this for their animals, and think it will be a cure for everything. The pet industry is following along by producing grain-free diets.

The problem with this is that this methodology has not been tested with long-term studies. Recently, we are finding that these diets are deficient in taurine, and can lead to heart defects, especially in dogs.

These cardiomyopathies — specifically the dilated version — can become very serious and even deadly. The illness causes the heart to enlarge and become weak. It doesn’t pump blood well. Symptoms include coughing, low energy, labored breathing and collapse. It can lead to full heart failure and death.

Any pet displaying these symptoms should receive immediate care.

The sad part of this to me is that the vast majority of dogs are not generally allergic to grain like people are. When they experience a food allergy or intolerance, it is generally to the protein component of their diet. That is why we frequently use novel protein diets or even hydrolyzed protein diets that break the proteins down into unrecognizable components so that patients will not react to them.

Please do not feed your companions grain-free diets. If your canine has been eating this type of food, I recommend a full cardiovascular evaluation with possible cardiac ultrasound.

I also discourage against preparing home-cooked diets. They are often deficient in multiple vitamins and micronutrients. They are also not as good for your buddy’s teeth, and it is very difficult to repeatedly produce the same food.

The website www.balanceit.com can help evaluate a diet for you. Ideally, I recommend a pet store diet from a well-known company that does a lot of testing on their products.

Your veterinarian can guide you on food choices that are specific to the needs of your canine or feline.

Dr. Julie Damron is the medical director of Stockton Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center. She has worked as a veterinarian in San Joaquin County for more than 20 years and is the founder of Loving Tails, an organization that assists the pets of the homeless.

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