The FDA is investigating potential links between the ingredients found in grain-free diets and canine heart disease.Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a condition that some dog breeds are more susceptible to than others. However, in recent years, vets have seen more cases of low-risk dogs breeds developing the disorder. They urge dog owners to be careful about key ingredients in these grain free dog food products. Others question the true source of the risk and the impact of other ingredients in what are know as BEG diets (boutique, exotic and grain-free diets) when dealing with canine heart disease and diets..
What is Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy?
Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy, often abbreviated to DCM, is a serious heart condition that can lead to heart failure. It results in an enlargement of the heart, which in turn weakens the heart muscles and puts stress on the blood vessels. There was a time when DCM mostly affected the giant-breeds that were susceptible to developing the condition with age. However, more recent cases in the last decade involve other, smaller breeds. A study by the Journal of The American Veterinary Medical Association in 2018 looked into 240 cases over a two year period. Those cases affected 29 breeds, with 23 of the cases relating to Golden Retrievers. This shows that genetics are no longer to blame. Instead, the problem seems to be dietary.
The FDA alert is concerned about four key ingredients in grain-free diets.
There appears to be a correlation between cases of Canine dilated cardiomyopathy and grain free dog foods. There are four ingredients highlighted as a cause for concern: peas, lentils, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. The FDA became concerned about the risk factors when DCM was reported more frequently in dog breeds that didn’t typically get the disease. They ran tests on the dog food products cited in cases of DCM and found that not only were 90 percent grain-free, but 93 of them also contained peas and/or lentils. While there was a much lower percentage for potatoes and sweet potatoes, at 42 percent, this is still a cause for concern. You can read a more detailed list of the brands involved in these reports by following this link to an American Kennel Club report.
However, studies into diet-based DCM often related to BEG diets, not just grain-free.
If you are unaware of the term BEG, it essentially mains any boutique, exotic and grain-free diet outside of the norm. There are lots of these alternative diets for dogs and while many of these DCM cases did relate to a grain-free diet, there may have been other factors at work. With that in mind, researchers and veterinary scientists need to better understand the exact problem.
Is it legumes, a taurine deficiency or another substance?
There are still doubts about the root cause of the problem. While this correlation between the legumes and the DCM cases is clear, this doesn’t mean that there is causation. Therefore, we can’t be completely sure that peas, lentils or potatoes are to blame. It may instead be down to one of the sources of meat or another common ingredient.
That same report for the Journal of The American Veterinary Medical Association states that only 16 percent of the 240 cases they reviewed were diet-associated. They also talk about the relationship between DCM and taurine deficiency. This deficiency has had links in the past to diets containing low-protein formulas, high-fiber diets, and lamb products. The higher frequency of lamb and other exotic meats in modern dog diets suggest that this may be a possible cause in these cases of BEG diets and canine cardiac issues. This includes those “wild” formulas with bison, kangaroo and similar game meat.
There may also be a link to an unreported component not in the ingredients, such as a chemical or preservative used at some point in the process. Trace of pesticides, heavy metals or other substances could be a cause for concern and need ruling out.
Should you stop feeding grain-free food to your dog?
The most important question for dog owners now is whether to stick with the grain-free diet or to switch back. Don’t throw away your grain-free dog food without consulting your vet first. It is easy to get caught up in the scaremongering of some publications and forget why your dog went gain-free to begin with. Discuss the options available with your vet. If your dog is a breed at a low risk of DCM with a good health record, but is at greater risk from eating grains, it might be better to stick with a grain-free diet. On the other hand, your dog may have had very mild reactions to the grains and now faces bigger risks with the peas and lentils. If that is the case, you might be better off switching back.
Work with your vet to find the best solution possible. This solution could involve taurine supplementation rather than any major dietary changes. This supplementation could eliminate the risk of deficiency seen in so many DCM patients.
So what should you do now?
If you are in a position where your own dog is undergoing treatment for DCM, you can help the FDA with their investigations. You can submit a safety report to the organization detailing the case and the grain free dog foods consumed. This extra data may help them establish stronger links to specific ingredients or brands to narrow down their next FDA alert.
If you are, instead, feeding your dog grain-free food with no problem then there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. You can still talk to your vet for advice on the subject but if your dog is healthy with no heart problems then you may not have to make any changes.
Don’t worry too much about these reports.
There is no need to panic and start changing your dog’s diet and the way you prepare their foods. If they have eaten a BEG diet for a while with no ill-effect, there may be little cause for concern. If you have any questions about canine heart disease and diet, contact your vet for further advice and ask them about a potential taurine deficiency. If you have any information for the FDA, take advantage of the contact form on their website. Below is a link and more information on the FDA website. Also here is a link to the FDA reporting portal if your dog has been diagnosed you should report it.
Here is the updated list of dog foods that were reported.And the number of reports made.
- Acana (67 reports)
- Zignature (64 reports)
- Taste of the Wild (53 reports)
- 4Health (32 reports)
- Earthborn Holistic (32 reports)
- Blue Buffalo (31 reports)
- Nature’s Domain (29 reports)
- Fromm (24 reports)
- Merrick (16 reports)
- California Natural (15 reports)
- Natural Balance (15 reports)
- Orijen (12 reports)
- Nature’s Variety (10 reports)
- Nutrisource (10 reports)
- Nutro (10 reports)
- Rachael Ray Nutrish (10 reports)
Also a report from the Journal Of American Vertrinary medicine in December of 2019 is here :