The FDA launched an investigation into potential links between canine heart disease and diet — specifically grain-free diets. We’ve compiled the information you need to know to understand this recent development.
What is the FDA Investigating?
It is easy to jump to conclusions anytime we see an FDA headline about pet food. After all, our dog’s health is essential to us, and we know that diet can make a big difference in a dog’s well-being. We reached out to Dr. Jerry Klein, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the AKC, to hear his thoughts on the investigation.
“The FDA is investigating a potential dietary link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and dogs eating certain grain-free pet foods. The foods of concern are those containing legumes such as peas or lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes listed as primary ingredients. The FDA began investigating this matter after it received reports of DCM in dogs that had been eating these diets for a period of months to years. DCM itself is not considered rare in dogs, but these reports are unusual because the disease occurred in breeds of dogs not typically prone to the disease.”
After the advisory, 149 new cases of DCM were reported to the FDA.
What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a type of canine heart disease that affects the heart muscle. The hearts of dogs with DCM have a decreased ability to pump blood, which often results in congestive heart failure.
Some breeds, especially large and giant breeds, have a predisposition to DCM. These breeds include Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, and Saint Bernards. While DCM is less common in medium and small breeds, English and American Cocker Spaniels are also predisposed to this condition.
When early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicated that recent, atypical cases in breeds like Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus all consistently ate grain alternatives in their diets, the FDA took notice.
Should you be Concerned About Grain-Free Diets?
According to Dr. Klein, “At this time, there is no proof that these ingredients are the cause of DCM in a broader range of dogs, but dog owners should be aware of this alert from the FDA. The FDA continues to work with veterinary cardiologists and veterinary nutritionists to better understand the effect, if any, of grain-free diets on dogs.”
In the Dec. 1 version of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, provided an update to the research on DCM and emphasized the issue is not just grain-free diets. She calls the suspected diets “BEG” diets (boutique companies, exotic ingredients, or grain-free diets).
“The apparent link between BEG diets and DCM may be due to ingredients used to replace grains in grain-free diets, such as lentils or chickpeas, but also may be due to other common ingredients commonly found in BEG diets, such as exotic meats, vegetables, and fruits,” Freeman wrote.
Freeman emphasizes that although there appears to be an association between DCM and BEG diets, the relationship has not yet been proven, and other factors may be equally or more important.
As a general rule of thumb, the best thing you can do for your dog’s dietary health is to consult your veterinarian, not the internet. Together you can weigh the pros and cons of your dog’s diet and if necessary monitor your dog for signs of DCM. Cases of DCM in dogs related to a specific diet can be reported to the FDA via their Safety Reporting Portal.