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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Keller, DVM

Dog Food Linked With Heart Disease

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

The FDA has recently released a statement that they are investigating a link between cases of canine heart disease and grain free diets. The type of heart disease being investigated is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM causes stretching of the heart muscle, making it harder for the heart to pump efficiently, potentially leading to congestive heart failure.

The diets of concern are often called “BEG” diets (boutique companies, exotic ingredients, or grain free). The “BEG” diets of concern are those containing legumes (peas and lentils) and potatoes (including sweet potatoes) as the primary ingredients. The FDA report states that more than 90 percent of foods reported inDCM cases were grain-free, 93 percent of reported foods contained peas and/or lentils, and 42 percent contained potatoes/sweet potatoes. As the direct link between these diets and DCM has not been found, veterinary cardiologists and veterinary nutritionists are working together to find more answers.

The following list are the dog food brands from the report that were named ten times or more:

  • Acana (67 reports)

  • Zignature (64 reports)

  • Taste of the Wild (53 reports)

  • Health (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)

Where do we go from here? That’s the tricky part. There is not a fast and easy test to determine if a pet is going to have diet related DCM. It was initially thought that we could check taurine levels (an amino acid) in the blood, but unfortunately, the blood taurine levels do not correlate well with DCM findings. Many dogs with DCM do not have a heart murmur, so we are unable to diagnose DCM by listening to the heart alone. An ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram) done by a veterinary cardiologist is the best bet to evaluate the heart muscle and function.

For diet recommendations, we know there is not one diet that will work for every pet. While we wish that all pets could have a home cooked diet appropriately balanced by a veterinary nutritionist, we realize that is not an option for most clients. Based on the preliminary study findings, we recommend choosing a diet that does not have legumes or potatoes listed high in the ingredient list (regardless of the brand). If looking to switch to a new diet, do not fear grain. Contrary to most marketing campaigns, grains very rarely the source of allergies with food, it is usually the protein source used (beef, chicken, fish, etc.). With any diet change, please ensure that a gradual change from one food to another is done over seven to ten days to allow the gastrointestinal tract time to adjust. If you have any questions, please feel free to call out office.

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