Starting in 2018 a correlation was suspected between grain-free diets and heart disease, specifically dilated cardiomyopathy, in dogs. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart muscle which causes the heart to enlarge and beat inadequately, sometimes leading to coughing, heart failure, or even death. It was originally discovered in cats that consumed diets with an inadequate amount of taurine, an amino acid important for heart function. Recently, DCM is being seen in more dogs, whether they have a genetic predisposition to it or not, and the interaction of taurine (or it’s building blocks) with certain ingredients has been identified as one of the issues.
So far, research has associated diet-related DCM with grain-free or legume-rich diets, those with “exotic” ingredients, and those made by smaller “boutique” companies. Most people believe that these diets are classified as high-quality due to attractive marketing, however, there is no proof that this is the case or that the food is complete and balanced. This makes it difficult for people to truly know what is best for their pet.
What should you look for when choosing a pet food?
- AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) testing statements that are present on food bags that guarantee it provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance, growth, etc. Often these companies will undergo animal feeding tests to confirm this.
- WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) recommended – This information is not often present on the food bags, however, brands that fit this associations recommendation include those that employ veterinary nutritionists to create the formula, as well as those that input strict quality control measures when creating diets *(Royal Canin, Hills, Purina, Eukanuba, Iams).
- If possible, avoid feeding grain-free diets, boutique brands, or exotic ingredients and instead switch to something with more typical ingredients formulated by a company with a good track record for quality (mentioned above). Preferably these diets should also avoid high amounts of peas, lentils, other legumes, or potatoes in the formula.
- Home-made, Vegetarian, or Raw Diets are not recommended due to a possible correlation caused by nutritional imbalances. Ask your primary veterinarian about balanced options.
When it comes to food allergies, most dogs are allergic to the protein source found in food, rarely the grain. Although veterinary diets that are often prescribed for allergies, such as hydrolyzed or novel protein diets, often include peas or potatoes as main ingredients, there has not been an association with them causing heart disease in dogs. These diets are extensively researched and developed by veterinary nutritionists. If your pet has a proven allergy or intolerance to certain ingredients, contact your primary veterinarian to inquire about a diet that may be right for them.
Not every dog develops heart disease on suspected diets, however, the US Food and Drug Administration Center (FDA) and veterinary cardiologists are continuing to research this issue to try to figure out the exact cause. The following link provides more information regarding the current FDA report, as well as a chart of problematic diets:
Contact your primary veterinarian or call Norwalk Animal Hospital if you have any questions regarding your pet’s diet or if you suspect symptoms of heart disease.