The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced that they are investigating a possible link between certain kinds of dog food and a canine heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). In DCM, the chambers of the heart become enlarged, causing the heart to weaken and the body’s supply of oxygenated blood to decrease.
Grain-free dog food has been implicated in this connection because an increased number of DCM cases have been seen in dogs that eat a diet high in peas, lentils, chickpeas, and potatoes. These are the kinds of carbohydrates that often replace grains like wheat in grain-free dog food.
Besides diet, the affected dogs had no other known risk factors for DCM, which can occur in certain very large dog breeds such as Newfoundlands and Great Danes.
Veterinary cardiologists began noticing cases of DCM in dog breeds not known for having a hereditary risk for the disease. The common factor among these dogs were grain-free “boutique” diets, which also often contained novel animal proteins.
A report on the FDA warning in the New York Times notes that one large veterinary cardiology practice in the Washington DC area began documenting the growing number of DCM cases in their patients. The practice reports seeing 8 to 12 new cases per month that are not associated with genetics.
Veterinary nutrition experts say that the trend in grain-free dog food should be viewed with caution. They note that grains are not necessarily a bad thing in a dog’s diet, and that true grain allergies are rare.
Investigations into the connection between DCM and diet have shown that some dogs eating grain-free diets experience low taurine levels. Taurine is an amino acid essential to heart health. Dogs deficient in taurine are at elevated risk for DCM.
Researchers are still not certain what exactly is the dietary trigger that connects grain-free dog food and DCM. Whether it’s the addition of the legumes or exotic proteins—or the removal of the grains or common proteins—the answer is not clear yet.
No pet food recalls related to DCM and diet have been announced at this time. If you and your veterinarian suspect food-related DCM in your dog, you can report it to the FDA via their website.
Be sure to talk to your vet if you have questions or concerns about the right diet for your individual dog.