Jul 24 2019

Grain-Free Diets and Heart Disease

What do we know?

Last month the FDA released an updated report regarding the possible relationship between grain free diets and Dilated Cardiomyopathy. FDA analysis of the diet composition found that 91% of the heart disease cases were being fed a “grain-free” diet, and 93% had peas/lentils as the major grain substitute. You can read the full report from the FDA here.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a heart disease that in the past was considered to be a genetic disease that developed in predisposed, often purebred, dogs and occurred at a much higher rate in certain breeds. Recently there appeared to be an increase in cases of DCM. A study by a cardiologist at UC Davis Veterinary School showed an relationship between dogs with DCM and them eating grain-free diets. Some of these dog’s heart disease resolved when they were placed on different diets and supplemented with taurine.

At the end of June, the FDA released results from their investigation into the DCM cases, and showed the brands of food linked to the DCM cases. This is helpful, because grain free is a marketing term used to sell dog food, and hundreds of dog foods use this marketing term and knowing the brands and ingredients of the diets is very helpful. The following chart shows the number of cases related to each brand of food.

The other useful information the FDA study presented was the unusually high percentage of foods that had peas or lentils (legumes) as their main carbohydrate source.

This is a very high percentage of foods that have peas or lentils were fed to the dogs who developed DCM. Researchers are still not sure of the mechanism causing the DCM, some dogs had low taurine, but others had normal taurine. Other factors such as poorly balanced nutrient/vitamin additives, low carnitine, toxins, or unknown other factors could also be contributing to the cases. More research will be needed to know definitively what the factor or factors are that are causing this. Many of the foods on the list had not had AAFCO feeding trials done to document the safety of the foods.

What should I do if my pet is eating grain-free food?

1) If your pet is not eating the food for a specific medical reason (severe food allergy, etc), it would be the safest thing to switch to a non – pea / lentil based food. There are countless food on the market that fit this profile. Dog foods all have a mixture of protein (meat) and carbohydrate (grain, potato, lentil, or pea) sources If your dog does not have a specific food allergy to corn, wheat, or rice, then the carbohydrate source of corn, wheat or rice are a perfectly good choice for your dog. We, and many other stores, stock Royal Canin dog foods which have high quality control and have not been linked with DCM.

2) If your pet is eating a grain free food for a medical reason, or struggles greatly with diet change, you could continue the food. However, there are high quality allergy foods that have hydrolyzed protein that are not pea / lentil based and are not from any of the brands listed in the study which might be safer.

3) Call one of our veterinarians if you have more questions!