Can Grain-Free Diets Cause Heart Disease in Dogs?

Can Grain-Free Diets Cause Heart Disease in Dogs?

Grain-free, boutique diets and diets comprised of exotic proteins (wild boar, bison, or kangaroo) or legumes, like chickpeas and lentils, are all the rage among health-conscious pet owners who hope to provide the best diets for their beloved furry canine friends. The FDA, veterinarians, and veterinary nutritionists, however, have marked a significant link between these popular dietary choices and increased cases of canine heart disease, specifically a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

What Is Canine DCM?

Briefly, canine DCM is a potentially fatal disease that affects a dog’s heart muscle. The disease weakens contractions and hinders the heart’s ability to pump blood. This can cause an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure.

How Are These Foods Causing Heart Disease?

Although more research is still needed to determine the exact reason or reasons why these foods are causing dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, the development of heart disease seems to be related to a dog’s ability to produce and process taurine in its body. The problem is a complex challenge, in which ingredients are interacting in a way that results in blocking the use of taurine in dogs.

The FDA previously released information which identified a strong link between dogs with DCM and grain-free diets. Although 90% of affected dogs seem to have been on grain-free diets, further investigation has revealed that some of these dogs did in fact have grain included in their diets.

If Not Grain-Free, Then What’s the Culprit?

It now appears that the primary common factor in these dogs’ diets were high concentrations of peas, chickpeas, lentils, and a variety of potatoes. Many of the dogs in the FDA’s study consumed diets with large amounts of plant-based protein, often referred to as “boosters.” Diets contained ingredients like dried peas, pea protein, potato protein, or other foods that listed legumes in the top ten ingredients.

This information is not final, as the FDA’s investigation into the relationship between diet and canine DCM continues.

Signs and Symptoms of Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

If your dog has been eating a diet that includes a significant amount of these ingredients, keep a close eye for behavioral changes or signs of heart disease. Dogs suffering from canine DCM sometimes display the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Fainting

If you notice any signs of potential heart problems or other behavior changes in your dog, we recommend scheduling a wellness check right away. If it is determined that your dog has DCM, we will provide immediate treatment and also help you submit a report to the FDA through the Department of Health and Human Services.

Safeguarding Your Dog's Health: Steps to Take Now

Until the FDA reaches a definitive conclusion and has released its final report, consider the following actions to protect your dog’s health.

– Avoid brands that list plant-based proteins as top ingredients.
– Switch your dog to quality grain-inclusive food.

At Sleepy Hollow Animal Hospital, we understand that selecting a pet food for your dog can feel overwhelming in the face of slick marketing campaigns and the sheer number of choices. Veterinary nutritionists do not recommend switching to a home cooked or raw diet, as these can lead to their own problems and also fail to eliminate the risk of heart disease. Using guidelines established by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, we will recommend a variety of pet food brands and ingredients that are safe and healthy for your dog.

We’ll continue to update you with more information, as the FDA releases the results of its ongoing investigation. For more information or if you have concerns about your dog’s current diet, please contact Sleepy Hollow Animal Hospital today.