It’s been on the news and all over the internet, are we breaking our pets’ heart with the wrong diet? An apparent link has been found between grain-free diets and diets high in legumes (peas/lentils/chickpeas/quinoa) or potatoes, and heart disease.

There has been an increase in a specific type of heart disease called DCM in breeds that are not typically prone to this condition. Veterinary cardiologists noticed that many of these dogs were on a grain-free diet. This spurred an investigation by the FDA along with a team of veterinary cardiologists and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN). So far over 90% of the diets linked to the DCM cases under investigation have been grain-free and have peas/legumes as a main ingredient. The FDA has reported the 16 most common pet foods associated with DCM to date. In some cases, dogs have shown a deficiency in the amino acid taurine and improved with supplementation. Other dogs have had normal taurine levels but still improved when supplemented. Some of the diets implicated have included grains but were high in legumes.

The conclusion? It’s complicated. We don’t yet know what it is about these diets that may be contributing to heart disease. We don’t know why only some dogs are affected.

What do we know?

We know that making a nutritionally balanced pet food can be tricky. Different ingredient combinations affect the ability of the body to absorb nutrients. We know that certain nutritional deficiencies are more likely to occur in specific breeds.

We know that the pet food industry is a multibillion-dollar marketing industry without a great deal of supervision. Exotic ingredients (kangaroo, bison, lentils) and diets free of grains can be marketing ploys aimed at pet owners’ best intentions to feed the highest quality pet food they can find.

What can we do?

Until we know for sure what the association is between grain-free/legume or potato-based diets and heart disease, it is prudent to move away from such diets. Select a diet with typical, more main-stream ingredients like chicken, beef, rice, corn, and wheat. For the time being, avoid diets with peas, other legumes or potatoes listed as a main ingredient. A main ingredient is generally considered to be one of the first 10 ingredients listed before the vitamins.

Stick to pet food companies with a long track record, veterinary nutritionists on staff, good quality control, and that manufacture their own food. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Guidelines are a helpful tool in selecting nutritionally balanced pet food.

Signs of DCM include weakness, exercise intolerance, lethargy, increased respiratory rate, panting and coughing. If you’ve been feeding a grain-free diet or a diet with legumes as a main ingredient don’t hesitate to contact us. Together we will make sure your pet is healthy and choose a diet that works for your pet.

Helpful Links:

WSAVA Guidelines

FDA Report

Dr. Freeman’s (veterinary nutritionist) article

Dr. Freeman’s Blog