As responsible dog owners, we only want the best for our pets. Whether we’re buying them the softest beds to make them feel comfortable and secure, finding the perfect toys to keep them happy and mentally stimulated, or even buying new tech to keep us connected to our dogs when we aren’t home, we are constantly looking for ways to improve the lives of our canine companions. So it should come as no surprise that many dog owners also take a keen interest in improving the diets of their beloved pets.
Unfortunately, some of those who wanted to keep their dogs safe by feeding them grain-free diets may have inadvertently put the health of their pets at risk. Recently, the FDA announced that it would be looking into a potential link between grain-free diets and heart disease in dogs.
Specifically, it appears as though there may be a connection between certain grain-free dog foods that list legumes, lentils, peas, and/or potatoes as primary ingredients and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Dogs with DCM will have enlarged, weakened hearts that can result in arrhythmia, coughing, lethargy, breathing difficulty, a lack of balance, congestive heart failure, and even death.
According to the FDA, the exact underlying cause of DCM is unknown, but it may have a genetic component. Breeds that are most often affected by DCM include large and giant breeds, such as Great Danes, boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish wolfhounds, Saint Bernards, and Doberman pinschers. Small and medium breeds are less likely to experience DCM, with the exception of American and English cocker spaniels. However, cases reported to the FDA have included golden and Labrador retrievers, whippets, a shih tzu, a bulldog and miniature schnauzers, as well as mixed breeds.
No brands or specific grain-free food products have been named by the FDA at this time, and officials are still searching for the exact connection between the grain-free diet and DCM, but officials now suspect that the negative effects may stem from a lack of taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that is highly concentrated the muscles of the heart, and it’s an essential amino acid, which means it is not produced by the body and must be absorbed from food.
Typically, taurine deficiency is not an issue for dogs, since meat proteins contain sufficient amounts of taurine. But dogs on special diets with grain-free plants listed as the primary ingredients (such as legumes, lentils, peas, and/or potatoes) may be lacking in taurine. This is why officials are urging owners of dogs on nontraditional diets that have been diagnosed with DCM make sure their veterinarians are informed about the dog’s unique diet.
If your dog has been diagnosed with DCM and you believe his or her diet may have played a role in the development of the condition, you can submit a report to the FDA through the Safety Reporting Portal or contact your state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators.