The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently announced that it is investigating a potential link between grain free dog foods and a common type of canine heart disease (called dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM).
The health issues were detected in dogs not typically prone to this particular type of heart disease (these breeds included Golden Retrievers, Labs, Whippets, Shih Tzus, and Bulldogs). The FDA has not yet issued any recalls but is investigating.
The potential risk in grain-free foods comes from the high amounts of grain-replacements such as peas, lentils, legumes, chickpeas and potatoes. These carbs were also found high up on the ingredient lists, meaning there is a lot of them in the foods.
While there is a potential link between grain-free foods and heart disease, there have been no recalls yet and the cases documented so far have been limited. FDA experts and other researchers do not yet know why grain-free diets may be causing this health issue. It’s possible that it could be caused by the general lack of grains in the diet or the addition of substitute carbs.
The FDA released a statement saying:
“Diets in cases reported to the FDA frequently list potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other “pulses” (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch and fiber derivatives early in the ingredient list, indicating that they are main ingredients. Early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicate that the dogs consistently ate these foods as their primary source of nutrition for time periods ranging from months to years. High levels of legumes or potatoes appear to be more common in diets labeled as “grain-free,” but it is not yet known how these ingredients are linked to cases of DCM. Changes in diet, especially for dogs with DCM, should be made in consultation with a licensed veterinarian.” (See sources below for links to all quotes.)
Grain-free canine dog foods have become popular in recent years after massive safety recalls in 2007 for pet foods contaminated with melamine sources from China. However, the health benefits of grain-free diets for dogs have not been proven and this new potential link to health conditions is another reason to be skeptical of the trend diet.
The New York Times quotes Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and researcher with the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University as saying:
“Contrary to advertising and popular belief, there is no research to demonstrate that grain-free diets offer any health benefits over diets that contain grains.”
“Grains have not been linked to any health problems except in the very rare situation when a pet has an allergy to a specific grain.”
The American Kennel club quotes Dr. Jerry Klein, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the AKC:
“The FDA is investigating a potential dietary link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and dogs eating certain grain-free pet foods. The foods of concern are those containing legumes such as peas or lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes listed as primary ingredients. The FDA began investigating this matter after it received a number of reports of DCM in dogs that had been eating these diets for a period of months to years. DCM itself is not considered rare in dogs, but these reports are unusual because the disease occurred in breeds of dogs not typically prone to the disease.”
It’s too early to know what exactly is causing the canine heart disease. Until the FDA releases its final report it’s a good idea to stay well informed and consult your vet. Dr. Klein is quoted by the AKC as saying:
“At this time, there is no proof that these ingredients are the cause of DCM in a broader range of dogs, but dog owners should be aware of this alert from the FDA. The FDA continues to work with veterinary cardiologists and veterinary nutritionists to better understand the effect, if any, of grain-free diets on dogs.”
Concerned dog owners can switch away from grain-free dog foods to more traditional diets. If you prefer to do that, look for products not marked as grain-free and products that do not contain peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients.
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