FDA Warns About Dog Food Linked With Heart Disease
The Federal Drug Administration has begun an examination of an association between such foods as bison and chick peas, wild boar and sweet potatoes, and kangaroo and lentils, for example, and the canine heart condition called “dilated cardiomyopathy”.
This condition called canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is seen where the heart wall becomes thin, the heart appears to balloon out, and the heart cannot effectively pump blood to the body. Clinically, the owner is likely to see weakness, fatigue, fainting, collapse, coughing, or heart failure and death.
DCM is usually noticed in certain breeds such as Great Danes, Irish Wolf Hounds, Doberman Pinschers, and Boxers where there is a genetic relationship. There are even genetic tests available to see if your pet carries the trait if you have one of these breeds or plan to get one.
But, now cases are beginning to trickle in from other breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, Shih tzu's, Labrador Retrievers, doodle mixes, dachshunds, etc. The thing in common between these breeds and their DCM condition was the diet that they were being fed: grain free boutique foods.
CVCA, a group of 19 veterinary cardiologists in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area, saw 150 cases of atypical DCM and most, not all, were on grain free “designer” or “boutique” brand diets. Up to 8-12 new cases per month, according to the New York Times article dated July 24, 2018, by Jan Hoffman.
So far, the numbers are not staggering, but enough so that veterinary cardiologists are worried.
Not every dog that eats a grain free diet is automatically going to die. Nor is the food poisonous such that eating one meal will cause D.C.M. But the numbers are starting to add up. Various veterinary schools and specialty groups have now banded together to look for the cause.
Grain free foods that have been implicated are heavy in chick peas, peas, lentils and sweet potatoes and white potatoes, which are intended to replace traditional grains.
One current theory is that the foods lack taurine, a sulfur-containing amino acid, that most dogs can make themselves from the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Either the foods are low in taurine, are low in cysteine and methionine, or these foods reduce or block the conversion of the amino acid precursors to taurine. In many of the canine patients the blood taurine concentrations were below normal and in some of the cases, giving taurine back to the DCM patients along with heart failure medications caused a reversal of their conditions.
Veterinary dermatology and nutrition experts have not found that grain free diets have any effect on skin health and disease. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist at Tufts University in Massachusetts, feels that, “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”. Instead, she claims that any benefits in switching to grain free diets comes from the change in protein (meat) that went in changing the food. It turns out that dogs need grains in their diets. Only about 10% of dogs are allergic to their diet including skin and gastrointestinal signs. Certainly, an elimination diet is important in the work up of any dogs with skin allergies or stomach or diarrhea issues.
Maybe, the advertising got us.
There are about 4 reputable dog food manufacturers that make dog foods for diet elimination trials. These foods are not meant for the dog to be on long term for the health of the dog. That is why they have to be prescribed by the attending veterinarian who is watching the pet. These foods have a single source of carbohydrate, but have been especially made so that the protein (meat component) has been broken down into small units (below 20,000 Daltons size) that don’t cause any allergies. It is only intended to be used in the workup of allergies for 8-12 weeks.
Many dog food manufacturers got on the bandwagon when we started eating grain free diets ourselves. We touted the benefits of a grain free diet for ourselves and then decided that if it was good for us then it must be good for our dogs. Many loving pet owners felt that they saw positive benefits. Some did and some wanted to see them.
Smaller manufacturers can’t put the nutritional science into their foods that the big guys can. We pay more for their premium foods and may be running a risk that our dogs can get failing hearts.
If your dog develops the DCM condition, we can measure the blood taurine level and begin taurine supplementation along with heart medication. Our cardiologist can perform an ECHO study of the heart to document the DCM and the contraction of the heart muscle. From there, therapeutic medications and taurine can be prescribed.