Grain Free Diets and Dilated Cardiomyopathy
You may have been hearing or reading some concerning information about grain free and limited ingredient diets and an association to a condition in dogs known as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM is a disease of the heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart. We want to help you to understand the discussion and timeline of the news regarding this topic.
In June 2018, a nutritionist at Tufts University Veterinary School wrote an article stating there has been an increased incidence of DCM in breeds of dogs not inherently predisposed to DCM. Dogs with this heart condition experience symptoms of weakness, exercise intolerance, and coughing. These clinical signs are not only associated with DCM but other forms of congestive heart disease as well. Testing for DCM involves thorough physical exam, blood chemistry, blood taurine level testing, X-rays, ECG and echocardiograms by cardiologists. If you have concerns and would like precautionary testing, we can arrange that for you.
The FDA center of veterinary medicine has been investigating this claim. The most recent FDA report, published on September 2020, has yet to come up with any firm evidence linking specific diets to DCM. The FDA is pursuing leads in affected dogs consuming diets containing legumes in significant portions. Legumes are peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc. Diets with potatoes and sweet potatoes are also under investigation. Reports are focused on formulations (high concentrations/ratios) and not just the ingredients themselves.
Certain breeds of dogs are inherently predisposed to DCM. Giant breeds (Great Danes, Newfoundland, St. Bernard, etc.), Dobermans, and Boxers to name a few. Certain smaller breeds (English Setters, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retriever) are also affected and, in some cases, are known to be reversed by taurine/carnitine supplements. If your dog is predisposed and is on a grain free diet or a limited ingredient diet, don’t panic. Simply changing to a traditional diet, that may contain healthy grains, may be a simple solution for what has been speculated by some.
You may have your dog on a grain free or limited ingredient diet for good reasons. Allergy symptoms in your pet have a variety of causes and we know food allergies are commonly implicated. You might suspect your dog is experiencing a food allergy by some form of digestive distress, itching or skin and ear infections. In these cases, it is very individualized when selecting an appropriate hypoallergenic food. You will need to experiment or do a trial elimination diet to find what food choice is best suited for your dog.
We continue to recommend feeding a variety of diets if your dog doesn’t show signs of food allergies or other intolerances. Rotating foods/diets will allow your dog to experience the benefits of various ingredients while providing a lifetime of balance in essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Choose a food manufacturer that meets AAFCO standards and is known for quality well sourced ingredients and produced in a quality- controlled manufacturing facility.
A maintenance diet does not have to be grain-free or contain “novel” ingredients. A quality maintenance food of more traditional ingredients may very well suit the needs of your dog and may be more economical for you also. (Fromm Gold, 4-Star, Best Breed, Nutrisource.)
The recent FDA report states “different dogs have different nutritional needs based on a number of factors, so nutritional advice is not one-size-fits-all.” The FDA recommends consulting your veterinarian for personalized advice about what to feed your dog. It’s important to note that in the FDA report affected dogs included those that have eaten grain-free and but also those eating grain containing foods. Some were on vegetarian or vegan formulations also. All forms of these diets: kibble, canned, raw and home-cooked were represented in the report. This explains why we do not think these cases can be explained simply by whether they contain legumes or not, nor by brand or manufacturer. To put this issue into proper context, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that there are 77 million pet dogs in the United States. As of September 2020, the FDA reports that between January 1, 2014 and July 31, 2020, 1100 case reports of diagnosed dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs.
If you are concerned about the diet you are currently feeding your dog, the FDA recommends “consulting with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to discuss the best and safest diet for you dog.”
We opened the Village Pet Market in 2008 in response to the need for more wholesome choices in pet foods. The discovery of the toxin melamine in many prominently manufactured pet foods really upended the whole pet food industry. The limited choices in good quality maintenance foods and the high cost of “prescription diets” motivated us to help our clients find better choices at an affordable cost. At the time there were very limited options beyond Purina Dog Chow, Kibbles and Bits and Gravy Train unless you traveled to a specialty pet store. Most of these inferior diets included unsourced and unregulated ingredients from China, whole grain corn and starches, with unnamed animal protein sources, propylene glycol and other artificial ingredients. Many of our clients whose pets suffered from skin and digestive allergies found relief by switching to brands such as Fromm, Best Breed, Wellness and Zignature. Their pets were improving without the expense of prescription diets and medications. Now, years later, the pet food industry has exploded! The major name brands are trying to keep up with consumer demand for quality diets. We continue to use a common-sense approach for what we think will be the best for our pets and what to recommend for your pets as well. We rely on our own observations, research and reporting. We have stayed informed on the topic of nutritional- mediated dilated cardiomyopathy (NM DCM) by current reports, consulting a local veterinary cardiologist and contacts in the veterinary field. Presently, it is still very unclear as to the cause of dietary related DCM. Given the fact that we don’t yet understand the relation between diet and this disease it may be prudent to reconsider your dog’s diet until we know more. With the many choices in pet foods that are now available, switching to a food that is high in protein (cooked at low temperatures), inclusive of quality grains and a smaller ratio of legumes may be a precautionary measure. If you personally feel your dog is fine and wish to continue your present feeding program just be mindful of any of the signs of DCM or heart issue described earlier.
As a side note and for our cat loving friends, taurine deficiency is not overlooked. Taurine is a dietary essential amino acid for cats and has been linked to the feline version of DCM. Since 1987 the pet food industry has supplemented all forms of cat foods and virtually eliminated the disease in cats eating a reputable commercial diet. We caution those pet parents on home prepared diets or inferior cat foods regarding taurine deficiency.
If you have further questions, please ask, we’d love to continue the discussion! Dr. Wagner is available by appointment for those that would like to have any additional testing done. If you have any concerns that your pet is showing signs of DCM or any heart related illness, please call asap and schedule an appointment. Other food related questions can be directed to email@example.com