Should You Eliminate Grain-Free Food From Your Dog’s Diet?

Should You Eliminate Grain-Free Food From Your Dog's DietGrain free diets for dogs have recently become featured in the news. Between January 1, 2014 and April 30, 2019, the FDA received 524 reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The total number of pets affected is much greater than 524, due to many households having more than one pet. The FDA is investigating a potential dietary link between DCM and dogs eating certain grain-free dog 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 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 the reports are unusual because the disease occurred in breeds of dogs that are not typically prone to the disease.

Canine Heart Disease or Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a type of canine heart disease that affects the heart muscle. The hearts of dogs with DCM have a decreased ability to pump blood, which often results in congestive heart failure. Some breeds, especially large and giant breeds, have a predisposition to DCM. These breeds include Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, and Saint Bernards. While DCM is less common in medium and small breeds, English and American Cocker Spaniels are also predisposed to this condition.

The reports submitted to the FDA of affected pets span a wide range of breeds, including many without a known genetic predisposition. When early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicated that recently, atypical cases occurred in breeds like Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus all consistently ate grain alternatives in their diets, the FDA took notice.

In the FDA’s July 2019 update on diet and canine heart disease, they examined labels of dog food products reported in DCM cases to determine whether the foods were “grain-free” (defined as no corn, soy, wheat, rice, barley, or other grains), and whether the foods contained peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans, or potatoes (including sweet potatoes). Their report states that more than 90 percent of foods reported in DCM cases were grain-free, 93 percent of reported foods contained peas and/or lentils, and 42 percent contained potatoes/sweet potatoes.

At this point in time, there is no direct and proven link between DCM and grain-free diets, but dog owners should be aware and conscious of the warning issued by the FDA.

The FDA’s July 2019 update includes the names of dog food brands that were named ten or more times in reports submitted until April 30, 2019. Most reports were for dry dog food, but raw, semi-moist, and wet foods were all represented. These foods include Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature’s Variety, Nutrisource, Nutro, and Rachael Ray Nutrish.

In the December 1 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN prompts that the issue is not just grain-free diets. She also suspects the “BEG” diets to be culprits. These include boutique companies, foods containing exotic ingredients, and grain-free diets. “The apparent link between BEG diets and DCM may be due to ingredients used to replace grains in grain-free diets, such as lentils or chickpeas, but also may be due to other common ingredients commonly found in BEG diets, such as exotic meats, vegetables, and fruits,” Freeman wrote. Freeman emphasizes that although there appears to be an association between DCM and BEG diets, the relationship has not yet been proven, but still practice caution in feeding BEG diets.

As a general rule of thumb, the best thing you can do for your dog is to contact your veterinarian. Feel free to contact Dr. Olsen at 618-656-5868 with any questions.