FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Grain Free Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease (DCM)

**IMPORTANT NOTE**
If your pet is on a prescription diet, we do NOT recommend making a diet change without a specific recommendation from one of our veterinarians. The Veterinary Prescription Diets are safe and you should not change from these without your veterinarian’s specific recommendation. In general, the prescription diets should have optimal levels of taurine in them. For our patients on prescription diets –please leave a message with a list of brands you prefer or items you know your dog is allergic to so we can help you find a new diet. You know your dog’s dietary sensitivities better than we do. Changes in diet, especially for dogs with DCM, should be made in consultation with a licensed veterinarian.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. These reports are unusual because DCM is occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories, are investigating this potential association.

Canine DCM is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart. As the heart and its chambers become dilated, it becomes harder for the heart to pump, and heart valves may leak, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen. DCM often results in congestive heart failure. Heart function may improve in cases that are not linked to genetics with appropriate veterinary treatment and dietary modification, if caught early.The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component. Breeds that are typically more frequently affected by DCM include large and giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. It is less common in small and medium breed dogs, except American and English Cocker Spaniels. However, the cases that have been reported to the FDA have included Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers, as well as mixed breeds.

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.

In the reports the FDA has received, some of the dogs showed signs of heart disease, including decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing and episodes of collapse. Medical records for four atypical DCM cases, three Golden Retrievers and one Labrador Retriever, show that these dogs had low whole blood levels of the amino acid taurine. Taurine deficiency is well-documented as potentially leading to DCM. The Labrador Retriever with low whole blood taurine levels is recovering with veterinary treatment, including taurine supplementation, and a diet change. Four other cases of DCM in atypical dog breeds, a Miniature Schnauzer, Shih Tzu and two Labrador Retrievers, had normal blood taurine levels. The FDA continues to work with board certified veterinary cardiologists and veterinary nutritionists to better understand the clinical presentation of these dogs.

If your pet is on a grain free diet, NOT prescribed specifically by a doctor, we recommend that you change their diet to one that is not based on peas, lentils, garbanzo beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes as soon as possible. At this time, there is no one manufacturer or pet food being singled out by the FDA. Many diets are implicated. In time, we will know more about the problem. It appears that the lentil, pea and potato diets are blocking your dog’s ability to utilize taurine, an amino acid important for adequate taurine metabolism to protect your dog’s heart.

Please select a non-grain free diet. These will have corn, rice, oatmeal, barley, beet pulp, or other carbohydrates in them. These are not inferior or bad diets. We recommend Hills Science Diet, Royal Canin, and Purina food avoiding their grain free or limited antigen diets. We are also familiar with Fromm and American Premium Natural diets that are made in Wisconsin. Avoid anything that says grain-free, and has peas, lentils, beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes in the first 10 ingredients on the list. Also look at items likes peas listed in more than 1 form in the diet – like peas and pea flour – in this way they can put more peas in the diet and hide the fact they are heavily pea or lentil based.
Be sure to read the back of the bag or website. Do not count on the label on the front of the bag to have enough information on it to rely on for your decision. Call the 800 number the company has on their website or package for additional assistance.

If you are still concerned, you can purchase taurine over the counter at some local pets stores and online – the dose is 250 to 1000 mg 2 times a day based on the size of the dog. Dark meat cooked chicken is also a good way to add taurine to the diet.

We can do a blood test on your dog for taurine and we can discuss taurine supplementation if you are concerned. This test will be discounted on October 13 during our health clinic. We have a limited number of echocardiogram appointments to check for signs of DCM available on October 13th at our health clinic – CALL NOW – the deadline to register for the health clinic is October 1st.

The FDA encourages pet owners and veterinary professionals to report cases of DCM in dogs suspected of having a link to diet by using the electronic Safety Reporting Portal or calling their state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. Please see the link below about “How to Report a Pet Food Complaint" for additional instructions.

Additional Information Questions & Answers: FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Investigation into a Possible Connection Between Diet and Canine Heart Disease