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Could your dog’s food be causing heart disease?

March 11, 2020

The FDA and the scientific veterinary community have been examining a connection between Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) and certain BEG diets. The recently coined term “BEG diets” refers to boutique diets with exotic ingredients, and/or grain-free diets.

DCM is a life-threatening condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and weakened so that it is progressively less able to pump blood through the body. Currently, it is not well understood why some dogs develop DCM, but most dogs with dietary-related DCM do show improvement when the diet is changed.  It should be noted, however, that primary DCM, an inherited condition, is seen in Dobermans, Great Danes, and Irish Wolf Hounds. This form of the disease is NOT related to an inadequate diet and does not respond to dietary change.

Signs of DCM include:

  • shortness of breath, syncope (collapse or unconsciousness due to problems with the heart circulating the blood)
  • exercise intolerance
  • cough
  • heart murmur (as noted on physical exam)
  • and heart arrhythmia (as noted on an EKG analysis)
If your dog is eating a BEG diet and experiencing any of these symptoms, please make an appointment with Clermont Animal Hospital for an exam and cardiac evaluation. Our doctors generally recommend a screening EKG and a chest X-ray.
Importantly, not every dog fed a diet associated with DCM will develop the disease.

Which foods are “safe,” and which foods are not?

Unfortunately, it is not yet well understood what makes a food “safe” to feed.  There are many foods on the market without enough scientific data available to determine whether or not they may lead to DCM if fed on an ongoing basis.  What we do know is that 90% of the foods associated with dietary DCM were labeled as “grain-free” and 93% contained peas and/or lentils as a main ingredient (in the top 10 ingredients as listed).

Based on current recommendations, Clermont Animal Hospital is recommending the following food brands:

  • Hill’s Pet Nutrition (including Science Diet and Hill’s Prescription Diets)
  • Nestle Purina (including Beyond, ProPlan, Purina One, and Beneful)
  • Royal Canin (including all prescription diets)
  • Iams/Eukanuba

 

Clermont Animal Hospital recommends:

What if the food I am feeding my dog is not on either list?

Remember that this is still an area of active and ongoing research.  Not every food out there has enough data to determine whether or not it might be linked with DCM.  If the food you are feeding is not included on either the “safe” or the “suspect” list, consider the following questions:
How does the food company determine that the food is nutritionally complete and balanced?  

The FDA provides minimum standards, but these can be met through chemical analysis of the food, which does not mean that they can necessarily be absorbed or utilized by your dog’s body.  A good company evaluates nutrition through long-term feeding trials, where they feed the diet to dogs over an extended period and evaluated for nutritionally related conditions or disease.  ALL of the companies on the “safe” list use this method to evaluate the nutritional content of their foods.

Is the food labeled “grain-free?”  

Remember that 90% of the diets associated with DCM were labeled as “grain-free.”  While grain-free diets from brands not listed may be fine, do you really want to take that risk with your dog’s health?  If your dog is not on a grain-free food for a known allergy or other medical condition, consider switching to a formula that is not grain-free.  If your dog has a known allergy or other condition that requires a grain-free diet, Clermont Animal Hospital recommends choosing a grain-free formula from one of the brands on the “safe” list.

Are peas or lentils listed in the top 10 ingredients on the ingredient list?

Because 93% of the dogs in the study with dietary related DCM were on diets with peas and/or lentils as a major ingredient, Clermont Animal Hospital does NOT recommend feeding any food with these ingredients listed in the top 10 ingredients, unless the food is from a brand known to be “safe.”

Is my dog showing any of the above signs that could be associated with heart disease?

If the answer to this question is “yes” then please call Clermont Animal Hospital today to schedule an exam and consultation.  Until we have definitively ruled out DCM, dogs with signs that may indicate this heart condition should be switched brand known to be “safe.”  While the food you are feeding may be perfectly fine, we don’t want to take that risk in a symptomatic dog.

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