heart disease in dogs

What Should I Do if My Pet Eats Food the FDA Says May Cause Heart Disease? A Veterinarian’s Take

Recently, the U.S. FDA alerted pet owners and veterinarians about reports of heart disease in dogs eating grain-free pet foods containing high proportions of peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. Grain-free and gluten free diets for pets are becoming increasingly popular. While these diets are particularly helpful with PEOPLE suffering with celiac disease, gluten intolerances, or allergies to wheat, most dogs and cats do NOT suffer from these same ailments.

The FDA also released a statement listing 16 dog food brands possibly associated with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in pets. As a small animal veterinarian, I have been flooded with calls and consultation requests. So many pet parents are understandably concerned about feeding their beloved pets these listed diets.

So today I would like to address the FDA reports, which dog food brands may be linked to DCM in pets, and my recommendations if you have been feeding your pet these foods.

What reports show a link between diet and heart disease in dogs?

Veterinarians and Veterinary Cardiologists believe there may be a link between “BEG” diets (boutique companies, exotic ingredients, or grain-free diets) and DCM. Recently, the U.S. FDA alerted pet owners and veterinarians about reports of heart disease in dogs eating pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. So these ingredients replace the grains in grain-free pet food diets.

Although the studies are unconfirmed and in the early stages, there is a possibility that these BEG diets are low in taurine, an amino acid important in the metabolism of fats. Low blood taurine levels are a confirmed factor in causing DCM in pets. However, the full extent of these findings is not yet clear. Not all cases of heart disease in dogs are linked to diet.

Recently the FDA released a statement with 16 dog food brands linked to DCM in pets.

What dog food brands did the FDA list as linked to DCM?

  • 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
  • Rachael Ray Nutrish

What is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)?

DCM is a condition in which the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is enlarged and weakened. This weakening causes a decreased ability to pump blood. Over time, it can affect the other heart chambers.

What are the warning signs or symptoms of heart disease in dogs?

Unfortunately, there may be no clinical signs of DCM. However, with more advanced heart disease in dogs, you may witness the following symptoms:

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Panting more than usual
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Respiratory distress
  • Fainting
  • Death

See Your Brand? – My Recommendations:

First of all, speak with your veterinarian, and schedule a consultation. A board-certified veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist should thoroughly examine and assess your pets.

Testing

Your vet will perform a thorough physical examination, involving auscultating the heart and lungs for abnormalities. In addition, your vet may recommend more specific blood tests. Additional tests may assess your pet’s cardiac function and evidence of compromise or damage. Based on your veterinarian’s assessment, they may refer you to a veterinarian cardiologist for further assessment and diagnostic tests, such as an echocardiogram.

Feeding

If your pet is on a grain-free diet, even if not one of the 16 dog food brands listed in the FDA’s report, consider switching the diet to a balanced and whole diet consisting of high quality ingredients. Grains are any small, hard seeds, especially the seeds of a food plant such as wheat, corn, rye, oat, rice, or millet. A grain-free pet food is void of any grains. Several genes in pets have been modified over the years to allow them to digest grains and gluten. So, in terms of metabolism, it is not necessary to feed your pets grain-free pet food.

I DO NOT recommend pets eat a grain-free diet unless prescribed and deemed medically necessary by a board-certified veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist.

It’s possible that not all varieties within these brands of foods are linked to DCM. However, I recommend all pet diets follow the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines. This organization is responsible for safeguarding the health of animals and humans. They regulate the manufacture, labeling, distribution, and sale of animal feeds, resulting in safe, effective, and useful feeds.

I also recommend a high quality diet with no preservatives, additives, or chemicals. Finally, if you cook your pet’s meals, follow specific guidelines from a veterinary nutritionist. Ensure you feed a balanced and whole diet.

Final Thoughts

Of course, nutrition has an invaluable impact on our pets’ lives, as it does with our own. Because we do want what’s best for our fur babies, it’s becoming increasingly trendy to feed our pets what we eat.

What is healthy for us must be healthy for them, right?

Well, not necessarily… “Grain free” and “gluten free” are two of the biggest food trends right now. Many upscale pet foods boast containing more meat and fewer (or no) grains, getting back to how our pets’ ancestors ate. 

With the increasing knowledge and awareness of nutrition and its impact on our overall health, it is only natural that we want to feed our pets the healthiest and best foods, too. The pet food market is growing rapidly, and higher quality foods are becoming more readily available for our pets. It is more convenient and easier than ever to ensure your pet is getting the best nutrition.

I love that pet parents are becoming more actively involved in the health and wellness of their pets. Nothing is more important than nutrition. Our pets rely on us to make the right choices for them. Providing them with high quality, whole natural ingredients is one of the most important choices we can make for them. That is one of the many reasons I am honored to partner with Side by Side Pet to provide the healthiest, longest life possible for our pets. Your pets will thank you for providing them with a nutritious AND delicious diet with many years of unfaltering devotion, love, and health.

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