Ahead of the Pack
KC Pet Collective was ahead of the pack last year as we provided breaking information about the possible link between grain free diets and cardiomyopathy in dogs, particularly Golden Retrievers. This post will give you the latest information about this developing topic. We’ll help you understand the issue and make an informed decision about feeding your dog.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a condition caused by a weakening of the heart muscle that leads to poor contraction strength. Ultimately, both the left and the right chambers of the heart become dilated, with thin walls. The disease is most often progressive and fatal. Dilated cardiomyopathy is linked to genetics, and some breeds are predisposed. But in some cases, dogs with no genetic predisposition may develop this condition. Although the cause of the disease is not fully understood, diet may be a contributing factor in some dogs.
Over the past few years, veterinary scientists at several prominent universities, including Dr. Josh Stern at the University of California, Davis, have observed increasing incidence of DCM in breeds predisposed to the disease, like golden retrievers, and also in dogs with no genetic predisposition. These investigators believe they have uncovered an association with feeding grain-free diets in certain cases.
What is the evidence for a link between grain free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs?
To date, there are no published studies that confirm a link between grain-free diets and DCM. However, veterinarians have documented at least 150 cases where they suspect diet was the cause of DCM. Owners and veterinarians have reported many cases to the to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As of July, 2018, the FDA had fully evaluated thirty of these cases. Many of these cases have occurred in dogs that are not genetically predisposed to the disease, and the affected dogs were fed grain-free diets. Specifically, these diets contain legumes like peas and lentils, potatoes, including sweet potatoes. Derivates of these ingredients like pea protein, fiber, or starches, are also associated with DCM, according to the FDA.
Should dog parents avoid feeding grain free diets?
It’s important to remember that the ingredients found in grain-free diets are also present in other types of dog food. It’s still unclear exactly how these types of ingredients may lead to DCM in dogs. These ingredients may lack certain types of nutrients, like the amino acid taurine, that are necessary for proper heart function in dogs. They may affect how dogs process essential nutrients.
The FDA is not recommending that dog parents change their pet’s diet based on the available information. The FDA is working with veterinarians and pet food companies that produce these diets to better understand the situation. Always seek advice from a licensed veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet.
What are the benefits of feeding grain free diets?
Veterinary nutritionists are not convinced that there are real benefits to feeding grain-free diets for most dogs. Grain-free diets are not necessarily more digestible for dogs. And grain-free diets do not necessarily contain fewer carbohydrates than other types of dog food. According to Dr. Angela Witzel of the University of Tennessee, about 1/3 of grain free diets are actually low carb, and 1/3 are actually high carbohydrate diets (Witzel, The veterinarian’s guide to alternative diet trends: Grain feree, raw, ketogenic, and more, abstract FETCH DVM 360 Conference, KC, MO, 2017).
Some grain-free diet advocates suggest that these diets are more natural for dogs, because dogs have evolved to be predators. According to this theory, dogs are not able to digest starches very well. In fact, scientists have discovered that dogs have evolved to produce more of the proteins associated with starch and fat digestion than their ancestor, the wolf (Axelsson et al, The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet, Nature, 2013: 495(7441)).