The Buzz on Grain Free Diets

Recently, there is quite a buzz in the media and on the internet about grain-free diets and heart disease. With so much information it can be difficult to know what to believe. Below are the most current updates from the veterinary field as well as the best recommendations for your pet.

Since 2014 veterinary cardiologists have been documenting a heart condition known as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dog breeds that historically are not genetically predisposed to this disease. DCM is a potentially deadly heart disease that causes the heart to enlarge and decreases its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. During the early stages, pets often appear healthy. This can progress over time to showing signs of lethargy, cough, difficulty breathing and episodes of collapse. In July 2018, the FDA announced that there was enough evidence to launch an investigation looking at the potential link between grain-free diets and the recent increase in DCM diagnosis.

On June 27th, 2019, the FDA released an update that named several of the most commonly reported foods associated with DCM diagnosis. It also identified that foods containing peas, lentils and other legume seeds have accounted for 93% of the reported cases. Given that the early stages do not always show external signs it is expected that DCM is under reported. Currently, 560 dogs have been reported diagnosed with DCM from 2014-2019 with 119 fatalities across the United States. It is important to note that there are millions of dogs eating these diets that apparently are not developing DCM. It is unclear if diet alone is the culprit or if it is a combination of genetic predisposition as well. The diets of concern listed by the FDA are  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 Rachel Ray Nutrish. Initial testing of these diets compared to grained canine diets have not found any significant difference in nutrient profiles, so the cause is still unknown.

What should you do if you are feeding a diet of concern or grain-free, legume based diet? UC Davis Veterinary Cardiology department has released a statement with the following recommendations.

  1. Consider whether you are willing or interested in performing additional testing to assess whether your pet is affected. Exam, blood testing of taurine levels and an echocardiogram would be part of a complete work-up.
  2. Diet change when possible. Regardless of test results it is recommended to discuss with your veterinarian switching to a diet that is void of the ingredients of concern and is manufactured with research and rigorous quality control measures.
  3. If your pet is diagnosed with low taurine or DCM, report it to the FDA.
  4. Work with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action and medical treatments if necessary.

For more detailed information about the investigation and its current results, please visit the FDA website.