To be more specific, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of America has issued a report naming 16 brands of dog food in an investigation into a potential dietary link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and dogs eating certain pet foods containing main ingredients such as:
- legumes like peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans and peanuts
- other legume seeds (pulses) like dried beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils
- potatoes, including sweet potatoes and red potatoes
The FDA says that they began investigating after FDA‘s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) received a number of reports of DCM in dogs eating these diets. Here's the most important excerpts from their Q&A.
What is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs?
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, which can lead to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen (congestive heart failure).
If caught early, heart function may improve in cases that are not linked to genetics with appropriate veterinary treatment and dietary modification.
How many cases have been reported to the FDA?
Between January 1, 2014 and April 30, 2018, the FDA received 524 case reports of diagnosed dilated cardiomyopathy. Some of these cases involved more than one animal from the same household.
In the reported cases, there were 560 individual dogs diagnosed with DCM and 119 of those dogs died. There were 14 individual cats, 5 of which died. The agency received additional reports of cardiac symptoms in dogs; however, the reports did not include a confirmed DCM diagnosis.
What brands of food have been included in the reports to the FDA?
Brands named most frequently in reports submitted to the FDA (as of April 30, 2019) that had at least ten reports, include Acana (67), Zignature (64), Taste of the Wild (53), 4Health (32), Earthborn Holistic (32), Blue Buffalo (31), Nature’s Domain (29), Fromm (24), Merrick (16), California Natural (15), Natural Balance (15), Orijen (12), Nature’s Variety (11), NutriSource (10), Nutro (10), and Rachael Ray Nutrish (10).
The common thread appears to be legumes, pulses (seeds of legumes), and/or potatoes as main ingredients in the food. This also includes protein, starch and fiber derivatives of these ingredients, (e.g., [source] protein, [source] starch, or [source] fiber). Some reports received also seem to indicate that the pets were not eating any other foods for several months to years prior to exhibiting signs of DCM.
Has the FDA asked any of these brands to recall?
The FDA has not yet determined the nature of the possible connection between these foods and canine DCM, so does not have definitive information indicating that the food needs to be removed from the market. Pet owners are encouraged to work with their veterinarians, who may consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, prior to making diet changes.
Does the FDA think this possible link includes diets with rice?
Rice is a grain, not a legume. The current reports mostly involve diets labeled as "grain-free", however the small number of reports received for foods that contain rice (including brown rice) do not suggest there is any link between diets with rice and DCM in dogs.
Are sweet potatoes and red potatoes classified as potatoes?
What’s the safest diet for my dog?
Different dogs have different nutritional needs based on a number of factors, so nutrition advice is not one-size-fits-all. The FDA recommends asking your veterinarian, who may consult a board-certified or veterinary nutritionist, for advice about what to feed your dog.
It’s important to note that the reports include dogs that have eaten grain-free and grain containing foods and also include vegetarian or vegan formulations. They also include all forms of diets: kibble, canned, raw and home-cooked. Therefore, the FDA does not think these cases can be explained simply by whether or not they contain grains, or by brand or manufacturer.
To put this issue into proper context, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that there are 77 million pet dogs in the United States. As of April 30, 2019, the FDA has received reports about 560 dogs diagnosed with DCM suspected to be linked to diet. Tens of millions of dogs have been eating dog food without developing DCM. If you are concerned about the diet you are currently feeding your dog, FDA recommends working with your veterinarian, who may consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, to determine the best diet for your dog's need.
Some points we want to add:
1. Correlation is not the same as cause.
The FDA itself does not know what the connection is, just that there may be one. It may be that the dogs affected by DCM in these reports were simply obese, and ate too much carbs relative to their activity levels. Just remember that, as with all things in life, moderation is key!
2. Moderate food intake and stay active
If your dog is overweight, also make sure he/she gets plenty of exercise, water and love. And the next time you visit your vet, ask if your dog should avoid the brands listed above.
3. Avoid foods that have legumes, seeds or potatoes as main ingredients
The current reports mostly involve diets labeled as "grain-free". If you still wish to feed your dog the brands above, ensure that your grain-free dog food does not list legumes, pulses (seeds of legumes), and/or potatoes as main ingredients in the food.
This also includes protein, starch and fiber derivatives of these ingredients. We generally consider a "main ingredient" to be the first 10 ingredients listed in a food’s ingredient list before the first vitamin or mineral ingredient.
4. See your vet if your dog develops the following symptoms of DCM
The signs of DCM vary depending on the breed of dog and stage of the disease. Increased episodes of easy fatigue, lethargy, lack of appetite, vomitting, progressive cough, labored breathing/panting, multiple episodes of collapse developing over weeks to months can be early signs of the disease.
5. There are cats reported with DCM, too
To quote the FDA: "There were 14 individual cats, 5 of which died." So it isn't only dogs that are affected.
That said, all cat owners should know by now that cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need to eat meat in order to thrive. So they shouldn't be fed foods which contain legumes, pulses or potatoes as the main ingredients. Bear that in mind when choosing cat food!