We know that eating a healthy, balanced diet is key to keeping ourselves and our dogs healthy. But what if the very foods that we thought were healthy for our dogs were, in fact, increasing their risk of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and heart disease?
Recent updates from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made many question if feeding our dogs kibble marked “grain-free” is really in their best interest. Grain-free dog food typically contains high amounts of peas, legumes, potatoes, and lentils for protein instead of high-quality meat. The FDA’s investigation has discovered that many dog breeds not previously thought to be at high risk for heart disease are suffering from DCM and on a grain-free dog food diet. While the investigation is still underway, today we are going to point out the potential risks of a grain-free diet and the FDA’s findings.
Rest easy in knowing that Pet Plate meals have not been connected to DCM in any way.
DCM and Heart Disease
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in canines is a disease that causes a dog’s heart to dilate, resulting in an enlarged heart. This makes it more difficult for the heart to pump, which can lead to heart valves leaking and a buildup of fluids in the abdomen and chest. A buildup of fluids can ultimately lead to congestive heart failure and death.
The FDA is still investigating the connection between DCM and grain-free pet food, but the agency thought that the connection was significant enough to bring to the public’s awareness as many dog breeds, who are unusual candidates for DCM, are being affected.
Common Causes of Heart Disease
Heart disease is prevalent in dogs and affects approximately one-third of all dogs over the age of 10 according to the Veterinary Centers of America. Small dog breeds are generally more at risk of heart disease.
Common conditions that can lead to heart disease in dogs:
- Dog breed: DCM is generally considered a genetic condition in many large dog breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, or Irish Wolfhounds.
- Infections and viruses: Viruses, like heartworm or parvovirus, can cause an otherwise healthy dog to have heart disease or to develop vasculitis, which is inflammation of the blood vessels. It’s crucial that you reach out to your veterinarian to obtain the proper diagnosis and treatment for infections to help prevent other resulting conditions, such as heart disease or vasculitis.
- Obesity: Pet obesity is prevalent and puts unnecessary strain on the dog’s body and heart. Overfeeding your dog or feeding them an unbalanced diet can lead to obesity, which is why a healthy diet is so crucial in preventing heart disease and many other health problems.
- Other breed-specific heart conditions: Heart conditions like valvular disease, which is common in small and toy dog breeds, can weaken the heart and valves that support it. Many dog breeds are also prone to certain kinds of tumors, which can strain the body and heart. There are many heart conditions that are breed-specific, which is why research on your dog’s specific breed is recommended.
- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is a common disease, especially in older dogs, that slows the metabolism. It can usually be treated with daily medication. Hypothyroidism frequently contributes to weight gain, which can lead to obesity and more strain on a dog’s body and heart.
Common lifestyle choices that can lead to heart disease in dogs:
- Overfeeding your dog: Feeding your dog too much can lead to weight gain and obesity. Both put added stress on your dog’s heart, which can lead to the development of heart disease.
- Low taurine levels: Taurine is an important amino acid that is classified as non-essential, meaning that dogs make this amino acid internally. In theory, low taurine levels should not be an issue, but a diet low in meat can lead to low taurine levels. Dogs make taurine from the meat in their diet, so a lack of meat may create a taurine deficiency. The FDA is currently investigating the correlation between dog kibble, which often lacks real meat, and DCM currently.
- Diets high in peas, potatoes, beans, and other lentils: The FDA is looking into the connection between grain-free diets high in peas or lentils and DCM. This has not been officially proven, but their investigation has shown that 93% of the dog food consumed by dogs in reported DCM cases are heavily made up of peas and lentils as a key source of protein.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
Even with the best care, dogs can develop heart disease and the symptoms are definitely worrisome. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your precious pup shows any of the following symptoms:
- Chronic Coughing
- Irregular Breathing
- Loss of Energy
- Fainting or Collapsing
- Loss of Appetite
- Fluctuating Weight
- Struggling to Exercise
- Unable to Sleep Peacefully
- Swelling of Abdomen or Paws
Heart Healthy Nutrition
A healthy diet is one of the most important factors in preventing disease. Heart healthy nutrition is not one factor of the diet, but the overall healthiness of the diet and portion sizes a dog is fed. Preventing overfeeding and weight gain is crucial for your dog to have a healthy body and heart.
So far, the FDA’s investigation has linked DCM and dogs on a grain-free dog food diet. A grain-free dog food diet is often low in high-quality meat and relies heavily on peas, legumes, and lentils for protein. A balanced, fresh food diet with meats, veggies, and starches provides a balanced serving of heart healthy nutrients for your dog.
As always, talk to your veterinarian about any dietary changes for your dog.
- Low Fat: Too much fat in the diet can raise the cholesterol level of a dog’s blood, which can increase their risk of strokes or heart disease.
- Low Sodium: A diet high in sodium can raise a dog’s blood pressure, which strains the heart. Keeping your dog on a low sodium diet can eliminate this extra strain.
- Taurine: Taurine is a crucial amino acid that is synthesized within a dog’s body from the meat they consume. The FDA is investigating whether low taurine levels are possibly a cause of DCM. Currently, kibble is the most suspected factor, but to err on the side of caution, make sure your dog is consuming a diet with enough meat to allow them to create sufficient taurine.
- L-carnitine: L-carnitine is found naturally in animal-based protein sources and is an important amino acid that transports fatty acids in the body. L-carnitine may be helpful in reducing weight in overweight dogs and is an important nutrient used to treat DCM and other heart diseases. A diet with high-quality, animal-based protein is key in providing your dog with the best nutrients for their optimal health.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: According to the Veterinary Centers of America, omega-3 fatty acids can stabilize heart muscle cells. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood, flaxseed oil, and green leafy vegetables. A well-balanced diet can easily provide this important nutrient.
- Vitamin C and Vitamin E: Preliminary studies have shown that vitamin C and E may reduce the risk of a heart attack.
Ultimately a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients, meat, and Omega-3 fatty acids is the best preventative measure against heart disease in dogs.
Pet Plate meals are balanced by our veterinary nutritionist, Dr. Renee Streeter, to ensure that your dog is getting the right amount of meats, starches, and veggies. All our meals use high-quality, human-grade meat, and we have added a taurine supplement to all our recipes to keep your pup as safe and healthy as possible!
Is My Dog’s Food Heart Safe?
- Grain-free dog foods typically contain large levels of legumes, lentils, and potatoes, which may be connected to these cases of DCM. If your dog is currently on a grain-free diet, it may be time to switch them onto a more balanced diet containing high-quality meats, starches, and vegetables.
- Don’t automatically avoid dog foods with peas, legumes, or potatoes. Studies have shown that in reasonable quantities, these foods are not only non-toxic and safe for your dog to eat, they provide essential nutrients.
- Look for balance in your dog’s food and check out the manufacturer for their nutritional expertise and tight quality control standards.
- The recipe is more important than the brand. Some companies will swap out meat for cheaper, plant protein alternatives, but many companies still offer meat-rich, high-quality foods for your dog. Take a look at the individual recipes, rather than focusing on the brand name when looking for the best quality food for your pup.
The Pet Plate Promise
We promise to NEVER use rendered meats or by-products as we know the importance of high-quality, human-grade meat in your dog’s diet. This is important for their taurine and l-carnitine levels, as well as an overall, healthy diet.
Every batch of food we make is batch tested for safety, flash-frozen to lock in freshness, and formulated by our veterinary nutritionist for your dog’s optimal health! We take quality control and nutritional expertise very seriously here at Pet Plate and would never compromise your pet’s health with quick, cheaper alternatives.
Additionally, our foods are portioned out specifically to your pet’s size and needs. This is a great way to help your pet lose weight in a healthy manner or to continue weight management. Obesity is a serious health problem that increases the risk of heart disease, and we work diligently to formulate and portion your dog’s meals to promote a healthy weight.
Every meal we make is complete nutritionally. We have a proprietary blend of vitamins and minerals to keep your dog healthy at all life stages.
We are continuing to monitor the DCM study being performed by the FDA and will continue to optimize our foods for your healthiest pup! We work diligently to keep our meals healthy, balanced, and personalized to your pet and will continue updating you on new discoveries the FDA makes about the increase in DCM cases.
Currently a fresh food diet, such as our Pet Plate meals, has not been connected to the rise in canine DCM in any way.
Does grain-free dog food cause heart problems?
At this time, the FDA is investigating the connection between grain-free diets and DCM. Grain-free diets have not been officially proven to cause DCM, but their investigation so far has shown that 91% of the dog food consumed by dogs in reported DCM cases are grain-free options.
What ingredients are linked to DCM?
Ingredients such as legumes, peas, and lentils have been linked to DCM. 93% of the dogs in reported DCM cases consumed diets heavy in peas and/or lentils. 42% of reported DCM cases were consuming a significant amount of potato from their dog kibble.
Dry dog foods are the most common type of dog foods reported in DCM cases.
How do you reverse DCM in dogs?
DCM in dogs is rarely reversible and almost always a chronic disease that will need to be monitored for the rest of the dog’s life. The rare exception is when DCM is caused by a taurine deficiency, which if treated, may reverse DCM. This is uncommon though.
With proper veterinary care and medication, many dogs with DCM go on to live and enjoy life for many more years.
Do I need to change my dog’s diet?
As grain-free dog kibble is still under investigation, it’s up to the dog owner to decide if the risk is too much. Even if grain-free dog kibble is cleared by the FDA, it often lacks important nutrients to keep your dog healthy, strong, and energetic. Grain-free dog kibble is often deficient in high-quality, human-grade meat and vegetables, which provide your dog with the best nutrition.
Our Pet Plate meals are not only palatable to dogs (we have a clean-plate guarantee on your first box!), but they are well-balanced by our veterinary nutritionist and portioned specifically to your dog’s size and needs to prevent overfeeding and to promote a healthy weight.