In July last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they have started investigating a possible link between certain dog foods and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) after receiving reports of the disease in dog breeds that don’t normally suffer from this condition. These dog foods were those that have been labeled as “grain-free” which contained significant amounts of peas, lentils, legumes and/or potatoes in various forms.
Upon looking into more than 500 cases of DCM that have been reported since 2014, it was discovered that in nearly all of the cases, the dog (and cat) had been eating a mostly grain-free diet. However, the FDA did not instruct said companies to recall their products given that the link between consuming dog foods labelled with “grain-free” and DCM was not yet proven.
It was only earlier last week that the FDA notified the public of the 16 brands of dog food which had the most frequent reported cases of DCM. What most people found puzzling was this:
Dry dog food recipes from the pet food brands have remained largely unchanged over the past few years – So why the recent and sudden spike in DCM cases?
What Is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) or Enlarged Heart is a type of heart disease that affects the hearts of dogs. It causes the hearts of these dogs to experience difficulty in pumping blood which eventually results in heart failure, and subsequently, death.
DCM tends to affect larger breeds of dogs such as Great Danes, Dobermans and St Bernards. Some medium and small breeds such as Cocker Spaniels and Boxers also appear to suffer a larger chance of suffering from DCM. The risk of DCM increases with age for these breeds, and dogs may start displaying signs of DCM from 4 to 10 years of age.
There isn’t a definitive cause of canine DCM — some have implied that the possible cause of this disease is a nutritional deficiency in taurine or carnitine, while others purport that it is a result of an infection. However, there has been some evidence suggesting that certain dog breeds have a genetic susceptibility to DCM.
The graph above shows the brands of dog food that were reported with DCM cases. We would like to highlight that although these brands are linked to DCM cases reported, it does not mean that feeding these brands will cause your dog to get DCM. The FDA is still conducting research on this matter. Interestingly enough, these brands have something in common – They seem to favour using lentils and peas in their formulas.
What Are Lentils and Peas
Lentils are a type of edible legume. Processed split lentils with their hull removed are known as dal, which are commonly used in indian cuisines.
Peas are the small spherical seed of a pea fruit. They are somewhat common in Singapore supermarkets, and often found in the frozen vegetable section.
Why Are Lentils and Peas Added to Dog Food?
In order for pet food manufacturers to form the kibble biscuits, some form of filler must be added to the meat. In the past, grains were the go-to ingredient for that job. We had rice, wheat and corn-based fillers. However, due to the rising popularity of, and demand from consumers for “grain-free” pet foods, many pet food manufacturers have started to switch to other types of fillers such as peas, lentils and potatoes, allowing them to label their foods as grain free.
Do Lentils and Peas Cause DCM?
The findings from the FDA regarding lentil and pea-based grain free diets are still inconclusive. What the FDA has determined, is that the dogs diagnosed with DCM had been fed diets that were grain-free and contained peas and/or lentils.
The FDA’s findings also show that a high percentage of dogs that suffered from DCM had consumed dry food diets.
Since they launched their investigations on the potential link between grain-free dog foods and DCM last year, the FDA is still no closer to confirming if there’s a definite correlation between the two. No doubt this is a complex issue with many factors and variables to consider. But despite that, they are looking into the role of taurine in promoting heart health given that many DCM cases involving golden retrievers have been linked to taurine deficiency.
Having said that, local vets have come forth to say that proving that diet as being the sole cause of DCM is difficult because it is not the only factor in the development of the disease. There are too many variables and possible causes to pinpoint just one factor.
Should You Be Concerned?
Stay calm and hold your horses, pet parents. It hasn’t been 100% proven that these grain-free dry dog food from those brands will lead to an increased risk in DCM in your dogs.
That being said, we believe that there are lessons that we can walk away from this experience with. One, it’s that you should always do your own research and act on your judgment as your pet’s owner. Too often, we are distracted by marketing hype and the latest offerings in the market that we neglect to consider the true value these products add to our pets’ lives. And two, it’s that you should not be overly-reliant on a single brand of food to sustain your pet’s life! (Imagine eating the same thing for days, months.. Even years!)
One way to avoid nutritional deficiency is to practice protein rotation. This can be done by feeding your pet dog a variety of foods or brands of pet food. Take proactive steps in researching for foods that you want to feed your dog. After all, your pup isn’t able to make such choices on its own so the onus is on you to make that informed food decision for your pet! You can also consider supplementing your pet’s food with healthy vegetables, fruits and meats for an added dose of health. Just be sure to feed them in moderation, alongside a complete and balanced commercial diet if you aren’t confident to recreate one on your own.
We hope this article sets you thinking about what you’re putting in your dog’s bowl! And of course, if you really want to be extra careful, you could start to avoid dry foods with lentils, peas and legumes altogether, until the coast is clear.
Read more: What Makes A Good Dog Food
*Featured Image Source: Matthew Henry | Unsplash