update heart disease, grain-free diets
by Sara Barnhart, DVM

In an ongoing study, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is trying to determine if there is a direct correlation between an increase in heart disease in dogs and the consumption of a grain-free diet.

Last July the FDA began an investigation into an increase in cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The FDA has just released a list of the 16 dog food brands named most frequently in DCM cases.  DCM is a very serious cardiac condition that has historically been found mainly in large to giant breed dogs; it may have a genetic component, though many of the current cases were in dog breeds not known to have a predisposition.

In the report, the FDA named for the first time the pet food brands most frequently associated with adverse events. In descending order of most incidents of heart disease, the brands are:

  1. Acana
  2. Zignature
  3. Taste of the Wild
  4. 4Health
  5. Earthborn Holistic
  6. Blue Buffalo
  7. Nature’s Domain
  8. Fromm
  9. Merrick
  10. California Natural
  11. Natural Balance
  12. Orijen
  13. Nature’s Variety
  14. NutriSource
  15. Nutro
  16. Rachael Ray Nutrish

Link Between Grain-Free, Heart Disease

Of the foods in the study, 91% wore grain-free labels (do not contain rice, soy, wheat, corn, barley) and 93% contained peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans, or white/sweet potatoes. Though they included raw, semi-moist and wet foods in the study, most DCM cases involved dry dog food formulations. Animal protein sources varied; chicken, lamb, and fish were the most common in the reported diets but none were predominant.

update heart disease, grain-free diets dry food

The study found that dry, grain-free dog food formulations are the most likely to be associated with DCM.

There is still much we don’t understand about the connection of these diets and dilated cardiomyopathy. The FDA study states:

Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.

We understand the concern that pet owners have about these reports: the illnesses can be severe, even fatal, and many cases report eating “grain-free” labeled pet food. The FDA is using a range of science-based investigative tools as it strives to learn more about this emergence of DCM and its potential link to certain diets or ingredients.

Unless your dog needs to eat a grain free diet for a significant medical issue, consider feeding one that contains grain. Always consult your veterinarian if you have any questions.

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