By Matthew Kearns, DVM
I recently had a pet owner come in and ask me what I knew about the list of FDA-banned diets for dogs. I felt I’d better not be behind the times, so time to do some research.
I took a quick trip to the FDA’s website and found the article to which all the hub-bub was linked. What I found was that the FDA did not ban any diets but did list 16 brands of dog food that were linked to 500 cases of a heart condition called dilatory cardiomyopathy, or DCM for short. The study ran from 2014 to 2019. I will not list the 16 diets, but they can be found on the FDA’s official website in the report.
I need to start with a disclaimer that there is no current evidence to link grain-free diets and heart disease, but here’s what we know so far: New studies have found that some dogs on grain-free diets are more at risk for canine DCM.
DCM is a heart condition where the heart muscle becomes thin and the heart dilates, or the chambers of the heart expand. Unfortunately, as the heart dilates, the heart becomes an inefficient pump and the patient goes into heart failure. The lung and abdomen then fill with fluid, making it impossible to breathe and, without treatment, is fatal. Even with treatment the patient’s life span is reduced dramatically.
Why would grain-free diets cause this? The link seems to be taurine.
Taurine is an amino acid, or building block of protein, that is essential for normal heart function. It is found in higher concentrations in muscle of animals including red meats, poultry and seafood. Plants contain very little to no taurine. The lowest concentrations of taurine are found in legumes (peas, chick peas), potatoes and other plants. Some dog foods are supplemented with taurine and some are not.
In 2018, A study led by Dr. Joshua Stern (a veterinary cardiologist at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine) found a higher number of DCM in golden retrievers. Stern also discovered that many of these patients were on a grain-free diet and had abnormally low taurine levels.
In June of 2019 the FDA released a report that found 500 cases of DCM related to 16 diets. Golden retrievers were the most common breed affected. All of the diets listed were labeled “grain free” or contained legumes.
An actual link between grain-free diets and DCM has not been definitively established, but research is ongoing and I will update everyone as soon as I have more information.
Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org to see his answer in an upcoming column