Grain-free and boutique dog foods have been getting a lot of heat lately because of a possible link to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. The relationship between certain types of food and DCM is very complicated, and continued research suggests we still have a lot to learn.

In the meantime, however, dog owners are understandably concerned about canine heart disease and the right nutritional choices.

Specialty Foods

Following reports of DCM in dogs who are fed a grain-free diet, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began investigating the possible link between dilated cardiomyopathy and certain grain-free dog foods. Products with primary ingredients like legumes (peas, lentils), legume seeds (alfalfa, clover), chickpeas, and potatoes are still being analyzed.

Begging for BEG?

One of the veterinarians responsible for bringing this issue to the mainstream is Dr. Lisa M. Freeman, who suggested that eating a BEG diet (boutique, exotic, grain-free) may be linked to canine heart disease, primarily DCM. According to her research, grain-free diets do not offer benefits over other canine diets that do contain grain. In fact, they may actually be harmful.  

Sold with compelling marketing and widely perceived to be healthy by consumers, BEG diets may contain bison, ostrich, squid, alligator, kangaroo, and more. Grain-free diets may also offer support to gluten-sensitive pets.

Predisposition

Some dog breeds, such as Great Danes, Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, and other large/giant breeds, are genetically predisposed to DCM. However, recent findings suggest this condition is also being found in dogs who aren’t typically prone to the disease. Among the 149 cases reported to the FDA, atypical breeds, like golden retrievers, whippets, bulldogs, and shih tzus, were all indicated.

A Closer Look

DCM is characterized by a weakened heart muscle and ineffective pumping. Over time, the heart chambers grow larger, valves may leak, and signs of congestive heart failure are evident. Canine heart disease can have symptoms like weakness, lethargy, and respiratory difficulty, but many owners don’t know their dog is sick until they suddenly collapse.

Canine Heart Disease

A deficiency in the amino acid taurine may play a role in canine cases of dilated cardiomyopathy. Unlike cats, dogs don’t normally require taurine in their diet because they can produce what they need. However, the genetics of certain dog breeds may make them more susceptible to taurine deficiency and its connection to canine heart disease.

BEG diets contain few ingredients that allow dogs to produce taurine. Once diagnosed, dogs with DCM may be treated with a taurine supplement and a change in diet. However, more research is necessary to understand exactly how canine heart disease, BEG diets, and taurine deficiency are related.

Peace of Mind

We understand how stressful and confusing this subject can be for dog owners who are trying to give their pet the best chance at a long and healthy life.

The best way to reduce the risks of canine heart disease is to feed your dog a complete, balanced, high-quality diet. Remember, our veterinarians are happy to make recommendations and answer any additional questions you may have. We’re always here for you and your pet!