What's In This Dog Food? (image)
Recent studies show that if peas, legumes, potatoes, and lentils are among the main ingredients in dog food, they can contribute to serious heart disease in dogs, and the FDA has alerted pet food manufacturers of this issue. What do we do in the meantime?
A bit of history...
The Grain-Free Movement
The grain-free pet food trend in the U.S. can be traced to the 2007 discovery that China had been including melanine in wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate that was exported to the U.S., where it was used in the manufacture of pet food. (source) In reaction to this scare, pet food companies eliminated wheat, rice, and other grain products from their pet food ingredients and substituted them with peas, beans, legumes, and other sources of protein that are cheaper than meat, chicken, or fish sources.
Plant proteins do not produce the same nutrients as meat, fish, or chicken and dogs need enough of certain amino acids, like taurine for cardiac health. Taurine is necessary for dogs and cats. Though added to most cat foods, dogs are able to create taurine through the ingestion of cysteine and methionine, other amino acids present in animal proteins.
Greater Incidence of Heart Disease Among Dogs
For the past 10 years or so, a lack of understanding about grain-free foods and pet nutrition prevailed among pet parents (thanks to pet food manufacturers?). In 2018, however, the FDA was alerted by veterinarians who were seeing a greater number of deaths due to canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a specific cause of heart attack in dogs. DCM is most common in large dogs, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers, but as more and more manufactured dog foods became grain-free, the incidence of DCM in larger and smaller breeds has increased.
After undertaking a study of the factors that led to increasing incidence of canine deaths from DCM, the FDA reported its results in June 2019. This report is written in lay language and is very interesting. Here is summary information in FDA published charts.
In the chart above, the cases were reported between 2016 and the end of April 2019. (Note that veterinarians were alerted to the FDA study in 2018, which largely accounts for the increase in reported incidents represented in the above chart.)
The chart below represents the most frequent breeds of dogs reported as DCM cases during the period studied.
Below are the top 16 dog food brands named as regular nutrition for the dogs with DCM in the FDA study. Some pet parents reported more than one brand of food.
Dry dog foods were reported as the main source of pet nutrition for dogs in the study.
And, significantly, the study did not find that it is the absence of grains in the food formulations that was associated with DCM, but it was the substitution of vegetable proteins (legumes, peas, etc.) for animal proteins that corresponded with the occurrence of DCM.
Where We Are Now
If our dogs are not getting high enough concentrations of protein, that can lead to a weakened heart muscle, one not adequately able to pump blood through the body, it can eventually cause an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure. Signs that your dog may have DCM include: decreased energy, a cough, difficulty breathing, and episodes of collapse. These signs are of serious concern and, if present, you should take your dog to a veterinarian immediately.
Though the FDA has alerted pet food companies of these medical concerns, as of this writing, there have been no pet foods recalled because of the issues raised. The best you can do right now is:
1) Consult with your veterinarian.
2) Avoid pet foods with these legumes.
3) Check the percentage of animal protein in your dog's wet and dry food. Most pet food labels contain the percentage of protein but don't break down the percent of protein from animal sources. If specific information is not accessible, contact the company. Animal protein sources should comprise at least 18 percent of the contents if your dog is a senior, between 20 and 25 percent for young to middle-aged, and 29 percent for puppies. (via)
4) Look for whole grains in your dog's food. Whole grain wheat and rice, whole oats, and other whole grains are actually good for your dog, according to veterinarians. A dog's ability to digest starch is actually one of the things that distinguish dogs from wolves. (source)
Here is a list of recommended dry dog foods that do not contain legumes, but do contain significant animal proteins and whole grains: 3 Healthy High Protein Whole Grain Dog Foods - Post FDA 2019 Grain Free Study