Heart health and food

There has been a lot of confusing information put out in the media and by industry over pet foods and heart health. I want to make sure people get the most current information about these things, and try to correct a lot of the misconceptions and misrepresentations that this concern has caused.

In 2019, the FDA released a list of 16 brands of dog food that were suspected of causing DCM (Dilated Cardio Myopathy) in dogs. This list was based on cases of suspected DCM and which foods were being fed to the affected animals. This list caused an avalanche of questions about changing pet’s foods and seemed to target grain free foods.

While the list was predominantly comprised of grain-free foods, there were some grain inclusive foods on the list. It also appears that the way the list was compiled focused on the grain-free aspect of diet.

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that since then, much has come out, including from the FDA, to counter this information. The FDA has posted results of a virtual conference hosted at Kansas State University, including this quote “FDA has not taken regulatory action against or declared any specific pet food products unsafe or definitively linked to DCM. As the scientific community looks further into the role that diet may play in these cases, we hope to explore additional avenues about ingredient levels, nutrient bioavailability, ingredient sourcing, and diet processing to determine if there are any common factors. We have asked pet food manufacturers to share diet formulation information, which could substantially benefit our understanding of the role of diet.”

So, while diet may be a factor, there is a lot more research that needs to be done. Here’s where the unfortunate situation has occurred. Suddenly, grain free foods have become suspect, and somehow, recommendations started that dogs need grain in their diet for heart health. This is *not* the case.

To my knowledge, there is nothing special in a grain that is beneficial for cardiac health in dogs. Your dog has no metabolic or systemic needs for anything unique to grains. If someone tells you your dog needs grains, ask them what specifically can they get only from a grain, and not from any other ingredient. I’ll wait here for the answer.

Grain free foods exist for a number of reasons, the primary one being that they contain carbs and protein that are less damaging to a dog than grain-based foods. Either because of type of carb, or the dog having allergies to the grain, grain free foods solved a myriad of problems for our pets, and became a large part of the industry. They are generally more expensive than grain-based foods, but people buy them because they work.

Suddenly, people are being told that their dogs need grains in their diets for heart health. Which is not what the concern is, again, there is nothing special in a grain that is good for the heart. It was a concern there was something in what they replaced the grains with (legumes – peas, chick peas, lentils) that may be affecting the heart. Again, the conjecture was not that they were missing something from grains, but there was something bad in what they replaced the grains with. Subsequent research has not been able to confirm this belief, and the most recent FDA reports echo this.

I have two points to make here. First, don’t make decisions on your pet’s health solely based on sensational headlines. Dig a little deeper. Even that first “news” story included references to not change your dog’s food unless instructed to by a vet, or better a veterinary cardiologist. Reports published since the original story suggest that the original data sets were flawed, seemingly collected in ways designed to confirm the hypothesis, and did not confirm either the foods in question or and actual diagnosis of DCM.

Second, if you do want to change, make sure you are improving the issue, not making it worse. The recommendation to return to a grain based or grain inclusive food sounds reasonable, but you chose a grain free food for a reason. They can be better for your pet. Allergies and glycemic index (cause of obesity/diabetes) were the main reasons the grain free industry started and flourished. People generally don’t spend more if it doesn’t work. Grain free works. Now, if you are still concerned, by all means, make a change.

That change should be moving forward, not backward. There are kibbles that do not contain grains OR legumes. There are dry foods that are baked as well. And there are fresh, frozen raw, dehydrated, canned or freeze dried foods that reduce or avoid carbs/grains/legumes altogether. These diets can reduce a number of health issues caused by carb rich hyper processed, preserved and synthetically supplemented foods.

If you are worried about nutrition, it only makes sense to feed an even better food. Why would you revert back to a food you had already decided was not appropriate for your pet.

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