FDA investigating possible link between grain-free dog food and heart disease

    Experts say if your dog doesn't need a grain-free diet for a health reason, then they should have a traditionally balanced diet. (Photo: CBS Austin)

    The FDA is investigating a possible connection between grain-free food and heart disease in dogs. While there is no definitive link, experts are recommending pet parents consider making changes to their dog’s diet.

    Mixed-breed rescue, Vida, turns 10 years old in January. Her owner, Brooke Ehlinger, has fed Vida grain-free dog food for years.

    “I’m grain-free for the most part so I felt like... Why not? I felt like meat was probably the most important thing for dogs,” Ehlinger says.

    However, she may be reconsidering her dog’s diet after learning the FDA is investigating a possible link between grain-free food and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

    “It’s kind of scary,” she admits.

    CVCA board-certified cardiologist Sara Beth Bordelon treats Austin dogs with enlarged, weakened hearts due to DCM. In several cases she’s seen possible connections between the diagnosis and the dog’s diet.

    “We've seen more than we would like to see where we're just like, 'You really shouldn't have dilated cardiomyopathy. Let’s change your diet. Let’s see if you improve,'” she explains.

    While the federal investigation is ongoing, experts are suggesting dog owners consider avoiding grain-free dog foods that include legumes, potato or exotic proteins in their first five ingredients. Examples include:

    • peas
    • chickpeas
    • lentils
    • beans
    • potato
    • sweet potato
    • kangaroo
    • rabbit
    • bison

    “If your dog doesn't need a grain-free diet for a health reason-- you know, inflammatory bowel disease, severe allergies to the grains in the diet-- we are recommending trying to find a traditionally balanced diet,” Bordelon says.

    She also recommends seeking out a food that’s not just AAFCO-approved but trial tested, too.

    “The AAFCO diets are just a recipe that they took that should work, whereas the feeding trials have been fed to animals of those ages and breeds and have been shown not to cause issues,” she explains.

    “I’m definitely going to go home and look at the ingredients on mine now,” says Ehlinger.

    While a lot is still unknown about what exactly is causing increased heart disease in dogs, if caught early DCM can improve with treatment.

    To read CVCA’s frequently asked questions on this topic, click here.

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