FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease

My heart goes out to a member of our Gordon Setter community who lost her beautiful Gordon companion to canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Her heart is broken. Learning, while doctoring to save her Gordon, that the food she had so carefully chosen to ensure her Gordon’s health and longevity, cost him his life instead, added unbearable pain to an already devastating loss.

We want you to be aware that DCM caused by diet has been confirmed in our beloved breed.

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Link between Diet and Canine Heart Disease

July 12, 2018

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. These reports are unusual because DCM is occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories, are investigating this potential association.

Canine DCM is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart. As the heart and its chambers become dilated, it becomes harder for the heart to pump, and heart valves may leak, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen. DCM often results in congestive heart failure. Heart function may improve in cases that are not linked to genetics with appropriate veterinary treatment and dietary modification, if caught early.

The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component. Breeds that are typically more frequently affected by DCM include large and giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. It is less common in small and medium breed dogs, except American and English Cocker Spaniels. However, the cases that have been reported to the FDA have included Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers, as well as mixed breeds.

Diets in cases reported to the FDA frequently list potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other “pulses” (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch and fiber derivatives early in the ingredient list, indicating that they are main ingredients. Early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicate that the dogs consistently ate these foods as their primary source of nutrition for time periods ranging from months to years. High levels of legumes or potatoes appear to be more common in diets labeled as “grain-free,” but it is not yet known how these ingredients are linked to cases of DCM. Changes in diet, especially for dogs with DCM, should be made in consultation with a licensed veterinarian.

In the reports the FDA has received, some of the dogs showed signs of heart disease, including decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing and episodes of collapse. Medical records for four atypical DCM cases, three Golden Retrievers and one Labrador Retriever, show that these dogs had low whole blood levels of the amino acid taurine. Taurine deficiency is well-documented as potentially leading to DCM. The Labrador Retriever with low whole blood taurine levels is recovering with veterinary treatment, including taurine supplementation, and a diet change. Four other cases of DCM in atypical dog breeds, a Miniature Schnauzer, Shih Tzu and two Labrador Retrievers, had normal blood taurine levels. The FDA continues to work with board certified veterinary cardiologists and veterinary nutritionists to better understand the clinical presentation of these dogs. The agency has also been in contact with pet food manufacturers to discuss these reports and to help further the investigation.

The FDA encourages pet owners and veterinary professionals to report cases of DCM in dogs suspected of having a link to diet by using the electronic Safety Reporting Portal or calling their state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. Please see the link below about “How to Report a Pet Food Complaint” for additional instructions.

Additional Information

7 thoughts on “FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease”

  1. With so many issues arising with dry dog food it’s hard to know what to feed. After I read this I checked the new food I just switched to and saw all the ingredients they listed as bad ones. Have to go back to pet store and figure out what food is safe to use. Seems like there are recalls on a lot of them these days and the cost of some has gone sky high making it harder to afford. Thanks for posting this article and my thoughts go out to anyone that has lost their precious Gordon to this nasty disease.

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    1. Ellen, at this point they haven’t recalled any grain free foods and yes there have been recalls and a variety of dog products. We all have to remember that they market to people not to dogs and the bottom line is profit. The sneaky thing is if they list a product as sweet potato odds are you’ll notice that they will also list potatoes which means white potatoes. Beet pulp is added to many. Beet pulp is used to fatten up horses, but isn’t easily digested by dogs. There is also suspicion that it might block production of or amino acids. On the grain free, they aren’t sure if it is the lack of animal protein thus lack of taurine and L-carnitine or the pea or legume proteins block amino acid production. I’ve learned way to much since Stuart’s death about dog food yet still don’t know enough.

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      1. Thanks Patricia for the info on my way home tonite stopped at pet store to read labels and switch foods found one that doesn’t have any of those potential problem ingredients. Have to wait and see how their coats and stomachs do on it but for now I feel better about what they will be eating. I’m so sorry you lost your sweet Gordon to this awful disease hopefully now that people are aware no more pets will have to cross the rainbow bridge.

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        1. Ellen it helps to know that Stuart’s death isn’t in vain and can help warn others. Remember it takes approx. 3 mos on food to see what it does or doesn’t do unless there is an immediate allergic reaction. I found First Mate Grain Friendly which is out of Canada. That is what I am trying for now. The last time I checked they didn’t have it yet at Chewy’s. they do carry First Mate but this is a new product in the line. It also lists the meat protein separately which is about 75%. The only down side is it does have barely which is considered one of the heavy grains. Some folks on the FB group have tried Victor’s products and Nurtri source. You can’t just go by a product name as each product has different formulas with in their product lines. Nothing like spending time reading labels. The easiest way is on line you can usually read all the labels that way. Many people will say they haven’t had any problems. Unfortunately it is a crap shoot as to which dogs it will happen to. good luck and hug your Gordon.

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          1. I spent a lot of time in pet store reading and asking questions decided to try Natures Logic it’s a little more expensive but will be worth the cost if my dogs stay healthy. Luckily they know me and the person was really helpful taking time to research labels with me. I order from Chewy I’ll have to look for the food you mentioned. I want to keep my precious Fergie and Razzle from eating any bad ingredients unless it’s the occasional bunny poop which I can’t control. I’ll be sending you a long distance thinking of you hug.

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            1. Ellen, that does look like a nice product. I thought wow! I like it better than the First Mate Grain Friendly until I read that all their products contain almonds. Sadly I am deathly allergic to tree nuts and almonds(a seed not a tree nut) so I wouldn’t be able to handle it or breath any dust or odor from it. I hope it works for your kids. I wish I could use it for my girls.

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  2. Thank you Sally for posting this warning. As many of you know from my personal sharing, my FB page and my posting on Gordon Setter FB page it was my 6.5 yr old sweet Stuart (GCH CH Taliesin C Note on the South Shore, JH) that was lost in March to this and now is a case with the FDA.

    I want to thank everyone who has helped get the word out about DCM caused by Taurine Deficiency from feeding grain free foods. It is important to know what the symptoms are for Taurine deficiency and for DCM.

    Had I known, I would have noticed subtle symptoms Stuart was showing the 2 months prior. I attributed the little oddities due to stress of our move which took a while of displacement. The move was upsetting to all my dogs. To make matters worse doctors were treating Stuart’s symptoms individually until he collapsed in front of the internist and me(after several tests, possible diagnosis, and treatments). He immediately had a an echocardiogram done which confirmed the DCM. At that point the dots were connected together, Taurine Deficiency DCM.

    Stuart declined rapidly in 4 days going into congestive heart failure and was euthanized. His mom and sister were immediately placed on high doses of Taurine and L-Carnitine supplements along with changing foods. I won’t recommend food as my judgement is still shaken. What I do know is to avoid pea or legume and kangaroo proteins, beet pulp, white rice and white potatoes. The first 5 ingredients are the bulk of the ingredients. Digestibility is important as is the specific amount of animal protein which often isn’t separated out in the protein percentages on the pkg. This does now mean to place your dog on taurine supplements. It is more complicated than that.

    If your dog has been on grain free foods please Google symptoms of Taurine Deficiency in Canines and Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Canines WebMD has reliable posts on both. If caught early there is a chance of recovery. There is also a FB group specifically for this which became too overwhelming for me to see the new cases and losses. Had I only known. The FDA became aware due to dog people making the connections and seeking answers. More and more breeds and mutts are now dealing with results of being fed grain free. .

    In memory of Stuart, hug your Gordons.
    Pat Engler

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