FDA Answers Questions About Possible Link Between Diet and Heart Disease in Dogs

August 22, 2018
American Veterinarian Editorial Staff

The FDA continues to investigate the possible link between grain-free diets and heart disease in dogs. In the meantime, the agency has provided answers to some commonly asked questions.

Last month, the FDA warned veterinarians and pet owners about reports of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating pet foods that contained peas, lentils, legume seeds, or potatoes as the main ingredients. Understandably, pet owners and veterinary professionals flooded the agency with questions and concerns regarding the potential link.

Although the investigation is ongoing, the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) recently offered answers to some of the most common questions about this issue.RELATED:

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1. What potential connection is the FDA investigating?

FDA is investigating a potential dietary link between DCM and dogs eating certain pet foods containing legumes, such as peas or lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes, as main ingredients. The investigation began after the CVM received a number of reports of DCM in dogs eating these diets. Although the disease is not considered rare in dogs, the reports are unusual because many of the cases occurred in breeds not typically genetically prone to DCM in dogs that were fed the same type of diet (labeled as “grain-free”).

2. What is the FDA doing about this possible connection?

The CVM and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network—a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories—are investigating this potential association. They are working with board-certified veterinary cardiologists and veterinary nutritionists to better understand the clinical presentation of the cases.

The agency also has been in contact with pet food manufacturers to discuss these reports and to help further the investigation. In addition, the FDA is analyzing information from case reports submitted by pet owners and veterinarians and will continue to work with all of these stakeholders to help advance the investigation.

3. Why did the FDA notify the public about the possible connection if the agency doesn’t have definitive answers?

While it is early in the investigation, the CVM felt a responsibility to shed light on an early signal that it was made aware of and to solicit reports from pet owners and veterinarians who may know of related cases. The data provided through reports will help inform the investigation.

4. How many cases have been reported to the FDA?

Prior to issuing the public notification in July, the FDA received sporadic reports involving 30 dogs and 7 cats. Some of the dogs showed signs of heart disease, including decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing, and episodes of collapse. The FDA is also aware that the veterinary cardiology community has received more reports—approximately 150 as of July 12, 2018.

Since issuing the public notification, CVM has received many additional reports but is still in the process of reviewing them.

5. What brands of food have been included in the reports to the FDA?

A range of different brands and formulas is included in the reports. Rather than brands, however, the common thread appears to be legumes, seeds of legumes, and/or potatoes as main ingredients. This also includes protein, starch, and fiber derivatives of these ingredients, (eg, pea protein, pea starch, pea fiber). Some reports also seem to indicate that the pets were not eating any other foods for several months to years prior to exhibiting signs of DCM.

6. What does the FDA consider a “main ingredient”?

There is no hard and fast rule for what qualifies as a main ingredient. Instead, the FDA said it generally considers a main ingredient as one that is listed in a food’s ingredient list before the first vitamin or mineral ingredient.

7. Does the FDA know what it is about these foods that may be connected to canine DCM?

At this time, it is not clear what aspect of these diets may be connected to DCM in dogs. Taurine deficiency is well documented as a potential cause of DCM, but it is not the only cause. Nutritional makeup of the main ingredients or how dogs process them, main ingredient sourcing, processing, amount used, or other factors could be involved.

8. How do veterinarians and consumers submit reports to the FDA?

CVM 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.

9. How long will the FDA’s investigation take?

There is no way to know how long the investigation will take, but the CVM hopes to gain a better understanding of this possible connection as more data are gathered from case reports. The FDA will continue to convey observations publicly as the investigation progresses.

The investigation is still ongoing and the link between these ingredients and DCM remains unknown; therefore, the FDA it is not yet advising dietary changes based solely on the information that has been gathered. Instead, veterinarians should work with clients to decide which types of diets might be best for patients—especially those already diagnosed with DCM.

You can read the complete list of FAQs on the FDA website.