Boutique, Exotic and Grain Free Food Fads

February 17, 2014

So many trends in human nutrition have come and gone (think about low fat, low carb, “Atkins”, grapefruit-only, and cabbage soup diets). Unfortunately, some of these trends trickle down to our canine friends, with absolutely no scientific evidence to support their safety and efficacy. With limited oversight of the pet food industry, manufacturers can make a variety of claims on dog food labels that do not have to be supported by research. This is a common issue in the pet food industry, and often leads well-meaning pet owners astray when contemplating the bewildering away of food choices available for Fido and Fluffy.

We have been talking to many of you about the concerns surrounding grain free/boutique/exotic ingredient (BEG) diets and the risk for serious heart disease. The FDA has released a list of diets that have been implicated in proven cases of diet-induced dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs.

What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)?
DCM is a disease of the heart that is genetically inherited in certain breeds. It causes enlargement of the chambers of the heart and reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood, ultimately resulting in heart failure. In 2018 the FDA began investigating cases of DCM in atypical breeds. These cases were unique in that 90% were eating grain-free diets and 97% were eating diets with high amounts of peas and lentils. Many of these dogs showed full or partial recovery from DCM with a diet change. DCM is often asymptomatic in the early stages and the first symptoms may be collapse or sudden death. DCM does not show up on routine physical exams or routine blood work.

What research is there?
Eleven peer-reviewed studies from various authors and institutions (published 2018-2022) have repeatedly shown a link between DCM and grain-free/legume-rich diets. Invested parties have tried to downplay the issue, leading consumers to believe these diets are safe. Meanwhile, veterinarians continue to diagnose new cases and academic institutions are still researching this very concerning problem.

How do I select a safe dog food?
– Avoid peas, lentils, chickpeas and other pulse legumes (navy beans, fava beans) in the first 10 ingredients.
– Avoid manufacturers that have a disproportionate number of cases of DCM relative to their market share, even when the specific formula does have many suspect ingredients.
– Brands named in the FDA 2019 update as having the most cases of nutritional-associate DCM are: Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature’s Variety, Nutrisource, Nutro and RR Nutrish.
– Choose a manufacturer that conducts and funds nutrition research, and that employs a team of highly-qualifed, board-certified veterinary nutritionists, as well as performing in-house feeding trials to prove safety and nutritional efficacy of their foods.
– Manufacturers that meet the above criteria include Purina ProPlan, Science Diet/Hill’s, Royal Canin and Iams/Eukanuba.

A note about supplements: Supplementing legume-rich diets with taurine or other nutrients has NOT been shown to prevent the risk of DCM. No supplement has been shown to reduce risk for this disease in patients fed grain free/legume-rich diets.