Upon analyzing 150 studies regarding the hypothesized link between grain-free diets and heart disease, researchers found no definitive link between dogs consuming a grain-free or legume-rich diet and the development of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
You’ve seen the startling (and, quite frankly, misleading and irresponsible) headlines warning dog owners that their grain-free foods could cause heart disease in their furriest family.
A June 27, 2019 report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration implicated several pet food brands that were named in veterinarian-reported cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods, many labeled as “grain-free.”
The sensationalized news left many pet parents scrambling, worried for the health of their dogs, and rushing en masse to their local pet stores to exchange their dog’s food for something with grains. With that in mind, it’s important to note that allergies to wheat, rye, barley, oats, rice, and other grains are far more abundant than DCM, affecting at least 10% of all dogs, with intolerances to those grains even more commonplace.
In June 2020, researchers from BSM Partners, a pet care research and consulting firm led by a team of veterinarians, veterinary cardiologists, and animal nutritionists, published their first benchmark study on DCM and dogs. Following an examination of more than 150 studies, the authors found no definitive relationship between grain-free and legume-rich diets, and DCM.
According to the study published in the Journal of Animal Science,
“Recently, a correlation between diets with specific characteristics, such as, but not limited to, containing legumes, grain-free, novel protein sources and ingredients, and smaller manufactured brands to DCM has come under scrutiny by academic researchers and the FDA. The use of the acronym “BEG” (boutique manufacturers, exotic proteins, and grain-free diets) and its association with DCM are without merit because there is no definitive evidence in the literature. At this time, information distributed to the veterinary community and the general public has been abbreviated synopses of case studies, with multiple variables and treatments, incomplete medical information, and conflicting medical data and opinions from veterinary nutrition influencers. Also, in past literature, sampling bias, overrepresentation of subgroups, and confounding variables in the data weaken this hypothesis. Additionally, based on current literature, the incidence of DCM in the overall dog population is estimated to be between 0.5% and 1.3% in the United States. However, the FDA case numbers (560 dogs) are well below the estimated prevalence. Therefore, it is impossible to draw any definitive conclusions, in these cases, linking specific diets or specific ingredients to DCM.”(1)
The peer-reviewed article appeared in the Journal of Animal Science and can be accessed here.
(1) Sydney R McCauley, Stephanie D Clark, Bradley W Quest, Renee M Streeter, Eva M Oxford, Review of canine dilated cardiomyopathy in the wake of diet-associated concerns, Journal of Animal Science, Volume 98, Issue 6, June 2020, skaa155, https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/skaa155