Canine heart disease may relate to legumes, potatoes

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Updated March 15, 2019

Federal authorities are studying possible links between heart disease in dogs and diets containing legumes or potatoes.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a genetic condition found most often in large dogs and Cocker Spaniels, but diet may contribute to disease development, according to the Food and Drug Administration. In February, agency officials published data on hundreds of disease reports and described current studies. FDA officials said many of the reports of DCM involved dogs of breeds that have no known genetic predisposition to the disease and that many—but not all—of these dogs were being fed diets containing legumes or potatoes as main ingredients.

"Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors," an FDA announcement states.

The agency's only advice to pet owners is to consult veterinarians about pet diets. Clinical signs of DCM include fatigue, cough, breathing difficulty, and collapse.

From January 2014 through November 2018, veterinarians and pet owners filed reports describing DCM in 325 dogs and 10 cats, FDA officials announced in February. The disease killed 74 of the dogs and two of the cats.

Among the dogs that developed disease and ate a single primary food, 90 percent had been fed a grain-free diet, the announcement states. Most of those diets contained peas, lentils, or both.

In July 2018, agency officials published an alert to pet owners and veterinarians that they were studying possible links between DCM and diets with main ingredients of peas, lentils, other legumes, or potatoes. They called for pet owners and veterinarians to file reports when they suspected DCM could be linked with a pet's diet.

Information published this February indicates that, because the FDA has received far more reports involving dogs than cats, investigators are focusing on dog health.

The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine is investigating correlations between DCM and diet, working with partners to collect and analyze information from pets with the disease, consulting with veterinarians in animal nutrition to learn whether nutrient bioavailability and ingredient digestibility may contribute to the disease, and working with food makers to study ingredients and formulations.

The agency has published details on the investigation and reporting instructions and technical details.

Clarification: This article has been updated to note that the FDA has received unusual reports of DCM in breeds that have no known genetic predisposition to the disease. Additional information is available in a commentary published in our Dec 1, 2018, issue.

Related JAVMA content:

Unusual pet diets may be linked to heart disease (Aug. 1, 2018)