Diet-Related Canine Heart Disease

dog diets

Last week, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an investigation into diet-related heart disease in dogs.

I suspect most dog families would be surprised to learn diet may play a role in the development of heart disease in their favorite fur baby. Here is a summary of the FDA announcement.

Heart Disease in Dogs
Veterinarians diagnose three main types of heart disease in dogs. The most common is degeneration of the valves between the chambers of the heart, leading to congestive heart failure. The least common form is congenital heart abnormalities. This form of heart disease might be considered a birth defect. The third form of canine heart disease is an abnormality of the heart muscle called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Canine DCM is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart that can easily be seen with a chest x-ray. The enlargement is due to thinning of the heart muscle, making the pumping action of the heart ineffective. The heart valves become leaky, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen. Like heart valve disease, DCM often results in congestive heart failure. 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. There are also two small breed dogs prone to DCM, American and English Cocker Spaniels. The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component because of the strong breed associations. If caught early, heart function may improve in some cases that are not linked to genetics.

This Type is Different
The FDA initiated the investigation last week because the dogs recently identified with DCM are breeds not appearing on the list above. 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 breed dogs. The other common finding in the recently diagnosed dogs is their diet. When the families of the dogs recently diagnosed with DCM were interviewed, they reported their dog’s diet contained 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.

If You Are Worried About Your Dog or Your Dog’s Diet
Check with your dog’s veterinarian before changing his diet. 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 “How to Report a Pet Food Complaint” for additional instructions.

Kitchen Catastrophes

New pet owners often ask their veterinarian, “What is the greatest danger to my pet? Is it the dog park, the sidewalk or being cat-napped?” It may come as a surprise to you, but your kitchen holds some of the greatest dangers for your pet.

Xylitol, a sweetener found in low-calorie foods, induces excessive insulin release in dogs. No one knows why insulin production ramps up in response to xylitol, but the result can be a fatal low blood sugar in your dog. Dogs consuming xylitol may experience vomiting, lethargy, lack of coordination progressing to seizures and liver failure. If your dog eats food containing xylitol, see a veterinarian immediately.

Dogs have a bit of a sweet tooth and often find grapes and raisins tasty. Tasty can turn into tragedy because some dogs develop kidney failure following consumption of even a few grapes or raisins. The toxin has not been identified, but a quick trip to the veterinarian and a short hospital stay can help prevent long-term kidney damage.

Both cats and dogs have red blood cells which can be damaged by ingestion of onions, garlic or garlic powder. Red blood cell damage can result in the need for a blood transfusion, so avoiding these ingredients in your pet’s diet is critical. Typically dogs get into onions by snacking from the trash can. On the other hand, cats may have problems if they are fed human foods flavored with garlic powder.

Birds love human foods too, but bird owners should be cautious about avocados, which can cause respiratory distress and death. Like in dogs and cats, the caffeine-like substance in chocolate can be dangerous for birds. Baking chocolate contains the most of the caffeine-like substance, dark chocolate somewhat less and white chocolate the least. Ingestion of the caffeine-like substance can cause hyperactivity, heart rhythm abnormalities and seizures. Too much salt is bad for all of us including birds, so it is best to keep the salty snacks on your plate rather than your bird’s.

The AMC recommends you check with your veterinarian before feeding your pets any human food. Keep these foods out of your pet’s reach and ensure that your garbage is not easily accessible by them as well. If your pet has ingested any foods that may be toxic you should contact your veterinarian immediately or call Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435, 24 hours a day.

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