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In August 2021, researchers from Tufts University published a study that indicated that peas may be a leading dog food ingredient contributing to a rise in diet-associated canine heart disease (DCM) in dogs. In the study, researchers compared traditional dog foods with those dog food diets that the FDA has associated with this canine heart disease, which are often diets labeled “grain-free.”

With a study of more than 800 compounds, peas were at the top of the list of ingredients that may be associated with this form of canine heart disease. These diets associated with DCM are often labeled “grain-free,” and typically include peas and other legumes or pulses to replace grain ingredients such as rice, corn, or wheat.

Investigating Diet-Related Heart Disease in Dogs

Back in July 2018, the FDA announced that it had begun investigating reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a type of canine heart disease that affects the heart muscle. The hearts of dogs with DCM have a decreased ability to pump blood, which often results in congestive heart failure and may lead to death. Many of the foods involved were labeled as “grain-free,” and contained a high proportion of peas, lentils, other legume seeds (pulses), and/or potatoes in various forms (whole, flour, protein, etc.) as main ingredients (listed within the first 10 ingredients in the ingredient list, before vitamins and minerals).

Some dog breeds, especially large and giant dog breeds, have a predisposition to DCM. These breeds include Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, Great DanesNewfoundlandsIrish Wolfhounds, and Saint Bernards. While DCM is less common in medium and small breeds, Cocker Spaniels are also predisposed to this condition.

However, in many instances, these new cases included breeds of dogs not previously known to have a genetic predisposition to the disease, including Golden RetrieversLabrador RetrieversWhippetsBulldogs, Shih Tzus, and mixed-breed dogs. The dogs involved consistently ate grain alternatives in their diets, causing the FDA to take notice and investigate.

Understanding Your Dog’s Food and Its Ingredients

Pet owners are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the food they feed their pets, especially in this situation. They should read the label of ingredients to find out what the top ingredients are. If they are feeding a “grain-free” food that has peas as a primary ingredient (top 10), they should consult with their veterinarian to determine if they need to make a change to their pet’s diet or find a pea-free dog food.

One guide for finding the right food for your pet is to make certain the label indicates that the food meets the requirements of the American Association of Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) and is a “Complete and Balanced” diet. This is not a marketing term, but a designation to assure pet owners that the product is “Complete,” meaning that it contains all the nutrients required, and “Balanced,” meaning that the nutrients are present in the correct ratios.

Related article: Raw Dog Food May Be Fueling Rise in Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
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