Pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds or potatoes as main ingredients may be linked to cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, according to an alert to pet owners this week from the Food and Drug Administration.

Certain large and giant breed dogs, including great danes, boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish wolfhounds, saint bernards and doberman pinschers, are thought to have a genetic predisposition to DCM. Atypically, cases of DCM reported to FDA have been of mixed breeds and of smaller breeds that were not thought to be predisposed to this condition, including: golden and Labrador retrievers, whippets, a Shih Tzu, a bulldog and miniature schnauzers.

Canine DCM is a disease of the heart muscle, resulting in an enlarged heart, which can lead to congestive heart failure if not treated successfully. Dogs suffering from DCM may show symptoms of heart disease, such as decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing and episodes of collapse.

In June 2017, Dr. Joshua Stern,  associate professor of cardiology in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California-Davis, alerted the veterinary community to reports of  DCM in golden retrievers that were taurine-deficient.

Taurine is an amino acid, which is a building block of protein, necessary for heart health. It is normally found in animal tissue, including red meats, poultry and seafood. Taurine is not present in plant tissue. Although it is not considered to be an “essential” amino acid in the canine diet, some dry dog foods are supplemented with taurine.

Dogs that receive an adequate amount of the amino acids cysteine and methionine are able to produce taurine for themselves. Both cysteine and methionine are found in significant concentrations in meats, poultry, seafood and dairy products. These essential amino acids tend to be found at relatively lower concentrations in most other edible plants, including peas, potatoes and lentils.

In four atypical cases of DCM reported to FDA, three golden retrievers and one Labrador retriever, blood tests revealed low whole blood levels of taurine. The Labrador retriever is recovering under veterinary treatment, including taurine supplementation and a change in diet.

Four other atypical DCM cases in a miniature schnauzer, a Shiuh Tzu and two Labrador retrievers, had normal blood taurine levels.

FDA has contacted pet food manufacturers to discuss the reports and to help further the investigation.

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. See “How to Report a Pet Food Complaint” for additional instructions.

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