Are Peas in Common Dog Foods Contributing to Canine Heart Disease?

At this time, the FDA is not advocating that pet owners discontinue using any specific brand. But studying legumes may lead scientists to the root cause

A chocolate lab eats food from a silver bowl on wood flooring
Neither the FDA nor the researchers would identify the brands tested for the study. They also are not advocating that pet owners discontinue using dog foods containing peas at this time. University of Kansas via Wikicommons under Public Domain

Is your choice of dog food putting Fido at risk of deadly heart disease? A new study is one step closer to determining which ingredients are linked to canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which a serious and often fatal condition that eventually causes congestive heart failure, especially in medium to large breeds.

More specifically, the research sponsored by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests a common vegetable—peas—could lead to the potential problem. The legume was identified as a likely factor in the new study by Tufts University, reports Linda Carroll of NBC News.

Researchers examined dog foods previously associated with DCM to other foods for a comparative analysis. The study looked at more than 800 different compounds, including peas and lentils, also known as pulses, which are added to various dog foods. According to the study, “peas showed the greatest association” with compounds linked to DCM.

“I see this as a piece of the puzzle,” study author Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist at Tufts, tells NBC News. “This research helps us narrow down the targets to look at so we can focus on the most likely causes and get to an answer more quickly and prevent other dogs from being affected.”

According to the research, DCM is “the second most common heart disease affecting pet dogs, with prevalence over 50 percent in some breeds.” It can cause congestive heart failure or “sudden death” in certain breeds with a genetic predisposition to the disease, including boxers, Great Danes, Doberman pinschers and cocker spaniels. Other research shows that nonhereditary forms can result from other factors, including existing medical conditions and diet, reports Maya Yang of the Guardian.

According to the research, peas and lentils are often used as filler in various dog foods, including grain-free products. While the Tufts study indicates the vegetables may be a contributing factor to DCM, the FDA is not planning to ban them from dog food at this time.

In a prepared statement, the agency says while “legumes and pulses have been used in pet foods for many years, [there is] no evidence to indicate they are inherently dangerous.”

Neither the FDA nor the researchers would identify the brands tested for the study. They also are not advocating that pet owners discontinue using dog foods containing peas.

“Until we know the exact cause, we want to be cautious of all the ingredients the FDA is investigating,” Freeman tells NBC News. “Peas might be a good clue as to where we can be looking. As one more piece of the puzzle, this doesn’t give us the final answer, unfortunately. But it gives us things to follow up on.”

So, what should pet owners do? Select major brands that are more likely to have a nutritionist on staff, Brian Bourquin of Boston Veterinary Clinic tells Meghan Ottolini of the Boston Herald.

“We want to see foods that have been studied, and that tends to lead to the bigger food companies,” he says. “Those are the ones we trust the most.”

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