The number of dog food diets on the market at the moment is vast, and new brands pop up on a weekly basis it seems. Each pet food has beautiful packaging, delicious sounding flavors, and promises to keep your dog in perfect health. So which one should you feed your dog? Can you use more than one brand? These are common questions veterinarians get asked daily.
What is pet food made of?
Pet foods contain fats, proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, and a range of essential vitamins and minerals. All these elements must be finely balanced to keep your dog healthy. To be branded as pet food, it must follow AAFCO standards to be sold legally. These standards ensure that the food is safe to feed to your dog as it meets the minimum standards needed to fulfill a dog’s nutritional requirements. Do not purchase dog food that does not meet the AAFCO standards. This includes home-cooked or raw food diets.
With the rise in allergies seen in domestic pets, there has been a move towards ‘grain free’ diets. Grains such as wheat or corn usually make up the carbohydrate section of the dog food. Some people think that the grains could be causing dogs to have allergic skin disease flare-ups. So, some companies have decided to swap out the grain element for an alternative. The most common alternative used is the legume family, specifically peas, lentils, or potatoes. Grain is removed from some diets in hopes to reduce the signs of allergic skin disease in dogs who may be sensitive to grain.
The link between peas, potatoes, and heart disease
There have been reports of grain-free diets which contain legumes such as peas and potatoes being linked to Dilated Cardiomyopathy in dogs.
This is an ever-developing area of research and so far no one specifically knows if the reason that dogs are getting dilated cardiomyopathy is definitely linked to grain-free diets. However, there have been multiple reports that link dogs who have been fed grain-free diets to dilated cardiomyopathy. More research is needed to understand exactly how grain-free or legume-based diets cause dilated cardiomyopathy. Whilst we do not know 100% for sure, it’s thought that high concentrations of legumes such as peas interfere with taurine absorption in the gut. Taurine is an essential amino acid that is needed by the heart to function. It’s thought that not all breeds of dogs can make their own Taurine. These dogs rely on their diet for all or most of their Taurine supply. If the diet is deficient in Taurine or does not allow for Taurine to be absorbed by the body this has long-term effects on the body. Without taurine, the heart muscles weaken and this leads to dilation of the heart chambers and thinning of the heart walls with time. The enlarged heart and thinner walls make it harder for the heart to pump blood around the body and will lead to congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure in dogs is a terminal disease.
So can dogs eat peas or sweet potato as a snack?
Peas and sweet potatoes can both be fed as an occasional snack to your dog with low risk of causing serious side effects such as heart disease. If you’re considering sharing a small piece of potato or leftovers from your dinner with your dog, chances are no harm will come from the occasional treat.
Always make sure the peas and potatoes are cooked, as this is easier for your dog to digest. If you have used any sauces or condiments that contain garlic and onions, then you cannot feed the leftovers to your dog. This is because garlic and onions are toxic.
Peas are seen as a healthy snack. They are high in vitamins, fiber, and protein and can add variety to your dog's treats. If using peas from a can, rinse before serving to remove any excess sodium (salt) from the peas.
Potato and sweet potato are enjoyed by dogs, which is why they are common ingredients in dog diets. Potato and sweet potato are high in fiber, low in fat, and packed with vitamins. Too much potato at any one time can lead to a tummy upset so keep the portion size small.
Feeding peas and potatoes occasionally should not contribute to heart disease. It is thought that prolonged feeding of these ingredients in the absence of other foods can be the cause of the problem. As always moderation is key!
Should I be feeding my dog a grain-free diet?
There are many aspects to consider with this question, for more information read our blog post on grain-free diets to find out more!
What breeds are predisposed to dilated cardiomyopathy?
DCM is most commonly seen in Dobermans, Great Danes, Irish wolfhounds, and cocker spaniels, although other breeds can be affected.
Can Taurine deficiency be treated?
A veterinarian can take a blood test to determine if taurine levels are normal, and supplements can be prescribed if the levels are low. Some dogs will need lifetime supplementation.
Can dilated cardiomyopathy be reversed?
No, once signs of heart chamber dilation and wall thinning are seen on ultrasound, this is a non-reversible condition and leads to congestive heart failure.
So, can I feed my dog peas or potatoes?
Yes, it’s fine to feed your dog the occasional peas or potatoes, or diets with small amounts of pea and potato in.
Currently, the FDA is not advising pet parents to stop feeding grain-free, or legume-based diets. No brands of pet food have been withdrawn from the market directly relating to claims of the food causing dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. However, this is an ever-developing area of research and hopefully, more information will come to light regarding the exact mechanisms grain-free diets cause heart disease. This will let owners make informed decisions on the diet they choose to feed their dogs. If you are unsure as to the best pet food, ask BetterVet for help today.
We suggest, whilst the research is still ongoing if your dog doesn’t currently suffer from a diagnosed grain allergy, stick to brands that are not marketed as grain-free for now.