Lower Cardiac Function Among Healthy Dogs Eating Non-Traditional Diets

Literature Discussed: "Comparison of echocardiographic measurements and cardiac biomarkers in healthy dogs eating nontraditional or traditional diets. " Owens, EJ, LeBlanc, NL, Freeman, LM, Scollan, KF.  J Vet Intern Med. 2022; 1- 10. https://doi.org/10.1111/jvim.16606 

Key Takeaway: When compared between diet groups, healthy adult dogs eating diets containing pulse legumes (peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans) as main ingredients have lower cardiac function and higher ventricular volume than dogs eating grain-inclusive diets without potatoes or pulses in the first 10 ingredients. 

Funding: American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and Department of Clinical Sciences at Oregon State University.


This study is another investigating the ongoing association between atypical cases of heart disease among dogs eating certain diets. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart that is hereditary in certain breeds, but has also been connected to certain infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies. In this condition, the chambers of the heart are enlarged and the output function of the heart is reduced. In most cases, DCM is a progressive, deadly disease even in the face of medications to improve cardiac function. When the underlying cause secondary to an outside factor, such as nutrition, it can sometimes be reversed and ultimately cured. This marks the twelfth study demonstrating a link between grain-free or pulse legume-rich non-traditional diets and cardiac changes or DCM since the FDA first announced the concern to the public in 2018. 

In this study, researchers sought healthy, owned adult dogs that had been consistently eating the same diet for at least 1 year duration and receiving 90% or more of their daily calories from a single commercial kibble. Diets were divided into "traditional" (grain-containing, no pulse legumes or potatoes in the first 10 ingredients) and "non-traditional" (pulse ingredients as main ingredients). In order to address potential confounding variables, researchers excluded dogs with congenital heart disease, heart murmur, or arrhythmia, as well as several breeds based on their potential predisposition to DCM or taurine-deficiency. In total, 23 dogs matched for age and breed were enrolled into each study group. 

Dogs accepted into the study received an echocardiogram. The screened dogs had cardiac measurements falling within accepted reference ranges for normal. However, on average, dogs in the non-traditional diet group had reduced systolic function (the ability of the heart to pump out blood to arteries) and larger ventricular volume (the amount of blood filled into the chamber before being pumped out-- excessively high volumes, or volume overload, is a component of heart disease). Researchers note that further study would be needed to determine if increases in ventricular volume precede increases in ventricular measurements. 

Researchers conclude: "Despite these limitations, results from this study showed that dogs eating nontraditional diets had several echocardiographic variables suggestive of larger left ventricular size and lower myocardial systolic performance as compared to dogs eating traditional diets, although echocardiographic variables for both groups were largely within extant reference intervals (Figures 1 and 2)."

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