Research Regarding Pulse Ingredients in Dog Food and Relationship to Cardiac Function

On December 23, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will no longer provide updates to the public regarding dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs until new and meaningful scientific information is available. The FDA added in what might be considered a sharp rebuke, “While adverse event numbers can be a potential signal of an issue with an FDA-regulated product, by themselves, they do not supply sufficient data to establish a causal relationship with reported product(s).”

It is important to remember that the FDA simply gathered information on its end from anecdotal accounts to echocardiograms, and only wanted reports of non-hereditary DCM in dogs. However, a group of researchers had already postulated that grain-free diets were the cause and encouraged only FDA submissions of dogs fed a grain-free diet. Another failure of the information gathering is that the FDA did not want reports of dogs not diagnosed with DCM that had symptoms similar to DCM. Inevitably, the information was disproportionately weighted against grain-free diets.

Even though the FDA has walked back on its 2019 generalization that pulse ingredients (peas, lentils, etc.) in dog food formulations appear to be linked to DCM in dogs, the debate still continues to this day. Indeed, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) had to update its article on the FDA’s announcement:

“Since first publishing the article on February 7th (2023), we received questions and perspectives from several AVMA members. This is clearly an important topic, and one that veterinary professionals are passionate about. However, it is also clear that views are very divided. In response to the questions we received and in an effort to shed more light on this complex topic, we updated the article to further clarify the facts initially presented in the article and included additional information to assist readers as they explore this complex topic.”

Hemopet’s position has always been that more objective scientific research needs to be conducted. We found the “cart before the horse” researchers circumspect in their studies – as if trying to confirm their presumption and bias. Other researchers had a more “brass tacks” approach. In essence, they approached it from the standpoint of noting nutrition’s complexity and breaking it down. They did not pile onto the potentially outdated and flawed research, but provided evidence that perhaps a revision of the 20-year-old NRC nutrient recommendations is in order.

Surveying the landscape approximately ten months after the FDA’s 2022 walk back, we notice that some previous blog posts by veterinary colleagues have not been revised and are still relying on the 2019 FDA announcement. Others are defending their positions. Flawed studies are beginning to be corrected. Finally, a smattering of research reports have been recently published.

We found the report, “The Pulse of It: Dietary Inclusion of Up to 45% Whole Pulse Ingredients with Chicken Meal and Pea Starch in a Complete and Balanced Diet Does Not Affect Cardiac Function, Fasted Sulfur Amino Acid Status, or Other Gross Measures of Health in Adult Dogs,” interesting by Singh et al.

Before we move forward, it should be mentioned that the dogs were only Siberian Huskies, the diet was experimental (i.e. not commercially available), and the study was funded by a predominantly grain-free companion dog food manufacturer that the FDA implicated in 2019. However, the financial support did not influence the findings or conclusions of this study.

This research team concluded, “The results from this study suggest that increasing the inclusion of pulses up to 45% with the removal of grains and equal micronutrient supplementation does not impact cardiac function concurrent with dilated cardiomyopathy, body composition, or sulfur amino acid status and is safe for healthy adult dogs to consume when fed for 20 weeks.”

Additionally, they observed, “Regardless of the amount of pulses consumed, none of the dogs in the current study revealed echocardiographic or electrocardiographic changes that could indicate the development of DCM after 20 weeks.” (Echocardiograms are the gold standard of diagnosing heart conditions.)

This research study is well-written and fairly easy to understand. If you do not want to get in the weeds of sulfur amino acids, we suggest skipping forward to the discussion of the paper, in which they professionally address some of the shortcomings of other DCM research that has become prevalent, believed and adopted.

Additional Reference

Mansilla, Wilfredo D et al. “Minimum dietary methionine requirements in Miniature Dachshund, Beagle, and Labrador Retriever adult dogs using the indicator amino acid oxidation technique.” Journal of animal science vol. 98,11 (2020): skaa324. doi:10.1093/jas/skaa324,

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