Due to the large, devoted dog-owning population in Asheville, it is important that owners are aware of an alarming health trend. Canine BEG diets (boutique, exotic ingredient and grain-free) have recently skyrocketed in popularity. These BEG diets are made in small batches with ingredients such as alligator and salmon. Instead of grains, legumes are substituted. The majority of these diets do not undergo testing, and the companies do not employ a nutritionist or veterinarian. In July 2018, the Food and Drug Administration released a warning that it was investigating a link between BEG diets and a recent increase in dilated cardiomyopathy cases.
Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes thin and flabby. The result is congestive heart failure. It is a serious and potentially fatal disease. Typically, large breeds like Great Danes and Dobermans are affected due to genetics, but in recent months, dogs of all breeds are being diagnosed.
The underlying cause is not yet understood, but taurine is the key component. Taurine is an amino acid essential for cardiac health. These BEG diets may interfere with either its metabolism or uptake. Lentils and peas seem to be the legume ingredients most implicated. Whatever the cause, it is becoming apparent that these diets are not safe or appropriate for dogs.
True grain allergies are fairly rare in dogs. Most allergies are to proteins, particularly beef and chicken. Dogs in the wild do eat grains, although popular advertising says otherwise. Further, there is currently no veterinary literature supporting the routine use of grain-free foods. It is a very successful marketing ploy based on the current trend of low-carb/ketogenic-type diets in people. The current recommendation is that unless a dog has a documented grain allergy through dermatologic testing, it should not be fed a BEG diet.
Beware of flashy packaging in regard to dog food. Look for diets that carry the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standard for testing, as well as follow the World Small Animal Veterinary Association guidelines for formulation.
If you are in doubt about what to feed, speak to your veterinarian. Do not rely on a pet store owner or employee to counsel you on nutrition. Pet store employees are not trained in this area. Further, they have an actual financial incentive to sell you the most expensive diet, as they are a retailer. Veterinarians know your personal pet. They are trained in nutrition and evaluating dietary components and can counsel as to what is best. If your dog has been on a BEG diet, it is important to speak with your veterinarian about switching foods and possible cardiac testing.
Remember, you wouldn’t ask the drive-through person at McDonald’s what to feed yourself. So don’t ask the pet store employee what diet your dog should be eating!
— Catherine Ashe, DVM