While I am no scientist or veterinarian, I am, like many of you, a concerned dog owner. As such, I am certainly concerned about the recent release of the FDA study on some dog foods and their relationship to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

The study looked at grain-free foods as well as foods that are heavily based in legumes (peas, beans and such) and potatoes, but do not contain corn, wheat, barley or other grains. The study is hardly definitive, but does raise some issues worth considering.

First, what is DCM? DCM is a dilation of the ventricles – the lower chambers of the heart – thinning of the muscle wall of the heart. As a result, the ability to deliver oxygenated blood to the body is decreased.

This can cause arrhythmia among other heart conditions. Symptoms can be lethargy, weight loss, coughing and more. An electrocardiogram or echocardiograph would be recommended in order to diagnose the issue. The condition can be life threatening.

What breeds might be predisposed to DCM through genetics and heredity? Cocker Spaniels, Dobermans, Boxers, English Bulldogs, Great Danes, Newfoundlands (one of my breeds) and others.

The study identified many breeds that were not currently considered at risk for DCM, such as Golden Retrievers.

What is not clear in the study is whether there is a deficiency of certain amino acids such as taurine, cysteine, and methionine, or the absorption ability of these and possibly other substances.

Grain-free foods have become the nutritional rage over the years as grains have been eliminated from many canine diets due to skin allergies or digestive sensitivities. Other than a known issue, is there really a reason to go grain-free?

We don’t really have the answer but it has certainly been the belief of many that our dogs have done better on grain-free foods. So, should we all go rushing to switch back to grain-based foods?

According to the FDA, the answer is “no,” but to work with your veterinarian as investigations continue. If you have an at-risk breed, bloodwork and heart testing is advised if they are symptomatic.

Chicken, lamb and fish top the list of questionable proteins but that might only be because those foods were more commonly used. Also, this is a very small study, which leads to concerns about overreacting. Most studies contain many thousands of animals, while this did not.

The food brands that topped the list were Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Natures Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Naturals, Natural Balance, Orijen, Natures Variety, Nutrisource, Nutro and Rachel Ray. Not all flavors within these brands were named.

This selection also raises another concern the public may have with the study: If so many dogs have switched to grain-free over the years, then wouldn’t the small number of dogs in the study show skewed results?

Please have this conversation with your veterinarian as we learn more from further studies. We all want to do what is best for our pets, so waiting for answers can be difficult. If a dog cannot be on a grain diet, then make the most informed decision you can.

Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. AlphaDogTrainingAcademy@gmail.com