Are lentils, beans linked to canine heart problems? Researchers explore

A new study out of Canada aims to help DVMs make evidence-based diet recommendations for patients

To investigate the association between ‘pulse’ ingredients typically used in grain-free dog foods (i.e. lentils, beans, peas) and instances of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), U of G researchers conducted a randomized, controlled trial of 28 Siberian huskies.Lentils, beans, and field peas are safe for canine consumption and not linked to cardiac issues.

This is according to the University of Guelph (U of G) in Canada. To investigate the potential link between “pulse” ingredients typically used in grain-free dog foods (i.e. lentils, beans, peas) and instances of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), researchers conducted a randomized, controlled trial of 28 Siberian huskies. (The breed was selected because huskies are not genetically at risk of DCM, which means any changes to their heart health would reflect diet and not genetics, U of G says.)

Each dog was assigned to a diet containing either zero, 15, 30, or 45 percent whole pulse ingredients—specifically, green and yellow peas, pinto beans, chickpeas, and lentils. All diets were formulated with the same protein and fat levels and included chicken as an animal protein source. Additionally, all pulse ingredient concentrations reflected current formulas in commercial dog foods.

“We wanted to keep all aspects of the diets the same except the amount of pulse ingredients so any changes we saw in the dogs’ cardiac function could be attributed to the differing amounts of pulses and not nutrient intake,” says lead author Pawanpreet Singh, an animal biosciences PhD student at U of G.

Echocardiograms were performed by Shari Raheb, BSc, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology), a professor in OVC’s Department of Clinical Studies, to detect heart changes, while Singh routinely collected blood samples to assess cardiac biomarkers or amino acid changes.

Additionally, Shoshana Verton-Shaw, RVT, and Adronie Verbrugghe, DVM, PhD, Dip. ECVCN, a clinical studies professor at Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) and Royal Canin Veterinary Diets Endowed Chair in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition, performed scans to assess body composition at the beginning and end of the study. The dogs were also weighed weekly.

“We took the highest precautions to monitor the health of these dogs,” Singh says. “We made sure to conduct monthly health checks and evaluate their heart blood markers to make sure there were no signs of cardiac stress.”

Following a trial of 20 weeks, dogs fed diets containing up to 45 percent whole pulse ingredients and no grains showed no indications of heart issues.

“Our data suggest the inclusion of pulse ingredients in dog food is not a causative factor and emphasizes the importance of understanding the nutrient composition of each ingredient and ensuring that foods exceed minimum nutrient requirements,” says lead author, Kate Shoveller, PhD, BSc, a professor of animal biosciences at U of G’s Ontario Agricultural College and the Champion Petfoods Chair in Canine and Feline Nutrition, Physiology, and Metabolism.

“Ultimately, pulses are a dependable protein alternative in the food industry, and this study emphasizes their safety even when incorporated at high concentrations,” she adds.

Additionally, the dogs’ body composition altered less than 0.1 percent from baseline no matter which diet they were on, suggesting they also maintained lean body mass, U of G reports.

“This study is the longest, controlled feeding study to date to assess cardiometabolic health in healthy adult dogs fed pulse-inclusive diets,” Dr. Shoveller says.

“This research is important to help veterinarians make evidence-based diet recommendations for their patients,” Dr. Verbrugghe adds. “Some dogs might be healthy, but others could have specific health conditions for which protein sources and content are targeted.”

The study was funded by Champion Petfoods and all experimental diets were processed in its facilities.

The findings have been published in The Journal of Nutrition. For more, click here.

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