You Say Potato, I Say Uh Oh, Or Should It Be Uh Oh To GMO?

hungry chihuahua dog eating with tablecloth utensils at the table , food bowl , fork and knife

By Mary Kenkel

What a confusing headline! Let’s pull it all together! Recently the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to pet parents, that potatoes, peas, lentils, and lentil seeds as the main ingredient in pet food could be linked to heart disease in dogs, particularly canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)? When I read that, I felt it crucial to dig down further since many dog foods have switched to these ingredients in lieu of grain.

Potatoes Causing Heart Disease?

DCM is an enlarged heart or a disease of the dog’s heart muscle and often results in congestive heart failure. Ernest Ward, DVM, wrote on the VCA Hospitals blog that while DCM can develop suddenly, it usually happens over time. However, “Some dogs may develop severe congestive heart failure (CHF) in only a few hours. Rapid, heavy breathing, a blue tongue, excessive drooling, or collapse may be the first signs.” If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, take them to the vet ASAP. For dogs with progressive DCM, the first signs include lethargy and weight loss, according to PetMD. You should also watch for shortness of breath, coughing, abdominal distention (bloating), and loss of consciousness. PetMD also noted that DCM is often misdiagnosed, so it’s important to request a thorough exam and comprehensive tests if your dog exhibits any of the above symptoms and has also consistently eaten a diet containing peas, lentils, or potatoes.

In cases that are not linked to genetics, heart function may improve with appropriate veterinary treatment and dietary modification if caught early, according to the FDA press release.

This all sounds very worrisome, but what I feel is equally as important as the warning, is how the FDA came to this conclusion.

What Does the FDA Say?

The Food and Drug Administration issued its warning based on a few dogs that contracted heart disease that were not breeds prone to heart problems. Then they asked the owners what they fed the dogs and voila! Non-grain options found in dog food seemed to be the missing link.

I reached out to the FDA to obtain additional information and was referred to the Center for Veterinary Medicine which only stated that they were not advising dietary changes at this time, based on the information they have received to date.

What Are GMOs?

So, while they issued a warning, they haven’t really followed it up with any advice. I also inquired about GMO (genetically modified organisms) vs. Non-GMO ingredients but they have not conducted any research in this area. A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

There is some thought-provoking information on GMOs and how it might impact your pet’s health. While I don’t subscribe to everything that the Truth about Pet Food suggests, this link will take you to an attention-grabbing video on the increase of GMOs present in dog food and what some veterinarians are witnessing with their clients.

The European Union has higher standards than the US for pet food, and insists that non GMO ingredients are used for our loved ones. There are several dog foods, that use organic, grass fed, healthy meats (not dead, diseased or dying animals which is allowed in pet food) which is where I would put my money.

Verus, Acana, OC Raw (freeze dried and frozen raw), Nature’s Logic, Open Farm, Stella and Chewy’s, just to name a few all pay close attention to the ingredients that go into your precious pet’s food. Some of these dog foods do contain potatoes, chick peas, in lieu of grains – but they are non-GMO.

In addition, when you purchase locally, you are ensuring that your food has been followed from farm to table – not stored in hot warehouses where it can rot – even in the bag (think Amazon and Chewy’s). In addition, your local store does its homework and will help you navigate through the very confusing litany of information about what to feed your dog.

The bottom line, your pup is bombarded with all kinds of pesticides and other environmental bad actors, as well as a lot of frankly junk that its ancestors never would have encountered. Don’t be fooled by dollars spent on advertising – instead look for manufacturers that spend their dollars on creating and providing high quality food that will keep your pup healthy and strong. And remember, a healthy dog is a happy dog!

Mary and Patrick Kenkel own Whole Dogz, a doggie day care, boarding facility, and retail store located at 4748 Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria. Visit in person or online at and

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