FDA Says That Grain Free Dog Food Linked To Heart Disease

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The US Food and Drug Administration recently published a statement that they are looking into particular dog food formulations responsible for potential heart failure in dogs. Furthermore, the report indicated specific brands that reflected the frequency of heart failure.

Although the FDA has been looking into dog food labeled as “grain free” since 2018, the most recent June 2019 statement is the first time that the agency has specified brands that appear to be linked more than others with canine dilated cardiomyopathy.

Reports gathered between January 2014 and April 2019 totaled to 515 reported cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy. Among the 515, there are 222 proclaimed cases between December 2018 and April 2019.

Notably, the FDA is looking at the connection between the significant presence of grain-free diets amongst those with dogs who experienced fatal heart disease.

“As the heart and its chambers become dilated, it becomes harder for the heart to pump, and heart valves may leak, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen,” the FDA describes.

Furthermore, DCM is recognized as a genetic condition in dogs, typically in large or giant breeds, such as the Doberman pinscher, Great Dane, and the Irish wolfhound. But many of the reported cases were of breeds not previously known to be genetically disposed to the disease, the FDA said.

In particular, the condition started to manifest on much smaller breeds who required less work from the heart—another factor that led the FDA into conducting its research on the grain-free diet.

Grain free dog foods contain a high proportion of peas, lentils, other legume seeds (pulses), and/or potatoes in various forms (whole, flour, protein, etc.) as primary ingredients.

According to the FDA, there were 16 significant grain free dog food brands linked to DCM in dogs. These brands are ordered by the number of cases linked to them, ranging from highest (67) to lowest (10).

16 Grain Free Dog Food brands linked to DCM cases:

  • Acana
  • Zignature
  • Taste of the Wild
  • 4Health
  • Earthborn Holistic
  • Blue Buffalo
  • Nature’s Domain
  • Fromm
  • Merrick
  • California Natural
  • Natural Balance
  • Orijen
  • Nature’s Variety
  • NutriSource
  • Nutro
  • Rachael Ray Nutrish

The FDA received an additional 13 other brands that link to DCM in dogs but were deemed “not significant” since reported cases are low compared to the ones mentioned above.

Furthermore, most of the reports were associated with dry dog food formulations. However, it also includes raw food, semi-moist food, and wet food.

In light of the recent report, the FDA noted that their findings are only “based on reports that included brand information and that some reports named multiple brands” and that the agency needs to conduct more research on the connection between the grain-free diet and dogs’ susceptibility to the potentially fatal heart disease.

“We’re not saying don’t use these brands; we’re just telling pet owners to work directly with their veterinarians because we’re still investigating,” Lindsay Haake, an FDA spokesperson said.

However, ahead of the FDA’s report, some vets have already expressed their sentiment against grain free dog foods.

Knowing there had been studies showing that diet could play a role in the development of heart disease in dogs, Dr. Anna Gelzer, a veterinary cardiologist and an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine states that they’re “making investigations into what each owner was feeding,” via NBC News.

Currently, uncertain reasons are leading to explain why grain free dog food became a trend. Some say that it’s because pet owners believe that it’s a healthier version to feed their furry pets. Gelzer debunked this claim and said that “there’s no scientific reason for going without grain.”

“They are trying to do what they perceive as the right thing for their dogs unless the dog has a documented sensitivity to grains, it’s probably not worth the risk at this point to feed these products,” said Dr. Bruce Kornreich. Kornreich is a veterinary cardiologist in the department of clinical sciences at the Veterinary College of Cornell University and associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center.

“What we don’t know is if [the foods] used in these diets in place of grains are causing the problem,” adds Kornreich. “It’s also possible that could be some kind of toxin.”

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