In 2018 an FDA report found a link between dog foods mostly labeled as “grain-free” and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. Since then more reports of this association have been reported to the administration. They received 524 reports of DCM occurring in 560 dogs and 14 cats between January 2014 and April 2019 . Several of these reports changed the initial assumption that only the larger breeds could be affected by the condition. Several of the cases reported were of the smaller and unsuspected breeds not previously known to be genetically at risk of the condition, widening the area of concern for dog owners. The first report didn’t specify any dog food brands for owners to look out for. The review only established a concrete link between dog food and DCM.
What is canine DCM?
Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy is one of the most common acquired heart diseases that could occur in dogs (and rarely in felines, who are more likely to develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). It is characterized by an enlargement of the upper and lower chambers of the heart, resulting in a deterioration of the heart’s ability to pump out blood to other parts of the body. It also manifests in weak contractions, leaky valves, and buildup of fluid in the thoracic cavity and abdomen. DCM usually results in partial or total congestive heart failure.
According to the administration, out of the 560 cases of canine DCM reported to the FDA, over 119 have resulted in the death of the animals .
The FDA established that the major pet food brands to look out for are the ones producing dry foods and treats that are “grain-free”, usually containing lentils, potatoes, peas, and other legumes amongst other food additives. The exact cause is unknown and is most likely multifactorial.
The breeds most affected by the heart condition between the reporting periods were the Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Boxers, Saint Bernards. However, in the recent report updated in June 2019, the dog breed with the highest frequency of DCM was the Golden Retriever, followed closely by mixed breeds and Labrador retrievers. Also, several smaller breeds such as the Shih Tzu were included in the report. Other breeds may include the Border Collie, Afghan Hound, English Cocker Spaniel, Flat-coated Retriever, Boston Terrier, Beagle, Belgian Tervuren, Bull Terrier, English Springer Spaniel, Chihuahua, Dalmatian, Australian Cattle Dog, and others.
Brands to watch out for
The FDA is advising dog owners to check with their veterinarians before feeding their dogs foods from the listed brands. They are not outrightly stating that these brands are dangerous and unhealthy, but it may depend on the breed of the dog and the content of the food.
“In the meantime, because we have not yet determined the nature of this potential link, we continue to encourage consumers to work closely with their veterinarians, who may consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, to select the best diet for their pets’ needs,” says Steven M. Solomon, D.V.M., M.P.H., director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Listed below are 16 dog foods brands which pet owners are being advised to exercise caution when purchasing . The numbers are the frequencies of occurrence of these brand names in case reports on a scale of 1-80.
- Acana – 67
- Zignature – 64
- Taste of the Wild – 53
- 4Health – 32
- Earthborn Holistic – 32
- Blue Buffalo – 31
- Nature’s Domain – 29
- Fromm – 24
- Merrick – 16
- California Natural – 15
- Natural Balance – 15
- Orijen – 12
- Nature’s Variety – 11
- NutriSource – 10
- Nutro – 10
- Rachael Ray Nutrish – 10
According to the FDA, 90% of these dog food brands produce foods that do not contain rice, wheat, soy, corn, or barley, known as grain-free food. 93% of them contained peas or lentils.
Pet owners’ thoughts on the report
A park interview conducted by WHDH revealed that many pet owners are disappointed by the dog brands on this list, many of which are known to be on the high-end side .
“That’s a lot of ‘em. That’s a lot of like … the better dog foods and that’s disappointing,” one dog owner said.
“I actually see some I recognize and I’m kind of surprised by some of them. They are some pretty high-end, top-of-the-line dog foods. Pets are people too and we want to do what’s right them. So I’ll ask the next time we go to the vet,” Another dog owner said.
The FDA is strongly emphasizing on dog owners cross checking food brands with their vets before purchasing in bulk. A statement released by the Director of General Medicine and Internal Medicine at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston partly reads,
“Your veterinarian is the valued partner when making this selection rather than the marketing department of specific pet food companies or pet stores. If your pet is regularly consuming any of the diets implicated in this latest FDA release, or a limited ingredient or exotic ingredient diet in general, please contact your veterinarian to discuss a diet transition for your pet and to determine whether any medical screening is recommended.”
Symptoms of DCM
Prior to the release of the report by the FDA, the cause of DCM in canines was largely unknown and generally ruled genetic. Symptoms would vary according to the breed of the dog and the stage at which the disease is diagnosed. However, common symptoms include :
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
- Pale gums
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of consciousness
- Excessive breathing
Treatment of canine DCM
Canine DCM is a very serious disease and there is no medical guarantee that any treatment course will cure the condition permanently. Depending on the stage at which it was diagnosed, some dogs may recover substantially well to go back to their happy lives, and some may never live normally again.
Treatments include stabilization through the use of diuretics to drain excess fluid from the body, ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure and reduce resistance to outward flow of blood from the heart, cardiac glycosides to lower heart rates and strengthen contractions, vasodilators to dilate the arteries and veins, and bronchodilators to ease breathing, amongst others .
The most important thing is to watch out closely for the symptoms and seek medical attention for your pet upon the first signs of DCM. While the exact cause is still unknown, the FDA is continuing to investigate and gather information and will provide updates when information becomes available.
- Admin. FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/news-events/fda-investigation-potential-link-between-certain-diets-and-canine-dilated-cardiomyopathy#diet. Retrieved 08-07-19
- Turner, Ashley. FDA investigates possible link between certain pet foods and heart disease in dogs. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/28/fda-investigates-possible-link-between-dog-foods-and-heart-disease.html. Retrieved 08-07-19
- O’laughlin and Yoshida. FDA announces dog food brands that could cause heart failure. WHDH. https://whdh.com/news/fda-announces-dog-food-brands-that-could-cause-heart-failure/. Retrieved 08-07-19
- Admin. Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs (DCM). Vet Specialists. https://vetspecialists.com/dilated-cardiomyopathy-in-dogs-dcm/. Retrieved 08-07-19
- Llera & Ward. Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs. VCA Hospitals. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/dilated-cardiomyopathy-dcm-in-dogs–indepth. Retrieved 08-07-19
- Admin. FDA Investigating Potential Connection between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/cvm-updates/fda-investigating-potential-connection-between-diet-and-cases-canine-heart-disease. Retrieved 08-07-19
- Admin. Enlarged Heart (Dilated Cardiomyopathy) in Dogs. Pet MD. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/cardiovascular/c_dg_cardiomyopathy_dilated. Retrieved 08-07-19
- Admin. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). Washington State University. https://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/outreach/Pet-Health-Topics/categories/diseases/hypertrophic-cardiomyopathy-in-cats. Retrieved 08-07-19
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