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"BEG" pet diets under suspicion: new FDA update

Information compiled by Dr. Lisa Kilgore

With the newly released FDA report regarding dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and boutique pet foods, we feel compelled to speak out publicly for the health and safety of our patients.
In the last ten years, the pet food industry has shifted dramatically. One of the changes we have seen is a move toward popular “grain-free” diets or diets containing exotic proteins or other ingredients involving peas, potatoes, lentils and legumes for dogs. Multiple studies have shown that these diets are not nutritionally superior nor is there a correlation between allergies and grains. However, excellent marketing campaigns have understandably swayed pet owners.

In 2018, the FDA in collaboration with veterinary cardiologists started investigating a possible link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. This condition is historically uncommon and diagnosed primarily in only a handful of breeds. It is life-threatening if untreated and can be fatal even with intensive care. Veterinary cardiologists at referral institutions had noticed a significant increase in the number of patients diagnosed with DCM, particularly in breeds not typically affected. The one thing in common with these cases appeared to be grain free diets.

This week, the FDA published their findings including a chart of the food brands most commonly reported. A link to the full report is posted below and we would recommend that you read it in its entirety. CLICK HERE TO READ

Yes, we don’t know why this is happening to dogs and the numbers may not be impressive but what we do know is that when studied and this disease is caught early we can reverse it! That’s amazing, right? And what reverses it is a change in diet.

Please see Dr. Joshua Stern’s UC Davis study which was funded by the pet owners and NOT a pet food corporation! CLICK HERE TO READ

What we also know is that there are safer options for foods out there! What we have come to realize is that it’s not so simple to formulate pet food whether commercial or homemade. You need the proper education.

Similarly, veterinarians don’t know why grapes/raisins affect dog’s kidneys the way they do. Surprisingly, not all dogs are affected by them. Yet most pet owners avoid giving their pets grapes/raisins. Another analogy is not every human who smokes will get cancer.

Another question we have as veterinarians is how many dogs are not getting diagnosed with nutritional DCM? One just can’t randomly report a case to the FDA. There’s a lot of steps one needs to do in collaboration with your veterinarian in order to report.

DCM is impossible for veterinarians to diagnose on a simple physical exam alone. There is usually no heart murmur or arrhythmia in the early stages of the disease. The clinical signs could be similar to a lot of other conditions or disease processes such a heat stroke, seizures, or stomach/intestinal issues. Veterinarians need to perform an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), xrays, and EKG to properly diagnose it. A lot of owners won’t or can’t pay for those tests. These tests can cost anywhere from $600 to $1500+ depending on your location. This is often not feasible for owners or owners occasionally feel this is not in the best interest of their pet. For those dogs who die suddenly, most owners do not want to pay for or allow a necropsy (autopsy) and a veterinary pathologist diagnosis of it either. Again we wonder, how many pets are not getting reported? So don’t be so fast to discount this information. This is not fear mongering or hype, this is simply taking a rising concern seriously. CLICK HERE TO READ

While there is no single best diet for every dog, we recommend that you feed a balanced diet appropriate for your pet’s life stage and manufactured by a company which employs veterinary nutritionists, budgets extensively for research and development rather than marketing, and conducts feeding trials with live dogs before releasing new diets rather than simply formulating them in a laboratory.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has a list of criteria for the manufacturing of a high-quality dog food. Veterinarians know the companies which meet these guidelines and we’d be happy to share them with you on request but avoid doing so here, as we don’t want to appear to be promoting any specific company. We simply want our patients to remain as healthy as possible for as long as possible and complete, balanced nutrition is crucial to animal health.

The WSAVA published a single page summarizing their recommendations when selecting pet foods. You can read that here: CLICK HERE TO READ

They also have an excellent publication addressing FAQs and myths regarding pet foods. You can read that here: CLICK HERE TO READ

We would urge you to read these publications or seek other resources from veterinary nutritionists when debating what to feed your dog, rather than trusting popular internet sites which may not be run by veterinary professionals.

If you have any more questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us or other veterinary professionals!

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