Author: Jim Stephenson
When the media gets ahold of a story that involves pets and their health, the news often spreads quickly. Understandably, people love their pets as family members, they want them to lead healthy lives and demand assurances from food and treat companies that their products are safe and wholesome.
A recent news story that has taken on a life of its own involves the FDA and its recent announcement that the organization is investigating a possible correlation between certain grain-free pet foods and a type of heart disease, called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM is a condition where the heart doesn’t pump blood fast enough, which can be debilitating and, on occasion, fatal for dogs and humans alike. It’s tough to treat and doesn’t always present itself with symptoms.
Once this news hit (and an update was sent out June 27th, 2019), many pet owners were understandably concerned. They read stories about the grain-free and DCM connection and perhaps switched their pet’s food in a panic.
The best way to investigate such a story is to consider the facts.
As of the most recent announcement, the FDA report does not say anything resembling “grain-free foods cause DCM.” They simply state there is reason to pursue further study, but admit that it’s a complex disease with multiple risk factors.
Additionally, the data the FDA has received about DCM cases is only considered if a veterinarian reports the case. There’s no CDC equivalent for cats and dogs as there is for humans. The FDA’s report states “we do not have a measure of the typical rate of occurrence of disease (meaning DCM) apart from what is reported to the FDA.”
Lastly, many veterinarians and cardiologists have recommended caution relating to swapping pet’s diets and the direct linking between grain-free foods and DCM. They point to other factors such as taurine, bioavailability of proteins, and genetic predisposition as potential contributors to the disease.
Should you switch diets?
A recommendation for consumers to immediately avoid grain-free dog food products would ignore the many proven health benefits these products offer. Many pets with allergies and grain intolerances need grain substitutes to live their happiest and healthiest lives.
While I understand the FDA’s obligation to share the ongoing investigation with the public, it seems as if this announcement has somewhat “jumped the gun” by producing the report before more study was finished. Given the complexity of DCM causation, I would consider the reaction to the recent announcement to be misrepresentative of the grain-free industry as a whole, especially since the grain-free and DCM link is tenuous.
It is important to stay educated about the ongoing studies into DCM and grain-free and decide for yourself based on facts instead of panic.