Author: Linda Stephenson
As you may know, the FDA put out a warning about grain-free pet diets and the heart condition known as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). While the findings of the report are inconclusive and the investigation is still ongoing, many news outlets and vets are falsely claiming that the findings claim to show a correlation between the diets of the dogs and DCM. I would like to contend there are serious flaws in the study and the story is much more complicated.
Unfortunately, the FDA’s announcement took off in the media and throughout the internet, and now concerned pet owners are fearfully moving away from grain-alternative foods, even if that isn’t the best choice for their pet and their dietary sensitivities.
This issue has taken on a “witch hunt” style effect, where people are quick to blame the boutique manufacturers of grain-free foods without cause.
Why is this coined this a “witch hunt?” Let’s start with some definitions of the term:
- A rigorous campaign to round up or expose dissenters on the pretext of safeguarding the welfare of the public.
- An investigation carried out ostensibly to uncover disloyalty, subversive political activity, etc., usually conducted with much publicity and often relying upon inconclusive evidence and capitalizing on public fear of unpopular opinions.
Some of the key points from those definitions are the “pretext of safeguarding” and “inconclusive evidence.” Recent news reports are linking canine heart disease (DCM) and grain-free dog food diets. These links are based upon a very limited amount of data. In fact, the most recent FDA statement directly stated, “It’s important to note that the FDA doesn’t yet know how certain diets may be associated with DCM in some dogs.”
The current public reaction ensuing this announcement is essentially due to media players jumping to conclusions and not considering the whole picture.
Here are a few supporting facts for this witch hunt contention:
- The issues causing DCM are multi-faceted, and it’s a stretch to link the FDA’s findings to just grain-free diets. Many factors like dog breed, age, weight, and sex have been considered.
- DCM is often caused or exacerbated by the taurine levels (amino acid) in the dog, with low levels attributed to the increased occurrence. Taurine levels are influenced by breed, diet and other factors and many grain-free pet foods add taurine to the formula to mitigate this risk.
Dogs with this condition have a harder time pumping blood, so they end up with heart failure. It’s especially prevalent in big breeds and is a fairly common condition.
DCM is a real concern. However, the evidence does not point to a grain-free diet and DCM correlation. All dog owners should be sure to pay attention to the signs of DCM in dogs such as weakness, slowing down, less able to exercise, shortness of breath, coughing, or fainting and report these occurrences to their vet immediately, if they have a concern.
Given the current facts at hand, it is important to note FDA’s headline did not say anything about “grain-free diets” causing heart problems – though almost all the blog posts and articles in other publications have been saying precisely that. The FDA’s statement said there may be a link between some grain-free diets and canine DCM, but there are also many other things going on that may be responsible for an observed rise in cases of canine DCM. It is so important to make sure to have all of the facts before jumping to conclusions.