The FDA’s July 2018 alert regarding grain-free diets and their potential links to the canine heart disease Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) had dog owners everywhere worried about the possibility of their pets getting sick. In June 2019, the FDA went a step further by naming 16 brands of pet food that are linked to DCM.
No one likes the thought of their furry family member suffering from what might be a preventable disease, however, emotional reactions have obscured some important facts in this particular case, namely, that the science is still very murky and there are a number of red flags that should be cause for further exploration.
Red Flag #1: The Initial Alert Was Premature
Veterinary scientists have been studying the potential causes of DCM for years and there are many studies on the subject that have pointed to several culprits. The veterinary community has yet to come to a consensus on an official cause of DCM in dogs. Why would the FDA issue an alert based on only one study?
Red Flag #2: The Science is Unsupported
The study in question, “Diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs: what do we know?” appeared in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) in December 2018. Because it was published as an opinion piece, it was not required to meet the normal standards of peer review for academic articles, and therefore, it didn’t. The article is mere speculation, but it has since snowballed into more significance than it deserves.
Red Flag #3: The Scientists Might Have Financial Motivation
The three veterinarians behind the article, Dr. Joshua Stern, Dr. Darcy Adin, and Dr. Lisa Freeman, are also the only three veterinarians listed as consultants in the FDA’s investigation and all three have financial ties to one or more of three of the largest and oldest pet food companies in America: Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Mars Petcare, and Nestlé Purina PetCare. Flags don’t get redder than that.
Red Flag #4: The List of Brands is Too Broad
None of those three brands appear on the FDA’s list of 16, incidentally, a list which is already so broad as to be extremely misleading and again, premature. Every comment from the FDA spokesperson regarding this report has said: “We’re not saying not to feed your dogs these brands, but to work with your veterinarian because we’re still investigating.” Why issue a report or name any brands at all?
Most if not all of the brands on this list offer a diverse product line that includes more than just grain-free diets, but inclusion on this list is likely to be damaging to their brands overall. Even if the science were substantiated, the report is unspecific and irresponsible.
Alerts and warnings from the FDA might sound dire, but it is often worth it to do a little more digging before reacting. You will probably find that the best bet is to talk to your own veterinarian about your own dog’s health and let that guide you until the science is far clearer than it is on this issue.