GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Lining the store shelves of every pet store and supermarket are the big bags of the tastiest, healthiest and newest foods for pets.
But new numbers from a multi-year study by the Food and Drug Administration reveal a possible link between “grain-free” dog foods and canine dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM.
“These grain-free diets have been pushed on the public a lot more,” said Dr. Gary Ryder. “These organics and natural and grain-free — it’s all over the pet store.”
Dr. Ryder has been a veterinarian for the last 13 years. He says over the previous five, there’s been a noticeable rise in heart diseases for dogs. And treatments that used to work, don’t have the same effect.
“Over the last few years, they are not responding as well or some of these are coming back as this DCM disease in the Yorkies, poodles, chihuahuas and goldens,” Dr. Ryder said about what he’s seeing first hand at his Michigan practice. “These dogs that just never had that disease before, DCM is a lot more difficult to treat.”
DCM can be hard to spot. Its symptoms include lethargy and shortness of breath, among others.
However, by the time symptoms reveal themselves, the animals are already very sick. It causes an enlargement in both chambers of the heart and can be fatal.
Since 2018, the FDA is investigating more than 500 deaths they say, their study links to grain-free foods.
From 2014 through 2017, the FDA only recorded seven deaths between dogs and cats tied to DCM. From January 2018 through April 2019, they have recorded 517.
“The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that there are 77 million pet dogs in the United States. Most dogs in the U.S. have been eating pet food without apparently developing DCM,” the report adds. “It’s not known how commonly dogs develop DCM, but the increase in reports to FDA signal a potential increase in cases of DCM in dogs not genetically predisposed.”
The study names 16 brands that have been tied to DCM-study related deaths, some of the most well-known and top-selling dog foods in the country.
“It’s more marketing than anything else,” Dr. Ryder said. “When you put organic or grain-free on a bag, people think automatically it is better food. Now we are seeing it may actually be more detrimental.”
Dr. Ryder says that while the FDA study is not concluded or offering any recommendations to change a pet’s diet, he believes with the study, causation is correlation.
“If it is a grain-free thing and it is something where we can change diet recommendations and get rid of a large number of these heart failure cases,” Dr. Ryder said about the spike he’s recently seen. “That would be the best-case scenario.”
Right now, as the FDA continues their investigation, they are working with the pet food industry to figure out the puzzling spike of DCM in recent years.
They add in the report, “If a dog is showing possible signs of DCM or other heart conditions, including decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing and episodes of collapse, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.”
Officials say they will continue their investigation to determine if there is a “specific dietary link to development of DCM” in dogs because of grain-free foods.