Over the past year, we have discussed a possible connection between an increasing number of pets (both dogs and cats) being diagnosed with heart disease and the types of diet those pets were being fed. In a nutshell, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has posted three alerts over this last year about concerns with "boutique, exotic, and grain-free pet diets" and a potential tie to an increase in dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) cases. Dr. Lisa Weeth, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, has posted her thoughts this past week as we are now finding out the brand names of foods connected with these cases.
Dr. Weeth's main points are #1 - don't panic!! The 530+ cases noted to date are a small drop in the bucket of the entire pet population. While we expect that the number of cases of diet induced DCM to be 0 percent of our pets, we shouldn't give into fear and mob mentality. At this time, if you and your veterinarian agree that your pet is doing OK on a grain free diet, there is not an immediate need to switch.
#2 - Here's what is known...
While large breeds of dogs dominate the numbers, small breeds, like Shih Tzus, are also seen in these cases. So, any dog (or cat) MIGHT be affected
Not all dogs eating grain-free diets have been affected! As mentioned above, this is a small percentage of the total number of pets in the country.
Not all dogs had low taurine levels, but we do know that cases with low or normal taurine levels improved with a diet switch and supplements of taurine
Don't think raw or homemade diets are in the clear . . . these have been implicated as well.
Grain-free is a marketing ploy and the exclusion of grains from a pet's diet has not been shown to provide a health benefit, unless the pet has a true food allergy (and those numbers are VERY low)
#3 - Here's what we don't know...
How many pets are truly affected? How many owners have declined the gold standard diagnostic test (a cardiac ultrasound) due to cost? Are we hearing/seeing a majority or minority of these cases?
While grain-free diets are a common thread, we really don't know the true underlying issue and could it be multi-factorial? (Genetics, food processing issues, ingredient interactions, etc.)
Are the brands named in the FDA report there because of their market share (popularity with pet owners) or because of other, deeper issues within their production processes?
Bottom line, we won't truly know any answers for some time. Unfortunately, as people continue to share snippets of stories or headlines through social media, the potential for panic and misinformation increases. Remember . . . STAY CALM . . . call YOUR veterinarian and get his or her opinion.
If your pet is showing signs of exercise intolerance or has developed a cough and you have been feeding one of the grain-free or exotic ingredient diets, get your pet an examination as soon as possible. If you are concerned about your pet, but no clinical signs have appeared, ask your veterinarian about checking the blood taurine levels. This might help put your mind at ease AND start a good conversation with your pet's doc about nutrition as a whole.
Our pets' nutrition IS important because they rely on us for their needs. What are your concerns/questions about feeding your pets?