Kiersten Miller wants nothing but the best for her 5-year-old dog Aurora. But when Aurora was 3 Kiersten noticed Auroras skin wasnt right and her energy was off.
“She was bald in spots. Her whole back end had no fur. Her energy level went way down and she just wasnt the dog she first was when I adopted her,” Miller said. Advertisement
Thats when her veterinarian at the time suggested she switch dog foods and add grain to her diet.
“Now she is eating dog food that the first ingredient is whole grain chicken, it has corn and peas and brown rice and she is like a puppy again,” Miller said.
Local veterinarian Dr. Crystal Ramsey didnt mince words about a grain-free diet and what she thinks it does to your animals.
“I think it all started because people were going gluten-free. I think it was a marketing ploy to say, lets have our animals do it too,” Ramsey said.
“I do not recommend any grain-free food to be given to our animals here,” Ramsey said.
Dr. Katie Billmaier has followed the FDA updates and has seen patients in her practice with issues. She tells her clients the same thing.
“With an all-natural and grain-free type diet they are lacking an amino acid called taurine which essentially predisposes them to a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy,” Billmaier said.
WPBF 25 News reached out to the FDA about the investigation and they said in part:
“At this point, FDA continues to work with the scientific community on the association of the role of diet in the development of non-hereditary DCM. FDA; the veterinary community, especially veterinary nutritionists and veterinary cardiologists and other specialists; industry and academia, continue to examine this issue to help determine what factors may be contributing to the heart conditions observed and reported to FDA. It is clear that this is a complex, multi-factorial scientific issue, and that, while a direct link to diet has not been identified, FDA has not eliminated diet as a potential factor. As the scientific community looks further into the role that diet may play in these cases, we hope to explore additional avenues about ingredient levels, nutrient bioavailability, ingredient sourcing, and diet processing to determine if there are any common factors.
Most of the diets associated with the reports of non-hereditary DCM have legume seed ingredients, also called “pulses” (e.g., peas, lentils, etc.), high in their ingredient lists (although soy is a legume, we did not see a signal associated with this ingredient). These include both “grain-free” and grain-containing formulations. Legumes, including pulse ingredients, have been used in pet foods for many years, with no evidence to indicate they are inherently dangerous, but analysis of data reported to CVM indicates that pulse ingredients are used in many “grain-free” diets in greater proportion than in most grain-containing formulas. FDA has asked pet food manufacturers to provide diet formulations so we can further understand the proportions of ingredients in commercially-available diets and possible relationships with non-hereditary DCM.”
We reached out to the American Kennel Club for their take on a grain-free diet and Dr. Jerry Klein responded saying,
“Since 2018, the FDA has been investigating a possible link between the feeding of grain-free diets in dogs and cats and Dilated Cardiomyopathy, ( DCM)) a serious and potentially fatal condition. As of January 2021, the FDA has not announced a final determination of their findings. Unless a grain-free diet is prescribed by a veterinarian for an individual dogs health reasons, its best to feed dogs a “complete and balanced” diet as endorsed by the Association of American Feed Control Officers ( AAFCO). Dog owners should consult with their veterinarian to determine the appropriate diet for their dog.”
Dr. Billmaier said dogs and cats are subject to issues with a grain-free diet and suggest pet owners consult with their doctors.
“I usually tell people just use caution. These are the things we have seen come with these foods. Again, stick with what we know,” Billmaier said.
Billmaier said you should look for proteins first in a dogs diet but also dont be afraid of terms like biproduct, corn or water in the ingredient list.
She said its important to recognize the signs of cardiomyopathy as well. If your pet is having a hard time breathing or coughing, see a veterinarian.
WPBF 25 News also reached out to some companies that promote a grain-free formula and here is what they said in part:
DCM’s known risk factors are genetics, breed size, advanced age and taurine deficiency. Blue Buffalo has products to support a dog’s breed size and age and all of our maintenance formulas are meat-first, which is a natural source of taurine. In addition, we supplement our offerings for large breed and senior dogs with additional taurine to further support cardiac health.
Our brand’s strength comes from being closely aligned with pet parents and their concerns. That’s why we offer a broad range of diets in our portfolio and use high-quality ingredients to make healthy and nutritionally balanced food. Everything we make is carefully formulated by veterinarians and animal nutritionists with ingredients we’re proud to feed our own four-legged family members.
The Pet Food Institute (PFI) and our members, who make the vast majority of pet food and treats in the United States, are committed to the health of pets and take seriously our responsibility to produce safe, nutritionally balanced dog and cat food. PFI member nutritionists, veterinarians and product safety specialists have been closely studying dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) to better understand whether there is a relationship between DCM and diet in dogs not genetically predisposed to the disease. Drawing on our review of both historic and recent scientific analyses and published papers, PFI members are devoting thousands of hours to improving our understanding of DCM and its causes, all with the goal of advancing pet well-being.
Recently, a range of stakeholders including PFI, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), veterinary cardiologists and the veterinary nutrition community participated in a virtual scientific forum hosted by Kansas State University. This event provided an opportunity for researchers to share important learnings and advance our understanding of any potential relationship between DCM and diet. During the forum, FDA CVM stated, and PFI agrees, that this is a multifaceted, complex issue with many components. FDA also clarified and reiterated that this is not a regulatory issue and that the agency has not recommended the recall of any products.
PFI urges fact-based messaging around DCM. Since its initial announcements, FDA noted that information in its investigation updates has been inaccurately misinterpreted and misrepresented. Current research suggests that a variety of factors may influence the development of DCM in dogs. Tens of millions of dogs enjoy diets marketed as grain-free in the United States and the number of submitted DCM reports suggest that, if diet is a factor, it may be among several elements involved such as individual dog physiology.
PFI welcomes the continued dialogue among our pet food maker members, veterinarians, and ingredient suppliers to advance the understanding of DCM and its causes. Loading more articles…
1 Should I avoid grain-free diets?
High levels of legumes, pulses or potatoes appear to be more common in diets labeled as “grain-free,” but it is not yet known how these ingredients may be linked to cases of DCM. Additionally, legumes/pulses and potatoes may appear as ingredients in foods that are not labeled as “grain-free.” Changes in diet, especially for dogs with DCM, should be made in consultation with a licensed veterinarian.
The prevalence of reports in dogs eating a grain-free diet might correlate also to market share: these products have become exceedingly popular over the last several years. Although there are significantly fewer reports of dogs who ate diets containing grains, the FDA has received some complaints associated with grain-containing diets.
1 Does FDA approve pet food before it can be marketed?
FDA does not have pre-market authority over pet foods generally, with the exception of food additives, meaning that pet food manufacturers can market products without FDA review or approval but that those products must be safe and properly labeled. Generally, FDA must establish that a food presents a potential hazard to human or animal health or is otherwise in violation of applicable laws before taking any regulatory or enforcement action.
What is the FDA doing to learn more about this possible connection?
The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is working with the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories to investigate several avenues. Our veterinarians, animal nutritionists, epidemiologists and pathologists are working with board certified veterinary cardiologists and veterinary nutritionists to better understand the clinical presentation of the cases and potential ties to diet. The agency has also been in contact with pet food manufacturers to learn more about product formulation and concentration of certain ingredients in order to help further the investigation. In addition, we are analyzing information from case reports submitted by pet owners and veterinarians. We will continue to work with all of these stakeholders to help advance our ongoing investigation. For more information see FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy.
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