By Rebecca Spector, Center for Food Safety
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced a link between some grain-free dog food brands and a serious—and sometimes fatal—form of canine heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM. At Center for Food Safety (CFS), we adore our pets, and we know you do too. Learn how you can better protect your pup from harmful ingredients in dog food and sign our petition!
CFS is a national nonprofit that (among other things) acts as a watchdog over the federal agencies that govern our food, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Part of what we do is monitor the rules and regulations these agencies propose to oversee our food supply. Our legal, science, and policy staff regularly comb through hundreds of federal rules and regulations related to food for human consumption.
FDA just sent out a major alert on pet food safety, so we thought it important to get the word out about it. The things we at CFS worry about in human food – pesticides, toxic contaminants, allergens, nutritive content, and more – are the same things that many of us look out for when purchasing food for our pets.
What you need to know about FDA’s pet food safety alert:
· FDA has been alerted to a possible link between a serious and sometime fatal form of heart disease called DCM in dogs with certain pet foods, many labeled as “grain-free.”
· The number of DCM cases reported to FDA is likely an underestimate as many veterinarians may not have been aware of the need to report these conditions to FDA “because animals are typically treated symptomatically, and diagnostic testing and treatment can be complex and costly to owners.” (FDA Investigation update, June 27, 2019).
· The number of cases released by FDA do not include many general cardiac reports submitted to the agency that did not have a DCM diagnosis. FDA notes that this case information is still valuable, as it may show heart changes that occur before a dog develops symptomatic DCM.
· FDA lists the top dog food brands named most frequently in the DCM cases that were reported to the agency – these include some grain-free product lines of the brands Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature’s Variety, NutriSource, Nutro, and Rachael Ray Nutrish.
· Peas, lentils, and potatoes were among the top ingredients of every variety of dog food eaten by dogs that received DCM diagnoses.
FDA acknowledges that the link between grain-free dog foods containing peas, lentils, and potatoes with canine heart disease is merely a correlation. The agency cannot prove causation without further research, but this news is nonetheless very concerning to many dog owners.
A large majority of major dog food brands have moved to grain-free ingredients because of consumer demand. This is due to the belief that there are many health benefits to feeding dogs a grain-free diet, including that these foods contain more protein and animal fats as well as fewer carbohydrates than a diet made primarily with rice, wheat, and other grains. Grain-free dog foods are also believed to be less likely to cause allergies, including conditions that cause dry, itchy skin.
While the FDA lists 16 brands associated with the heart condition DCM, there are dozens of other dry and raw varieties of dog food that also list peas, lentils, and potatoes among their top ingredients. As pet guardians, we are now faced with a big decision: should we be precautionary and change to grain-based foods? Or should we stick with grain-free pet food, even though FDA has not shown causation between grain-free pet foods and DCM? More research must be done before we can make an informed decision. While we wait to find out more, CFS recommends you feed your pet a diversified diet.
Please sign our petition demanding that FDA immediately conduct further independent research on this issue, instead of relying on industry-provided data. And as our staff uncovers more on this important issue, we’ll be sure to update you about this and other pet food safety issues.