The Food and Drug Administration identified 16 brands of dog food that had been linked to heart disease in dogs, according to a report the agency published last Thursday.
In the report, the F.D.A. named for the first time the pet food brands most frequently associated with adverse events. In descending order of most incidents of heart disease, the brands are 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, Nutroand Rachael Ray Nutrish.
The heart condition examined in the report, canine dilated cardiomyopathy, often results in heart failure and is believed to have a genetic component, according to the report. The disease usually affects large breeds, but the F.D.A. said it knew of smaller dogs that had also been afflicted.
The disease was most frequently reported to the F.D.A. in golden retrievers, but the report noted that breed-specific social media groups and activities raised awareness of the issue in these communities of golden retriever owners, who perhaps disproportionately notified the F.D.A. of their dogs’ diagnoses.
Most of the dog foods listed are usually labeled “grain-free” and contain a large proportion of peas, lentils, legume seeds or potatoes, according to the report. Many of the dogs researched in the investigation did not have a genetic predisposition to the condition, the F.D.A. said.
The Pet Food Institute said in a statement that it was “committed to the health of pets and take seriously the responsibility to make safe, complete and balanced food for our dogs and cats.”
“This is a complex issue with many factors requiring scientific evaluation,” the statement said.
Midwestern Pet Foods, which owns the Earthborn Holistic brand, said in a statement that the F.D.A. had not yet provided scientific findings connecting nutrition and canine dilated cardiomyopathy. With the report, the company said, the “F.D.A. is simply attempting to gain more information as part of its evaluation process.”
“The report only touches upon the genetic or congenital prevalence of the disease,” the company said on Sunday, “hinting that the disease may have a nutritional component without suggesting a nutritional solution.”
Using an abbreviation for the disease, the F.D.A. said in its report that it was “using a range of science-based investigative tools as it strives to learn more about this emergence of D.C.M. and its potential link to certain diets or ingredients.” The agency added, “We understand the concern that pet owners have about these reports: The illnesses can be severe, even fatal, and many cases report eating ‘grain-free’ labeled pet food.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates there are 77 million pet dogs in the United States, most of which are not developing dilated cardiomyopathy, the F.D.A. said in a statement. The number of dogs affected with heart disease may not seem like a lot, John de Jong, president of the veterinary association, said on Saturday, but the F.D.A. found a trend and was informing consumers of it.
“The F.D.A. has a responsibility that if it is more than five or 10 isolated cases, that is something to be reported,” Dr. de Jong said.
“It is not five million dogs; it’s still a small amount,” he added. “I would also caution the consumer not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Cardiomyopathy affects dogs by thinning the left ventricle of the heart, the last place blood rests before the heart pumps it out, Dr. de Jong explained. That weakens the heart, which means fluid can enter a dog’s lungs, causing a cough or illness. The disease can be treated with medication if caught early, he said.
Dr. de Jong said the trend of not having grain in a dog’s diet might be a culprit.
“The whole grain-free thing is a popular myth,” Dr. de Jong said. “If they look at the dogs’ relatives in the wild, like coyotes, wolves and hyenas, they live on their prey. Those animals they prey on are typically herbivores, so they are ingesting grains anyway.”
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