At the end of June, the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) publicly identified the pet food brands most frequently associated with cases of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a serious and potentially fatal heart disease. Most of the cases involve dogs but there were some involving cats. This news spread like wild fire through the news and social media to the point were some people were scared. We as your trusted veterinarians will try to help guide you through the sometimes-contradicting reports.

First, what is DCM and what are some symptoms? DCM is a condition resulting in an enlarged, weak heart that cannot pump blood efficiently. Dogs with DCM may tire easily, cough and have trouble breathing. More dramatically, they might exhibit sudden weakness, collapse, faint or die with no warning. Certain dog breeds are genetically predisposed to DCM – breeds such as Doberman pinscher, Great Dane, Newfoundland, Boxer, Irish Wolfhound and cocker spaniels. Many of the affected dogs were not of those breeds. That is what caught veterinary cardiologists’ attention early on.

What the FDA found and why it matters. The reporting to the FDA has been ongoing since 2014 with over 560 dogs and 14 cats reported to the FDA to have been diagnosed by veterinarians to have DVM. The cause of the problem is unknown, and most researchers investigating the problem suspect the answer won’t be easy to identify. The FDA cannot say with certainty that diet is the culprit, although, in February the agency reported that some dogs diagnosed with DCM improved simply by changing their diet. Other investigators have reported similar observations. Because of the uncertainty, the agency has not asked the companies behind the implicated brands to recall them. “We have shared case report information with these firms so they can make informed decisions about the marketing and formulation of their products,” the FDA wrote in a Q&A on its canine DCM investigation.

So, are grain free foods bad for my pet? Not necessarily, however, if your dog is one of the breeds predisposed for DCM then it would be a good idea to work with your veterinarian to find a diet that will work for your pet.

What if you are feeding your pet one of these foods? Don’t panic, call to have a checkup with your veterinarian to discuss. It may or may not be an issue but at least we have some information to help make the best decision for you and your pet. In analyzing ingredients and ingredient proportions of the identified diets eaten by affected animals, FDA researchers have found that more than 90% of implicated products were “grain-free,” meaning they did not contain corn, soy, wheat, rice, barley or other grains. Ninety-three percent contained peas and/or lentils.