BROOMFIELD, Colo (CBS4) – The Food and Drug Administration is warning pet owners about an apparent connection between grain-free diets for pets and a potentially fatal heart condition. In July of 2018, the FDA issued an alert to pet owners about report of dilated cardiomyopathy occurring in pets eating foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients.
Elisa Reimer’s German Shorthair Pointer mix, Chance, was on just that kind of diet.
“It was one day, we went for a walk. He had a play date with one of his friends, and we got home, and I just…He actually was going to have his buddy stay over because I’m that crazy dog lady, and I was like, ‘I don’t know. He just doesn’t seem quite right.’ And I couldn’t put my finger on it.” Reimer explained.
Chance was breathing rapidly, wheezing, and lethargic.
“I just put him in the car and went to the emergency room,” Reimer said.
He was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, DCM. His heart was enlarged, and no longer pumping blood like it should.
“Basically, I went home with the understanding that my dog was in heart failure,” she remembered.
Reimer was heart broken.
“I just want to bring him home. If he’s going to die, I don’t want him to die at the vet,” she told CBS4.
It was Reimer’s vet who told her that Chance’s food could be causing his heart problem.
“There isn’t really a true benefit to feeding a grain-free diet for dogs that don’t have specific sensitivities,” said Dr. Jonathan Stockman, a veterinary nutritionist at the Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine. “There is something else about the formulation and production of these diets which predisposes dogs to this condition.”
In February, the FDA issued an update to its warning. It had received 335 reports of DCM in pets since January of 2014, 76 animals have died. While several investigations are open, researchers do not yet know what exactly the problem is.
“I would say avoid grain-free diets,” Stockman said. “It’s important to review the label of the diet to make sure. There should be an AAFCO adequacy statement.”
An AAFCO adequacy statement is a statement by the Association of American Feed Control Officials that indicates the food is complete and balanced for an animal’s life stage. Dr. Stockman also recommends talking to your veterinarian, and the Global Veterinary Community has a complete nutrition toolkit on its website.
“I feel like dog food companies have a responsibility to tell customers that this is happening and we don’t know why,” Reimer said. “I really would have given anything for him to not have to go through this…for me to not have to go through this.”
Chance is on 7 medications to restore his heart function. Reimer checks his heart regularly, and hopes for the best.
“There’s no guarantee of how much function of his heart he’ll get back, but there’s been dogs…multiple dogs… who’ve switched food, done treatment for a year, and gotten 100% of their function back.”