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FDA: Certain dog food diets possibly linked to deadly heart disease

Posted at 10:12 PM, Jul 18, 2018

The FDA issued an alert for dog owners about a possible link between certain dog food diets and a deadly heart disease. 

The disease is called canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and causes a dog's heart to become enlarged, making it harder for the heart to pump blood. The disease typically leads to congestive heart failure. 

​​​​​​​The alert was issued after the FDA says it received unusual reports of the disease in dogs who do not have a genetic predisposition to DCM. The one thing they did have in common: diets with main ingredients like peas, lentils, potatoes or other legumes. 

The FDA says these ingredients are more common in "grain-free" dog food. 

"It is of some concern," said Dr. Pete Gavaras, a veterinarian with the Silver Spring Animal Wellness Center in Glendale. "I think there's a lot of work to be done yet to learn more about this."

Gavaras said he doesn't treat many dogs with this particular heart disease, as it's not very common. The FDA says it typically affects larger breeds like Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. 

It's less common in small breed dogs. 

Richard Kaplan brought his 100-pound dog Tully to the Estabrook Dog Park on Wednesday, and said he usually feeds his dog more of the grain-free diets, in addition to cooking him sweet potatoes and chicken.  

"We do watch what he eats," he said. "I've never heard of that. We're gonna discuss it when we get home." 

Gavaras says the alert from the FDA shouldn't panic dog owners too much, as there is still a lot of research that needs to be done. 

"I think they're doing their job," he said. "We're paying them to do that job so they're saying 'hey we don't know yet if there's a problem here, but we're educating...and we're saying if you have any questions, call your veterinarian.'"

The alert came out after the FDA received reports from eight dogs who showed symptoms of the disease or were already diagnosed. Symptoms include decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing and episodes of collapse. 

All eight cases were breeds not predisposed to the disease. The reported breeds include Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, one Shih Tzu, one Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers. 

All of these dogs consistently ate diets where the main ingredients included legumes or potatoes. The FDA says it is still not known how these ingredients are linked to the heart disease cases. 

"That doesn't mean they're bad diets at all," said Gavaras. "Many dogs do quite well on these diets. I think it's just something noted and they're saying, 'hey is there something going on?'"