January 1, 2020
Debbie Turner remembers the shock when a veterinary specialist said her beloved dog, Kanga Lu, had severe heart damage. NBC News reports. For weeks, Kanga had been experiencing odd symptoms— including fatigue, breathing problems and what her local vet assumed were seizures. But now Turner was being told that the Maltese-Chihuahua mix was in late-stage heart failure. The seizures, it turned out, had been fainting spells.
“So I’m sitting with what I thought was a healthy six-year-old dog that was having minor seizures, and now I find out she might only have three months to live,” said Turner, 66, of Orlando, Florida.
NBC News is now reporting that Turner is one of a growing list of pet owners whose healthy sounding dog food may have somehow led to a serious heart problem in their pets called dilated cardiomyopathy.
The Food and Drug Administration last year announced a possible link between the condition, which can cause heart failure; and grain-free pet foods, which replace grains with ingredients like peas, lentils ,or potatoes.
By April, the agency said that it had received 524 reports of 560 dogs and 14 cats diagnosed with DCM that appeared to be related to diet. In June, the FDA took the unusual step of listing the 16 brands of dog food—among them, such popular brands as Blue Buffalo, Natural Balance, NutriSource, Nutro, and Rachael Ray Nutrish—nder investigation.
It’s still not known exactly how certain pet foods may be damaging pet hearts, but researchers have found some clues. Possible culprits include deficiencies in certain compounds necessary for heart health, as well as diets with exotic ingredients.
In dogs and cats developing DCM, the “walls of the heart become thin, and its ability to pump blood decreases,” Dr. Bruce Kornreich, a veterinary cardiologist and director of the feline health center at the Veterinary College of Cornell told NBC News. “If this continues, your pet can end up with chronic heart failure.”
DCM is a known genetic issue for certain large breeds of dogs, including great Danes, German shepherds, and Doberman pincers. But when the FDA and veterinarians around the country started to see dogs of all sizes developing this kind of heart damage several years ago, they grew alarmed.
The number of cases of DCM are likely to rise, experts say.
“We continue to see dogs coming into our hospital affected by this problem,” Dr. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, told the network news outlet. “It’s not going away.”
Unfortunately, Freeman said, the solution is probably not going to be a simple one, and the suspect foods are not just those described as “grain free.” She and others are now investigating a broader class of foods, dubbed “BEG” foods: ones that are made by boutique companies, contain exotic ingredients, or are grain-free.
The FDA echoes Freeman’s concerns about a complex solution. “At this time, it is not clear what it is about some diets that may be connected to DCM in dogs, but FDA believes it may be multi-factorial,” said Monique Richards, an FDA spokesperson. “There are multiple possible causes of DCM.”
Research contact: @NBCNews