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16 dog food brands may cause heart disease in pets, FDA warns

Dog food recall issued

Fast facts:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still trying to determine why dogs eating certain types of pet food are seemingly more at risk of canine heart disease than others.
  • Since alerting the public to the increasing caseload of dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, in dogs nearly a year ago, the FDA is for the first time identifying 16 pet food brands most frequently connected to the disease.
  • Still, the agency said it has "not yet determined the nature of this potential link," and urged dog owners to consult with a veterinarian for advice on their pet's diet.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has identified more than a dozen brands of pet food it says are most frequently connected to a spike in reported cases of heart disease in dogs.

The FDA is continuing to investigate more than 500 reports of dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, in dogs eating certain types of pet food. A form of canine heart disease, DCM can cause congestive heart failure in dogs.

"We know it can be devastating to suddenly learn that your previously healthy pet has a potentially life-threatening disease like DCM," Steven Solomon, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said Thursday in a statement. Because the FDA has "not yet determined the nature of this potential link, we continue to encourage consumers to work closely with their veterinarians."

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U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The FDA initially alerted the public to the cases plaguing dogs last July but did not specify food brands. The agency instead pointed to pet food labeled as "grain-free" and containing peas, lentils and other legume seeds and/or potatoes as their primary ingredients.

The probe now has the agency identifying 16 brands of dog food with the most frequently reported cases of DCM. Acana was named in 67 DCM reports, Zignature in 64 and Taste of the Wild in 53.

Pet food industry barks back

Zignature, for one, disputed any connection. "In parallel with the FDA investigation, our own third-party internal studies found no link between our high-quality pet food products and any of the other physical characteristics that correlate to DCM," Zignature said in a post on its site.

Champion Petfoods, which owns Arcana and Orijen, is working on its own and with others in the industry to try to determine the cause of DCM, but objected to the FDA's listing of brands. 

"We think it is misleading for the FDA to post the names of brands, while at the same time fully stating that they have no scientific evidence linking diet to DCM. We feel this will only serve to further confuse pet lovers," the company stated.

The company's research shows "Champion pet foods are safe," it said.

The Pet Food Institute, a trade group that represents 98% of pet food and treat makers, said it has consulted with nutritionists, product safety experts and veterinarians for more than a year in trying to determine if there's a link between diet and DCM. "This is a complex issue with many factors requiring scientific evaluation," Dana Brooks, the group's president and CEO, said in a statement.

Noting that the FDA's probe focused on ingredients in grain-free pet food, the agency "has not identified any established link between certain ingredients and incidents of DCM," the industry group stated on its web site, which also noted "millions of dogs eat and are thriving on grain-free dog food."

The causes of DCM "may be the result of many factors, including a recipe formulation and processing, and your individual pet," according to the institute, which advised those with questions about their pet's food to contact the manufacturer and to consult with their family vet. 

Between January 2014 and April 30, 2019, the FDA received 524 reports of DCM, including 119 dog deaths and five cat fatalities. Of those reports, 222 of them came between Dec. 1, 2018, and the end of April, the agency said.

Here is the list of 16 pet food brands and the number of reported DCM cases that the FDA suspects are related to each brand:

  • Acana: 67
  • Zignature: 64
  • Taste of the Wild: 53
  • 4Health: 32
  • Earthborn Holistic: 32
  • Blue Buffalo: 31
  • Nature's Domain: 29
  • Fromm: 24
  • Merrick: 16
  • California Natural: 15
  • Natural Balance: 15
  • Orijen: 12
  • Nature's Variety: 11
  • NutriSource: 10
  • Nutro: 10
  • Rachael Ray Nutrish: 10
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