Recently the FDA has warned veterinarians that there may be a correlation with Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and specific ingredients in pet food. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the muscles of the heart. In DCM the muscles weaken, causing the heart to enlarge and not function correctly. Signs of DCM include lethargy, coughing, difficulty breathing, and episodes of collapse. Certain breeds such as Cockers, Boxers, Newfoundland, and others are affected due to genetic factors. However, the FDA has noted DCM in breeds not typically affected.
The common factor in the dogs reported to the FDA – diet. The dogs were being fed grain free diets with legumes (peas, lentils, etc.) or potatoes as the main ingredients. Some dogs tested had taurine deficiencies, others did not. Early reports indicate that the dogs ate these foods as their primary diet for periods ranging from months to years. The dogs improved when their diet was switched to a balanced diet. Most of the dogs also needed medication. At this point the FDA is working with veterinary cardiologists, nutritionists, and manufacturers to determine the underlying cause.
The grain free craze in pet food was started as a marketing plan by certain dog food companies. There is no scientific evidence that grains cause problems in most dogs. For the 10% of dogs who have a true food allergy, 95% of those allergies are to a protein source, not a carbohydrate. If you feel that your dog has a food allergy, please talk to one of our veterinarians so we can develop a plan to address your concerns. At this point, grain free diets are not worth your dog’s heart.
Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.
Recently a client wrote in asking about feeding human food to dogs. I thought I would take the opportunity to address that, as well as some other nutritional questions we often get. Animal nutrition has come a long way since the days when cats foraged for themselves, horses got fed straight oats, and dogs got what was left over from the plates. When little was understood about animal nutrition, many of our companion animals suffered from a variety of nutritional disorders and diseases. Luckily, I have not had to witness first hand those problems, but they are lurking right around the corner if our pets do not get what they need in the right amounts and ratios. A lot of research, time, and effort from the big companies goes in to making sure the formulas in dog and cat food meet all their nutritional needs. The FDA regulates pet food, and many companies follow the guidelines by AAFCO. If the product is a prescription diet specifically designed to treat a certain disease, even stricter guidelines apply. The manufacturer of the food does matter, as a recent study found that over 50% of the foods found in a pet store have cross contamination of ingredients, and some of the food did not even contain the ingredients listed on the bags (one large, nationally advertised company just lost a major lawsuit in federal court over such an issue). Claims that grains are bad for your pet may apply to some animals with allergies, but is not an across the board recommendation. Adding large amounts of human food on top of the dog food (known as “top dressing”) can throw off the balance of the nutrients in the kibble. Cats also have different nutritional requirements than dogs do, thanks to their unique metabolism.
With recent recalls, some people have resorted to cooking homemade diets for their pets. This can be challenging to get it right, as oils, mineral additives, and multi-vitamins need to be added in the right ratio to assure optimal nutrition. Chocolate, coffee, alcohol, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins, raw yeast products, artificial sweeteners, onions and garlic are just some of the human foods that can be toxic to dogs and cats. Raw diets carry the risk of introducing Salmonella and E. coli into the environment. Just two days ago, I saw a dog with a major allergic reaction after being fed a raw, pasteurized, cow’s milk product.
So what’s a pet owner to do? My recommendation is to stick with a national based company (I have my favorites, and I know the other vets in our practice do as well), and talk to us about your questions and concerns. We want to help your pet live a long and healthy life, and nutrition is a key component to achieving that.
Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.
Recently we have noticed an alarming trend in our patients. The current fad in nutrition is the high protein, no grain formulas touted by big companies with even bigger marketing budgets. While limited grains may be appropriate for dogs and cats with food allergies or other medical issues, there is no scientific proof that grains are bad for animals in general. In the past year we have had multiple patients that are on such diets develop urinary problems, including kidney and bladder stones. A balanced diet is the key to good nutrition for your pets as well as yourself. There are plenty of diets available to support your pet’s nutritional needs without resorting to the latest “fad diet”. Please feel free to discuss your pet’s nutritional needs with one of our veterinarians on your next visit.
Ann Bastian, V.M.D.