Killing our dogs with misdirected good intentions

 

I’m passionate about my canine companions. I’ve owned, bred, trained, exhibited and adored Shelties (and now also Labradors) for over forty years. I try to keep a sane perspective — after all, “they’re just dogs” — but it doesn’t work. They’re an integral part of our family and, just as is the case with the rest of the family, I’m committed to doing my best for them. That’s especially true when it comes to meal planning.

Given that dogs get much less variety in their daily diets, choosing the one food that meets all their nutritional needs is particularly important. Years ago the options weren’t as abundant as they are now. The only decision was between a premium formula to support higher physical performance and an everyday, adequate formula at a lower price.

Now? It’s almost like perusing the cereal aisle in a grocery store. Walk down the aisles of any pet food store and you’ll find shelf upon shelf displaying a confusing choice of dog foods.

There are extensive marketing campaigns trying to appeal to our emotions and convince us that dogs evolved from wolves and therefore need the same kind of food wolves eat. It says wolves don’t eat grains and dogs shouldn’t either. It promotes tasty-sounding, meaty options with an emotional appeal to those of us who want the very best for our furry friends.

The problem is, the advertising isn’t based on valid research. Wolves do indirectly eat grains; today’s dogs do not have the same dietary needs that wolves do; in fact, our dogs are omnivores.

Over the past couple years, the increased trend towards those mouth-watering (to us, anyway) grain-free, meat-vegetable-fruit-based foods has paralleled a radical increase in a particular heart disease that’s killing dogs — Nutritionally-mediated Dilated Cardiomyopathy (N-DCM). Symptoms don’t show up until the disease has advanced to the critical stage and diagnosis is only achieved by expensive echocardiograms. Without symptoms, many veterinarians have been reluctant to recommend the echos until it’s too late.

However, as suspicions have risen, some veterinarians and dog owners have been reporting their cases of DCM to the Food and Drug Administration. Between 2014-2017 there were a total of seven reported cases of DCM. In 2018 alone the number rose dramatically to 320. To date in 2019 there have been 586 reported cases, including 121 deaths. The FDA has studied the cases in detail and determined that the majority of affected dogs were eating grain-free dry dog foods that contained legumes, potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, ‘exotic’ ingredients, and/or were foods produced by small ’boutique’ companies that didn’t have veterinarians or qualified nutritionists on staff and didn’t do long-term testing of their foods. In an unprecedented move, the studies went as far as naming the brands of food most often reported as being eaten by the affected dogs.

While there isn’t proven scientific data available yet, concerns have risen to the extent that the FDA is recommending dog owners take the precautionary move of immediately switching away from any of the grain-free, exotic ingredients, boutique company foods. In many identified cases of N-DCM, switching foods initiated a measurable reversal of the damage done to the heart.

So what foods are being recommended? Surprising to many, it’s food manufactured by the large, well-established companies whose practices follow the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines. Right now the only ones are: grain-inclusive formulas produced by Royal Canin, Purina, Hill’s (Science Diet), Eukanuba, and IAMs.

I apologize if your eyes are beginning to glaze over, but people who are losing their beloved companions to this dreadful disease are trying desperately to get the word out to other owners. Hopefully the FDA’s investigation into diet-related DCM will soon result in irrefutable scientific data. But in the meantime, don’t be suckered into the desperate marketing campaigns designed to appeal to your emotions rather than meet your dog’s dietary requirements, because you could be killing your canines with well-meaning albeit deadly choices.

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RESOURCES:

Facebook group of 95,600+ concerned veterinarians, canine nutritionalists and dog owners (this is a closed group but if you would like an invitation to join, let me know):
https://www.facebook.com/groups/TaurineDCM/

It’s Not Just Grain-Free: An Update on Diet-Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy

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