After 2 years of turbulence and misinformation in the pet food industry regarding cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and grain free pet foods, a research paper was finally published in June 2020 in the Journal of Animal Science exposing gaping holes and overtly misleading information in the FDA’s highly publicized warnings about this supposed issue.

Between July 2018 and June 2019, the FDA issued three warnings about a “possible link” between DCM and grain free pet foods. They even went so far as to publish a list of brands that they claimed were implicated in these cases of canines who developed DCM. And then…they fell completely silent.

At the time of this writing, it’s been more than a year since the FDA addressed this issue after irresponsibly instigating fear and paranoia in pet owners. Since the first warning was made, not once has any research or evidence been provided to support this “possible link,” or as it turns out, to even support that there has been a rise in cases of DCM in canines in the US.

  • Beware of Statistical Discrepancies

The recently published research paper, Review of canine dilated cardiomyopathy in the wake of diet-associated concerns*, reveals discrepancies in the FDA’s statistics, skewed data as a result of sampling bias, and a total lack of account for what the paper calls “confounding variables,” such as concurrent medical conditions and genetic predispositions that may contribute to the development of DCM. In other words, the reports made on this subject are completely lacking in scientific rigor. The paper concludes:

At this time, information distributed to the veterinary community and the general public has been abbreviated synopses of case studies, with multiple variables and treatments, incomplete medical information, and conflicting medical data and opinions from veterinary nutrition influencers. Also, in past literature, sampling bias, overrepresentation of subgroups, and confounding variables in the data weaken this hypothesis. Additionally, based on current literature, the incidence of DCM in the overall dog population is estimated to be between 0.5% and 1.3% in the United States. However, the FDA case numbers (560 dogs) are well below the estimated prevalence. Therefore, it is impossible to draw any definitive conclusions, in these cases, linking specific diets or specific ingredients to DCM.*

That’s right. The FDA claims that there has been a rise in cases of DCM, but in fact, the number of reported cases on which the FDA was issuing its warnings are actually well below the estimated average number of cases of DCM in the US based on historical data. Therefore, the paper ends with this statement:

While determining the cause of recently reported cases of cardiac disease is of the utmost importance, based on this review of the current literature, there is no definitive relationship between [sic] these implicated diet characteristics and DCM.* (emphasis added)

  • Beware of Skewed Data

In addition to statistical discrepancies, there is the matter of skewed data to address. In apparently researching this issue, the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) requested that veterinarians report to them well-documented cases of DCM in dogs suspected to having a link to diet. Instead of requesting data on all cases of DCM documented to gain a full and accurate view of this issue and its potential causes, the FDA skewed data. According to this recently published paper, “This demonstrates how asking for information in a certain way can skew data. Moreover, regardless of what diet the dog is eating, asking the veterinary community and the public for DCM cases in dogs only eating grain-free or exotic protein diets will result in sampling bias”* (emphasis added). They also failed to exclude data from dogs that held “concurrent medical conditions” that could lead to heart disease as well as dogs that provided poor diet history.

  • Beware of Hidden Agendas

When the FDA published a list of foods believed to be connected with the cases of DCM on which they were reporting, it was accompanied by a new term: BEG (boutique, exotic, grain free) diets. “BEG Diet” was coined by a Dr. Freeman who described them as “diets with specific characteristics, such as, but not limited to, containing legumes, grain-free, novel protein sources and ingredients, and smaller manufactured brands (Freeman et al., 2018).”* But our research paper goes on to explain why this finger pointing was faulty, not to mention suspicious:

However, when the FDA report is broken down into which pet food manufacturers made the called-out diets (FDA, 2019a), 49% of the brands listed were made by one of the six largest pet food manufacturers in North America (Petfood Industry, 2019). Given that almost half of the brands listed on the FDA report (FDA, 2019a) on June 27, 2019, are not manufactured by boutique pet food companies (Figure 5), it is unlikely that an association can be made to DCM.*

Publishing a list of foods in connection with a potential health issue without any data or evidence to substantiate a legitimate and viable connection with said issue is an unprecedented move by the FDA. It is already known that Nestle Purina and Royal Canin were two of the primary sponsors behind the researchers who initially published their paper speculating on a link between grain free foods and certain cases of canines who developed DCM in the US. These 2 companies are major players in the pet food industry with a not-so-secret agenda to promote their own mass-produced foods. In the face of growing concerns about pet health and nutrition by increasingly educated and interested pet owners, smaller pet food manufacturers who place a premium on high quality ingredients and transparent manufacturing practices are growing rapidly. And yet, these are the very companies who are being targeted by the FDA’s broad and unsubstantiated “warnings.”

At The Wild, we continue to advocate for our pets’ optimal health through a fresh, nutrient-rich diet that delivers the nutrition they require in a form that their bodies easily digest and assimilate. By feeding our pets foods that mimic what they would consume in the wild according to their biology, we see their health thrive and vitality renewed. We do not advocate a brand of food, rather, we promote health and wellness through feeding as much fresh, biologically appropriate food as possible, and it is on this foundation of principle through which we select the foods we carry in our stores. If you would like help in determining the best foods to feed your pet, stop by either of our locations and ask one of our associates. We will be more than happy to help you.

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  • This page is for basic technical information only. We encourage you to continue your own research on these subjects.