DCM and grain-free pet food: What will 2020 bring?

As the pet food industry begins a new year, we wish for continued, comprehensive DCM investigations by FDA and others, plus more discreet alerts by FDA.

Gajus | Shutterstock.com
Gajus | Shutterstock.com

As the new year begins, what can we expect with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 18-month investigation into canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and a possible link to grain-free pet food?

First: continued investigations, not only by FDA. George Collings, Ph.D., president and general manager of Collings Nutrition Solutions, has been reviewing studies on genetic ties to DCM going back several decades, in addition to the potential role of everything else dogs might be eating. Also, Joshua Stern, DVM, Ph.D., DACVIM, assistant professor with the University of California-Davis Veterinary Medicine School, one of the first veterinary cardiologists to alert FDA of new DCM cases he was seeing, has indicated epidemiological studies are under way.

Regarding FDA’s investigation, let’s hope it expands beyond focusing only on dietary links to DCM – because even if diet is eventually proven to be a contributor, the only way to know that for sure is to rule out other modes of causality.

“The Pet Food Institute (PFI) has advised veterinarians that any reports to FDA regarding diagnosed DCM cases should include a complete medical history, diet history and echocardiogram results,” wrote Jacinthe Moreau, president of the World Pet Association, in Pet Product News. “Dana Brooks, PFI president and CEO, has urged FDA to release public messaging that reflects the science and facts, and doesn’t contribute to pet owner confusion.”

That’s another wish for 2020. The three alerts FDA’s has issued to date have not only confused but even frightened pet owners; many veterinarians and pet retailers seem in the dark, too. Further, FDA officials seemingly had no comprehension of the impact their alerts would have. “They admitted they were taken off guard by the huge reaction among consumers, retailers, veterinarians and on social media,” Brooks told me. “They even told ingredient suppliers [of peas, lentils, potatoes and similar ingredients implicated] that pet food companies would never stop using those ingredients!”

FDA’s indiscreet, incomplete announcements have initiated a decline in grain-free pet food sales, which in turn is affecting the businesses of farmers, ingredient suppliers, pet food companies and pet retailers. I’ve heard of layoffs happening – meaning this is impacting the lives of multiple people, including pet owners. Let’s hope that changes soon.

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