What are you feeding your pets? Vets warn against popular diet trend

ATLANTA — If you have a dog, veterinarians say what they are eating could kill them. Veterinarians are seeing heart failure in some dogs fed a grain-free diet.

Their hearts become so enlarged they can no longer normally pump. That causes all kinds of problems, including fluid in the lungs. That is what happened to Bailey, a dog who died just weeks after getting diagnosed.

“It’s just too soon to lose a pet over dog food,” said Gina Perry, who is still mourning the death of her 6- year-old dog, Bailey.

The Morningside mother got Bailey when she was just a pup, 8 weeks old. “Bailey, she was a German shorthaired pointer, really, really active, loved to swim, run, go on hikes,” Perry said.

But Bailey suddenly got lethargic in May 2019. She started coughing after eating grain-free foods for two years.

“They did an X-ray and saw that her heart was really enlarged, filling up almost her whole chest cavity,” said Perry.

A veterinarian diagnosed Bailey with dilated cardiomyopathy linked to grain-free food.

DCM is something Dr. Jacqueline Horner is now watching out for at Pharr Road Animal Hospital in Buckhead.

“I always explain this to my clients. If you think about body builders, they build a lot of muscle, and at some point, they lose range of motion. If your muscles get very big, they may not be so flexible. They may not have that full range of motion in their arm. The heart is the same way,” Horner said.

Researchers said there is no direct cause but there is a correlation. “So, we have a correlation, meaning we are seeing an increased number of pets with DCM, dilated cardiomyopathy, and those pets are also eating grain free foods,” said Dr. Horner.

It’s affecting so many pets, it prompted the Food and Drug Administration to start tracking it. Between Jan. 1, 2014, and April 30, 2019, the FDA said veterinarians diagnosed 560 dogs with DMC and of those, 119 died.

Perry made sure to fill out the FDA forms. “I didn’t know about it. I don’t know how many other people don’t know about this issue. I want to get the word out to just save other people and other families from going through what we went through,” Perry said.

A lot of people went grain-free after dogs started dying from tainted wheat gluten from China in 2007. Others did it when they changed their own diets and cut out gluten.

“It started as following the marketing change with our own food,” Horner said. “And it’s important to note that this trend did not originate from veterinarians’ recommendation,” she continued.

Veterinarians said it is boutique brands selling the idea through ads. Antoinette Zavala said that is why she started feeding her dog, Storm grain-free foods. “'Cause I guess I thought they shouldn’t eat grain because of things that I read,” Zavala said.

Perry went for grain-free because she too thought it was better.

“I thought the dog food would be better. It looked better, and I thought it would be healthier for my dog,” Perry said.

Veterinarians recommend sticking to bigger, traditional brands with more regulations and stop feeding grain-free.

“We’re recommending that, No. 1, avoid using grain-free foods,” Horner said.

“You just feel guilty. I mean, it’s like, you’re trying to do something great for your dog, feeding them better dog food, or you think it’s better, and you’re basically forcing it on them. They don’t have a choice, so it’s really kind of on you that you did that,” Perry said.

If you’re feeding your dog grain-free, don’t stop cold turkey. Veterinarians said it should be a gradual process, taking at least a week or so. Your best bet is to check with your pet’s veterinarian.

DCM affects cats, too. The FDA reported five cats died from DCM linked to grain-free food.

The FDA has received at least 10 reports of DCM involving the following pet food brands: Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature’s Variety, NutriSource, Nutro and Rachel Ray Nutrish.

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