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All About Dog Food : What Is The Dilemma?

Sixteen brands of dog food have recently been linked to an increased risk of DCM, (dilated cardiomyopathy, or enlargement of the heart), with over 500 reported cases mainly in dogs (515), though there were also some cats (9). DCM is a serious condition, which can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, general weakness, and even death. Though it’s not considered rare in dogs, the sudden high incidence among breeds not typically prone to DCM, after years of eating certain grain-free foods, was enough to raise red flags.

While the FDA has issued warnings about links between peas, lentils, potatoes or sweet potatoes and DCM in cats and dogs since July 2018, this new report (July 2019) is the first time they called out companies by name. The list of 16 pet food brands, ordered by the number of cases against them (from a high of 67 to just 10):

  • Zignature
  • 4Health
  • Blue Buffalo
  • Fromm
  • California Natural
  • Orijen
  • NutriSource
  • Rachael Ray Nutrish

Knowing what to feed your dog used to be easy. Some people saved table scraps, others bought bulk food at the discount store…and if you wanted to be really fancy, you’d get the brand-label stuff, the kind that claimed to have real meat in it. 

What was the harm? After all, for centuries after domestication, dogs essentially ate whatever their owners did: milk or whey, bread or grain, and maybe small pieces of meat. Sometime in the mid-1800s, the first food made specifically for dogs appeared on the market and things quickly developed from there, with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council developing pet food guidelines in the 1980s, companies developed gourmet foods, and some ultra-dedicated pet parents even started making their own.

And then the problems started. More and more pets became sick with diet-related illnesses or conditions. Half of all pet dogs are currently obese, and cancer rates are steadily climbing. Renal failure and other complications resulting from vitamin D buildups in the blood.

While pet food recalls have increased dramatically, federal guidelines on ingredients and labels have been slow to update, thanks to aggressive lobbying from the pet food industry. For instance, until very recently, much pet food was made from animals classified as one of the 4-D’s: dead, dying, debilitated or diseased (though the 4Ds this is now withdrawn under FDA guidelines).

Feeding theories abounded: always feed your animal the same thing to avoid gastro-intestinal issues, make sure to look for ethically sourced and organic meals, or only feed your dog grain-free foods. And now this last recommendation may be creating problems of its own, though the FDA currently stops short of establishing an outright causal link between the high proportion of potatoes and legume seeds such as lentils or peas in grain-free dog foods.

So, what should you do? It’s hard to know. ConsumersAdvocate.org, a review website with over 2 million visits a month, recently tried to answer just that. After conducting more than 200 hours of research, and vetting 65 companies, they couldn’t reach any firm conclusion either. 

They found that most of the companies whose formulas didn’t include any of the DCM-linked ingredients listed meal as their first ingredient. This is important because legally, meal can include protein from sick animals or that died before slaughter. In the end, they decided not to recommend any brand, since there was no company that had truly great, proven-healthy food. In truth, what to feed your pets is a judgment call only you can make. Regardless of what you choose, make sure to monitor their behavior, take them to regular checkups, and talk your options over with your vet.

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