Pet-food report causing confusion, worry for pet owners

A U.S. report that raised the possibility of a link between certain pet-food brands and a serious heart condition is creating unnecessary panic, says a local pet-food store owner.

Pet owners are confused and worried, and the results of the report are getting distorted in the conversation, said Lisa Nitkin of Pets West in Broadmead Village.

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“It’s like playing broken telephone with your friends,” Nitkin said. “The message keeps changing. The numbers are changing.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an update in late June to its ongoing investigation into a potential connection between dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs and their diets. In the report, the FDA released for the first time 16 brands named most frequently in DCM cases reported to it.

Vincent Denis, owner of Four Paws Pet Grocery and Boutique in Sidney, said the report is misleading because people who get their pets tested for DCM are a self-selecting group. He said they tend to have higher incomes and feed their dogs more expensive food.

“As a result, higher-cost foods are making the list,” Denis said, adding this is concerning because it could encourage people to switch to lower-quality foods.

Denis said it’s clear more study is needed to determine what link, if any, exists between the brands listed in the FDA’s study and DCM. He emphasized that at the moment, the report shows a correlation between the two, but that doesn’t mean the foods listed in the report cause DCM.

The majority of cases reported using products that were grain-free and contained either peas or lentils, or both. The FDA does not suggest avoiding certain brands or diets, and said any possible link “is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.”

Denis said Purina makes a lower-cost dog food that is grain-free, but it appears low down on the list of foods in the FDA’s report.

“It’s a well-selling food. Why don’t they have more cases?” he said. “It shows that it’s a self-selecting group.”

Nitkin said Pets West recommends owners change their food on a regular basis, because different proteins offer a different nutritional spectrum. She said she doesn’t think it’s necessary to stay away from the brands identified in the report, but if owners want to, it’s important to make the switch gradually and find an alternative with a high-quality meat protein.

Nitkin said millions of dogs are eating grain-free diets and only a few hundred have been diagnosed with DCM.

“It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be aware, but there are so many other things that can cause harm to our pets at a much larger capacity,” she said.

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