PFI Wants More Information About FDA Investigation
The Pet Food Institute (PFI) and its members are working internally to study hypotheses related to canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and certain diets.
In July 2018, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) delivered an announcement that alarmed some pet owners—and many pet retailers: The U.S. federal agency would begin investigating reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods, including diets labeled as grain free. Several of these cases involved dog breeds not previously known to be genetically predisposed to the disease.
At World Pet Association (WPA), we’ve been following the investigation, including the FDA updates released in February and June 2019, and we firmly believe that no conclusions can be drawn yet based on the ongoing investigation.
DCM is a recognized canine genetic condition, typically seen in male large dog breeds, such as the Doberman pinscher, Great Dane or Irish wolfhound, beginning in middle to older age. But the DCM cases recently reported to the FDA have involved a wider range of breeds, ages and weights. Based on the data collected and analyzed so far, FDA researchers believe that a potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that might involve multiple factors.
Investigation into this potential association continues, led by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN), a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories. As of press time, the FDA had not recommended any dietary changes, and pet retailers were still waiting on a definitive answer about any type of food products or specific ingredients.
What does this mean for pet food manufacturers? The Pet Food Institute (PFI) and the FDA agree that this is a complex issue, and a sufficient collection of scientific data will be required to fully assess any potential relationship between DCM and diet. The trade association is also working with member company scientists, internal experts, veterinarians and nutritionists to study the available information.
About DCM and the FDA Investigation
DCM is a potentially life-threatening disease of the cardiac muscle that reduces the heart’s ability to generate pressure to pump blood through the vascular system. Symptoms include decreased appetite, lethargy, difficulty breathing, coughing and collapse.
Between Jan. 1, 2014, and April 30, 2019, the FDA received 524 reports of DCM (515 canine and 9 feline), reflecting a presumed spike in DCM cases involving dogs that are not genetically predisposed. The exact cause of these recently reported incidents has not yet been identified, but genetics are known to be a contributing factor. The FDA theorized that some dogs with DCM might have been fed certain types of diets and embarked on further research, which is now underway and expected to take several years to complete.
While some of the case reports shared by FDA include robust clinical information, including medical history, echocardiogram results and detailed diet histories, researchers need more information as they study whether or not there is a relationship between diet and DCM.
Food product labels were examined to determine whether a product is grain free (no corn, soy, wheat, rice, barley or other grains), and whether it contains peas, other lentils (including chickpeas and beans) or potatoes (including sweet potatoes). In reported cases, more than 90 percent of products were labeled “grain free,” and 93 percent contained peas and/or lentils. No one animal protein source was found to be predominant, and food testing for minerals, metals and amino acids did not uncover any abnormalities.
The FDA is working with the pet food community to better understand whether changes in pet food ingredients or ingredient sourcing, processing or formulation may be associated with the development of DCM. Given that tens of millions of dogs are currently thriving on grain-free dog foods, PFI has commented that a unique intersection of specific factors may be contributing to new DCM cases. In the FDA’s June 2019 update, the agency stated that at this stage of the investigation, it cannot attest to whether or how these cases are linked to diet.
PFI has advised veterinarians that any reports to the FDA regarding diagnosed DCM cases should include a complete medical history, diet history and echocardiogram results. In addition, its members are working internally to study hypotheses related to DCM and diet. Dana Brooks, PFI president and CEO, has urged the FDA to release public messaging that reflects the science and facts and doesn’t contribute to pet owner confusion.
Brooks said, “We all love our pets and we want to keep them healthy”—and right now, PFI is currently advising pet owners to make sure that their dogs are eating a complete and balanced diet formulated for their life stage.
The FDA is not currently recommending any dietary changes at the present time, and pet industry groups agree, based on the investigation so far. As pet retailers and industry professionals, it’s our firm responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of our nation’s pets by providing nutritious, safe food products at all times, and we will continue to follow this investigation closely.
Jacinthe Moreau is the president of World Pet Association (WPA). Moreau has broad international experience in the animal health industry. Her career trajectory, which includes a variety of roles at companies such as Vetoquinol, Merial, Merck, VetSource and VCA Animal Hospitals, prepared her to lead WPA.