The recent finding that there is no definitive link between dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and grain-free diets comes as no surprise to many industry insiders. The research, published in the Journal of Animal Science, is backed by veterinarians, veterinary cardiologists and animal nutritionists from BSM Partners, a pet care research and consulting firm, who analyzed more than 150 studies for the peer-reviewed article.
"We believe that further research is needed in order to reach sound conclusions with respect to the relationship between diet and DCM," Dr. Eva Oxford, a veterinary cardiologist and an article co-author, said when the research was released. "This is why BSM Partners has initiated multiple original research projects that will shed additional light on this topic."
Whether or not there is a link between grain-free diets and DCM has been a hot topic, one that the Pet Food Institute (PFI) has been keeping a close eye on.
"PFI member nutritionists, veterinarians and product safety specialists have been closely studying this issue to better understand whether there is a relationship between DCM and diet," said Dana Brooks, president and CEO of PFI. "The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has stated, and PFI agrees, that this is a complex issue with many components requiring scientific evaluation. Tens of millions of dogs enjoy grain-free diets in the United States, and the number of submitted DCM reports suggest that, if diet is a factor, it may be one of several elements involved, including dog physiology and genetics."
Blaine McPeak, CEO of Champion Petfoods, a pet food manufacturer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, said that he is pleased with the findings, adding that the research "assembles a broad and often complex range of existing science on DCM."
"Champion Petfoods’ work on DCM relies on many of the same studies cited in the article, which reinforces there is no definitive link between grain-free diets and DCM," McPeak continued. "Rather, DCM is a complex scientific issue subject to multiple factors that relate to the unique nutritional needs of the specific dog."
Other factors that could contribute to the presence of DCM, according to the new research, include nutrient deficiencies, myocarditis, chronic tachycardia and hypothyroid disease.
"It is crazy to assume that only one factor contributes to an animal’s health," said Addie Schuhle, buyer at Pet Food Depot, which has locations in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz. "From the beginning, I have said that people should rotate diets to help prevent DCM."
Unfortunately, suggesting there ever was a link in the first place is having long-lasting effects, according to Melissa Whitton, president of Most Valuable Pets Inc., a pet store in Lexington, Ky.
"I am disappointed at the damage done to the premium food segment based on reports of incomplete research," Whitton said.
Such information has done nothing but stoke fear and panic among consumers, according to McPeak.
"For years, pet specialty retailers were excited about the benefits of grain-free food because pet lovers saw their pets thriving on a grain-free diet," McPeak said. "When the misleading headlines and misinformation about DCM began appearing, those retailers had to spend significant time clearing up confusion and re-educating pet lovers about the benefits of grain-free."
Whitton did just this.
"We explain [to customers] the limits of the original report and inconsistencies in the research to reassure their choices," Whitton said. "We explain the benefits and limitations of both options to assist with their personal decisions."
While most of Whitton’s customers stayed with their original grain-free foods, some customers switched to grain foods because they were "terrified that grain-free foods may lead to detrimental health defects."
Compounding the situation, many local veterinarians used the information to steer clients to grain foods of their choosing, according to Whitton.
Schuhle saw this at Pet Food Depot as well.
"We have seen that people with a higher income spend more money on veterinarian visits, and therefore, listen to vets more often," Schuhle said. "We saw a big trend in both stores with vets recommending a grain-in food."
When asked if these new findings may persuade customers to switch back to grain-free options, Whitton doubted it.
"I do not believe the new report will change their decision," Whitton said. "The damage of the first report has already been done and their trust in grain-free has been destroyed. They no longer see the benefit of grain-free, and their buying habits have already been changed. Although they may change to something new in the future, I don’t see them going back."
Moving forward, Champion will continue to maintain its "steadfast focus on nutrition and how sound nutrition contributes to overall pet health," McPeak said.
"We have consistently shared our insights and research findings with the FDA, as well as the work of third-party experts who have analyzed our data and research," McPeak said. "We will attend the FDA Colloquium in September to help bring clarity and closure to this important issue, so that retailers and consumers will have accurate information in deciding what to feed their pets."
The bottom line, according to McPeak, "The recent article confirms that the great weight of the scientific evidence shows DCM to be an exceedingly rare and complex disease that relates to a dog’s unique dietary needs—and not to the presence or absence of grains. If it were that simple, we would have answered questions about DCM long before now.
Read more PPN's coverage on this topic:
- Researchers Find No Definitive Link Between DCM and Grain-Free Diets
- Are Retailers Standing By Grain-Free Dog Foods During the FDA’s Investigation?
- Are Grain-in Dog Foods the Answer to the DCM Debate?
- DCM and Grain-Free: Why it’s Time to Take a Deeper Look at Pet Food Trends
- In Defense of Boutique Pet Foods
- The War on Legumes