Why The FDA's Latest Statement On Grain-Free Foods Is Dangerous


In the third update on its investigation into a possible connection between dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) grain-free dog food, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) named names, opening up a wave of dangerous speculation that certain brands could be life threatening to pets. 


Publishing the names of 16 pet food brands that have been anecdotally connected with cases of DCM, without significant weight behind those claims, is misleading to the general public and could undermine a general understanding of the disease itself. 


News organizations CNN, Forbes, International Business Times, CBS and others are reporting on the FDA’s investigation using headlines such as "Dogs in Danger? 16 Brands of Dog Food Could Cause Heart Disease, FDA Warns" and "FDA Identifies Dog Food Brands Associated with Canine Heart Disease." This makes it sound like there’s a direct connection between these pet food brands and DCM, which has not been proven. However, many readers may not pick up on the fact that the investigation is currently inconclusive and assume that their dogs are in danger.


The fact is, the FDA has found no concrete evidence that any pet food is causing DCM. It has only gathered information on what food brands were fed to pets that were diagnosed with the disease. As Steve M. Solomen, D.V.M., M.P.H., director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, even said, "...we have not yet determined the nature of this potential link [between dog food and DCM]." 


While the FDA notes a recent spike in DCM reports, this too could be misleading. In its latest report, the agency said that "the majority of reports were submitted to the FDA after its first public alert in July 2018." In fact, 517 out of the 524 reports the agency has received since 2014 were filed in 2018 and 2019. Is this a sign of an escalating problem, or the result of growing awareness of a health issue that actually predates the rise of grain-free pet nutrition? The way it has been presented to the public often implies the former.


Of course, everyone can agree that animal welfare should be the No. 1 priority. There have been 119 dog and five cat deaths that need to be addressed. It’s up to the pet industry, the veterinary community and the FDA to get to the bottom of these DCM cases. However, this should be done with sound science, not dangerous speculation, especially when the investigation is still underway.