Possible links between dog food and heart disease worries many pet owners

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CLEVELAND - The Food and Drug Administration is warning about a possible link between specific dog food brands and a form of canine heart disease.

Jacquelyn Ruiz, of Deerfield, remembers the frightening days last year when her 6-year-old dog Rexx struggled to breathe.

“It was very scary. Very scary,” she said. “He was coughing a lot, panting, just laying around do nothing.”

She said Rexx was eventually diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and is now on a daily pill regimen. DCM is a condition that affects a dog’s heart and results in an enlarged muscle. Dogs with DCM tire easily, cough and have difficulty breathing.

“It came back that his heart was three times the size that it should be,” Ruiz said. “The vet didn't know what it was from. They just said he got this heart disease way early."

Ruiz now wonders if it may be from his food.

Since 2018, the FDA has been investigating a possible link between more than 500 cases of the disease and pet food brands labeled non-grain, which are made mainly of peas, lentils or potatoes.

It has now revealed 16 brands as having the most reported cases of the disease, led by Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health and Earthborn Holistic. However, the FDA still has not determined a specific dietary link and its investigation continues.

“They're taking it very seriously, and so are we,” said Dr. Brendan Crowley, a veterinarian at West Park Animal Hospital.

He said the clinic has been fielding calls from concerned pet owners, but has stopped short of telling them to make changes at this point since the study is ongoing.

“It is concerning because there could be a link that they may want to switch the diet. We're not, right now, advising all of our clients to make the switch,” Crowley said. “Some dogs that do have food allergies are on limited ingredients that often turn out to be grain-free, and they've seen some relief from their food allergies.”

Ruiz said she’s fed Rexx one of the brands named by the FDA for years and is now planning to make a change.

“It actually makes me mad,” Ruiz said. “I've always heard grain-free is better for them than regular, so I've always fed him grain-free.”

The FDA has not asked for a recall of the brands. It is urging pet owners to consult with their veterinarians about their choice of food.

If someone wants to make a change, Crowley recommended gradually transitioning to another food brand over the course of a week.

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