The FDA has pet owners concerned as they dig deeper into an investigation on a link between grain free dog foods and heart conditions.
Over 500 cases have been reported and the numbers are growing of dogs who developed life threatening dilated cardiomyopathy after eating grain free foods. After over a month of research and investigation, THV11 found some of those cases are impacting families in central Arkansas.
In the summer of 2018, Brittany Savier’s two miniature Dachshund’s, Willow and Odie, were seemingly healthy dogs.
“All of a sudden, Willow had breathing difficulties and coughing problems,” said Savier.
She was caught off guard and never imagined she’d hear such devastating news. Her veterinarian said that Willow had congestive heart failure. She was a happy, healthy dog one day. The next, she was fighting for her life. Then, something even more devastating happened.
“Four days later, our other dog had the same type of symptoms and he hadn't had any symptoms before,” she said.
In the same week, both of her dogs were diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
For the veterinary team at at Briarwood Animal Hospital, the situation was all too suspect. Did both dogs really just happen to get congestive heart failure in the same week? Or, could it be something else causing heart issues for a different reason? That’s when the veterinarians asked an important question: “What are your dogs eating?”
Both of her dogs had been eating grain free dog food for the last few years. The dog food they had been eating was found at the top of the list of concerning foods in the FDA study. Dr. Bob Hale at Briarwood said veterinarians across the country have been looking into the effects of grain free food for the last two years.
“Common sense tells me there is something missing in these grain free diets and we think it is the amino acid, taurine,” he said. “Taurine is very important for heart health.”
After working with a cardiologist, the veterinarians at Briarwood thought it would be smart to get one of the dog's taurine levels checked.
“Odie’s taurine levels were so low, it wasn't even on the chart,” said Saviers.
Eventually, after further testing and an echocardiogram, doctors diagnosed both dogs with grain free related cardiomyopathy. Saviers spent the next seven months putting the dogs through treatment and quitting grain free foods.
“There were many times that we were rushing them to the emergency clinic overnight or I had to take them to the vets office to be put in the oxygen tank,” said Saviers. “It was a difficult summer.”
After all the treatment, what seemed like a miracle happened. Both dog’s levels were back to normal.
“I was shocked,” said Saviers.
For Dr. Hale, the condition getting better was another sign that the food was likely the cause all along.
“I’ve never seen a heart condition improve,” said Dr. Hale. “I’ve seen them stabilize, but as far as getting better, it usually doesn't happen.”
Dr. Hale said their hospital has seen four other dogs with the heart condition quit grain free foods and survive. The only one who didn't had an additional underlying condition.
The Savier family isn’t the only one in central Arkansas dealing with this. Other hospitals have been seeing cases of heart issues potentially from grain free diets.
Sherri Andrews is the Medical Director of Emergency Services for Arkansas Veterinary Emergency and Specialists. She said she believes she has personally seen one case of a dog with the condition who had been on a grain-free diet.
“We’re also hearing of these cases in dogs that are younger and not the regular breeds most inclined to get the condition,” said Dr. Andrews.
Andrews said she is now more likely to dig deeper into what her patient’s are eating and why.
“Anytime now when I see a grain free diet, I am more likely to ask people if their dog is eating grain-free based on a recommendation from a vet or some other compelling reason,” she said.
Dr. Andrews and Dr. Hale both said that dog moms and dads should consider steering clear of grain free.
“I wouldn’t put my dog on it,” said Andrews.
“For the present time, I wouldn't feed a grain free diet,” said Dr. Hale.
Dr. Andrews did mention that the research is ongoing and it has not yet been proven that the grain free foods are the sure cause of this disease. She sid the problem is not necessarily that grain isn't in the diets. It could be what brands are using as a replacer, like peas and lentils. As Dr. Hale mentioned, it could simply be the lack of taurine in some of the brands.
Both Dr. Hale and Dr. Andrews said that if your dog is currently on a grain free diet, it might be a good idea to take them off of it and begin using a food from the same brand that is not grain free. They encourage you to consult your veterinarian on these issues to find out what will work best for your particular pet.