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Posted: 2019-07-04

Possible link between ‘grain-free’ diets and DCM
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating a possible link with certain pet foods.

BVA urges caution in choosing these diets for pets 

The BVA has recommended caution in choosing grain-free diets for pets, amid ongoing concerns that they could be linked with canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in the US.

In recent years, there have been reports of DCM in dog breeds that are not typically affected by the disease. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating a possible link with certain pet foods that contain legume seeds such as peas and lentils, or potatoes, as their main ingredients.

According to the latest FDA figures, there were 515 reports of DCM in dogs and nine in cats between January 2014 and July 2018. Some cases involved more than one pet from the same household, so the total number of cases is higher. The majority of these reports were made after the FDA first issued a warning about DCM and pet foods in July last year.

In cases where affected dogs were fed a single primary diet, 90 per cent of owners reported feeding their pet a grain-free diet. Around 10 per cent fed a diet that contained grains, some of which were vegan or vegetarian. Diets included commercially available kibble, canned and raw food and home-cooked meals.

Four cases reported to the FDA involved three golden retrievers and one Labrador, which were found to have low whole blood levels of the amino acid taurine. Taurine deficiency is well-documented as a potential cause of DCM. Four other cases, however, had normal blood levels of taurine.

While the FDA continues to investigate, it is not yet known how diet may be linked to these cases. The organisation recently published a list of the pet food brands that are most often associated with DCM. Brands including Champion Petfoods, however, insist there is no causative scientific link.

BVA’s junior vice-president Daniella Dos Santos said the BVA is following the investigation “with interest”.

She added: “As the FDA has stated, this is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors, though the overarching link appears to be grain-free diets.

“We always welcome pet owners taking an interest in the sourcing and ingredients of their pet’s food, but there is currently insufficient evidence to substantiate any of the beneficial health claims of a grain-free diet. So whilst investigations continue into its potential link with a serious heart condition, we would recommend caution in choosing a grain-free diet for your pet.

“We’d encourage pet owners to talk to their vet for advice on a healthy, nutritionally-balanced diet that is tailored to the animal’s life stage, breed, specific health needs and lifestyle." 

The Pet Food Manufactuers Association in the UK commented: 'At this time, there is no information to suggest a similar issue in the UK/Europe. In terms of advice for pet owners, it is important that owners provide a complete and balanced diet for their pet. 

'Owners should always look for the term "complete" on the pet food label. This is a legal term that means the product must by law provide all the nutrients a pet needs for healthy bodily function.
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