When Rob Hart started feeding his dog, Blue, a specialized diet, he thought he was doing it to better his dog’s health. But instead, he said, the food may have contributed to the dog’s death.
Hart, who lives in Central Florida, reported Blue’s death to the Food and Drug Administration. His case is now one of more than 500 incidents under investigation to determine whether grain-free pet food is leading to heart disease in dogs, which can be fatal.
“Unfortunately, when you have dogs, you're going to lose them. That's just part of having them. But to see her suffer it was just horrible,” Hart said. “It was horrible.”
Hart said he’d fed Blue and his other dog, Spike, exclusively grain-free food for about five years when Blue was diagnosed with heart disease in 2018.
The symptoms of heart disease for dogs include frequent coughing and panting. For Blue, those symptoms lasted eight months before she died at age 11.
“To think I contributed to her suffering possibly by giving her dog food that I thought I was doing the right thing,” Hart said.
The FDA received more than 500 reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy over the course of five years, with more than 90% of those animals reportedly using products labeled grain-free.
Veterinarian Debra Smith said living in Florida, many dogs are predisposed to skin issues due to allergens and the year-round presence of fleas. To help stop the itching, she said many owners turn to grain-free food.
“Most people who are feeding grain free are dogs that have a lot of skin issues and it's been promoted that your dog will stop itching,” Smith said.
Now, if her clients tell her they feed their pets a grain-free diet, Smith said she is recommending they switch to something else.
Despite the FDA’s investigation, grain-free pet food remains widely available on store shelves without warnings.
“It's just scary to think that stuff is still on the market and maybe it is still causing a problem,” Hart said.
“People should at least be informed.”
If you do choose to continue with grain-free because it helps your animal’s skin, experts said it’s a good idea is to ask your vet to listen more closely to your pet’s heart during checkups to listen for anything abnormal.
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