Tag Archives: US FDA

Do grain-free diets really cause canine heart disease?

You may have heard that on July 12th, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a statement that it was investigating a potential connection between grain-free diets and canine heart disease:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. These reports are unusual because DCM is occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories, are investigating this potential association.

Canine DCM is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart. As the heart and its chambers become dilated, it becomes harder for the heart to pump, and heart valves may leak, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen. DCM often results in congestive heart failure. Heart function may improve in cases that are not linked to genetics with appropriate veterinary treatment and dietary modification, if caught early.

The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component. Breeds that are typically more frequently affected by DCM include large and giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. It is less common in small and medium breed dogs, except American and English Cocker Spaniels. However, the cases that have been reported to the FDA have included Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers, as well as mixed breeds.

Full text of the FDA statement here.

Investigating possible links is always a good thing; but equally concerning is understanding what data backs up any claim.

Pet Business magazine points out that the data backing up the link is very thin – at this point unlikely to pass the rigor of a peer-reviewed journal.  Obviously an industry body has concerns about the impact of consumer choices  and the impact on sales, but it is right that they point out that the data set so far is quite limited.

I follow research regularly, and I’m always open to findings that may cause us to re-think our choices of food and other healthcare strategies for our dogs.

But let’s be sure about evidence.

The availability and variety of grain-free foods has increased dramatically in recent years, as cases of itchy dogs and dietary intolerances caused by corn and wheat have been documented.  Who’s to say that grain-free carbohydrates like peas, lentils and potatoes might not also come with side effects?

And all of this debate reinforces my belief in the hybrid diet.  Sometimes raw, sometimes kibble, and sometimes homemade.  Diversification is a strength!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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US FDA issues warning about raw pet foods

Feeding raw (or not) has to be one of the most controversial topics in dog ownership today.  Consequently, the US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) recent warning to owners feeding raw is likely to generate some controversy.

The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) screened over 1,000 samples of pet food for bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses. (The illnesses are called “foodborne” because the bacteria are carried, or “borne,” in or on contaminated food.) The study showed that, compared to other types of pet food tested, raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.

Raw pet foods were included in the second year of a two-year study and the samples were from commercially available raw pet foods which were purchased online and sent to six different testing laboratories.

The participating laboratories analyzed the raw pet food for harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.

Of the 196 raw pet food samples analyzed, 15 were positive for Salmonella and 32 were positive for L. monocytogenes (see Table 1).

Table 1: Number and type of pet food samples that tested positive for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes (Years 1 & 2)
Type of Pet Food Sample No. samples tested No. positive for Salmonella No. positive for L. monocytogenes
 Raw pet food  196  15  32
 Dry exotic pet fooda  190  0  0
 Jerky-type treatsb  190  0  0
 Semi-moist dog foodc  120  0  0
 Semi-moist cat foodc  120  0  0
 Dry dog foodd  120  0  0
 Dry cat foodd  120  1  0
a Non-cat and non-dog food, such as dry pellets for hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, amphibians, and birds.
b Included chicken jerky and pig ear-type products.
c Typically packaged in pouches for retail sale, such as (1) pouched dog and cat food; and
(2) food treats shaped like bacon, fish, pork chops, and burgers.
d Included pellet- or kibble-type food typically packaged in bags for retail sale.Note: CVM did not collect or test canned and wet pet food samples in this study.

The FDA has gone as far as warning owners against raw feeding, but in an acknowledgement that this type of diet is the preference for many owners, they also provided these tips to prevent Salmonella and Listeria infections:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds) after handling raw pet food, and after touching surfaces or objects that have come in contact with the raw food. Potential contaminated surfaces include countertops and the inside of refrigerators and microwaves. Potential contaminated objects include kitchen utensils, feeding bowls, and cutting boards.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects that come in contact with raw pet food. First wash with hot soapy water and then follow with a disinfectant. A solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 quart (4 cups) water is an effective disinfectant. For a larger supply of the disinfectant solution, add ¼ cup bleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) water. You can also run items through the dishwasher after each use to clean and disinfect them.
  • Freeze raw meat and poultry products until you are ready to use them, and thaw them in your refrigerator or microwave, not on your countertop or in your sink.
  • Carefully handle raw and frozen meat and poultry products. Don’t rinse raw meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. Bacteria in the raw juices can splash and spread to other food and surfaces.
  • Keep raw food separate from other food.
  • Immediately cover and refrigerate what your pet doesn’t eat, or throw the leftovers out safely.
  • If you’re using raw ingredients to make your own cooked pet food, be sure to cook all food to a proper internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella, L. monocytogenes, and other harmful foodborne bacteria.
  • Don’t kiss your pet around its mouth, and don’t let your pet lick your face. This is especially important after your pet has just finished eating raw food.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after touching or being licked by your pet. If your pet gives you a “kiss,” be sure to also wash your face.

In my practice, I have clients that feed all types of diet (commercial, raw, homemade).  I have seen raw food diets implemented successfully with some dogs, and others who fail to thrive on them for a variety of reasons.  That’s why I am a proponent of the food therapy approach, which can successfully be implemented with all types of diet.

For my clients here in New Zealand, I’d like to emphasize that the food hygiene suggestions by the FDA do make sense.  According to our Ministry of Primary Industries, Salmonella is the second most common bacterial cause of foodborne disease in this country (campylobacter is the first).  Incidents of Listeria are rare, but some people like pregnant woman are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Source:  US Food & Drug Administration

PETNet – new pet food incident tracking system

This week the US Food & Drug Administration and the Partnership for Food Protection launched a new web-based system to enable real-time information sharing about pet food incidents.

‘Incidents’ are those occasions that appear to be related to defects in pet foods or illnesses brought on because of the consumption of pet foods.  The concept is that federal, state and local authorities that are responsible for regulation of the pet food industry and the tracking of outbreaks of disease in companion animals will register information on the voluntary system.  If they suspect a trend or suspicious connection with pet foods, they’ll register their information on the PETNet system.

In 2007, there was the huge recall of pet foods contaminated with melamine and when the events were debriefed, it showed that veterinarians were picking up on a trend but had no readily available platform to share their concerns.  Regulatory authorities were slow to react.  Through the internet, email systems and professional networks, veterinarians were able to get the word out that there was a problem with pet foods, but not in as quickly as they would have if there was a platform such as PETNet.

The Partnership for Food Protection was established in 2008 by the FDA bringing together federal, state, local, territorial and tribal representatives with expertise in food, feed, epidemiology, laboratory, animal health, environment and public health.

This is a list of PETNet project members.

Source:  US Food & Drug Administration media statement, 1 August 2011