By Hayley Dixon,The Telegraph
As pet owners become increasingly health conscious it is little wonder that they want to mimic their fresh, free range meals in their dog’s bowl.
But the latest trend for a grain-free diet could be doing more harm than good, it has been warned as a watchdog is investigating links between the feed and canine heart disease.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now identified a host of dog food brands which have been named in their investigation into hundreds of cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs.
There have been more than 100 reported deaths, it emerged as British vets urged “caution” in choosing the diet.
The Food Standards Agency, Britain’s equivalent of the FDA, said that they were “aware” of the investigation and would “study” the report for potential links.
Pet food manufacturers insist that there is no proof of a causal link between the diets and the disease.
The FDA has been investigating the links between “grain-free” pet foods that have a high proportion of “peas, lentils, other legume seeds (pulses), and/or potatoes in various forms (whole, flour, protein, etc.) as main ingredients” and DCM since July 2018.
The agency is looking specifically at brands that have more of these ingredients than vitamins and minerals.
It came after the number of cases of cases of the heart disease reported to the US Agency spiked from less than five a year to 320 in 2018 and 197 so far this year, data shows.
Of the 560 dogs reported to have developed the condition there were 119 deaths. A handful of cats have also been affected. The FDA has identified 16 dog brands that were most commonly named by the pet owners in the reported cases.
At least six are widely available in the UK. Acana and Orijen, both produced by Champion Petfoods, have been named in 79 cases and are available to purchase online in the UK and in stores in Cumbria and Scotland.
The brands are advertised as “Biologically Appropriate” pet foods and they boast that they are fresh, regionally sourced and made from free range ingredients that mimic the “natural evolution” diet of dogs.
Research published earlier this shows that grain-free food accounts for 15 per cent of the UK's £940m industry.
Large or giant breeds, such as Dobermans and Great Danes, are genetically predisposed to the DCM, but the FDA says it has been reported in a “wide range” of breeds, ages and weights.
They have also recorded cases in Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers which are not predisposed to the condition.
The investigation is on-going and the agency says that it is a “complex scientific issue” which might have a number of factors.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) said it was following the investigation “with interest”.
Daniella Dos Santos, BVA Junior Vice President, said: “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.”
An FSA spokesman said: “We are not currently aware of similar concerns with feeding animals grain free pet food in the UK.”
A spokesman for Champion Petfoods said that they FDA had found “no causative scientific link between DCM and our products, ingredients, or grain-free diets as a whole”.
A spokesman for the Pet Food Manufacturing Association, the trade body for the UK pet food industry, said that they have been “closely monitoring the situation from the offset".
They added: "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."