Recently, a study in the UK revealed that many dog owners know surprisingly little about their pet’s food. And while surveys show that about 25 percent of dog owners make New Year’s Resolutions to help their dog live a healthier life through better diet in 2019, which is good news.
But simply not knowing what ingredients are in their dog’s food, to begin with, or statistics like a third of pet owners aren’t aware that chocolates and onions are toxic to dogs, support the idea that a lot of dog owners may not be properly informed on how to give their pup a balanced and healthy diet.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the resolution is actually presenting potential harm to some dogs, as the ingredients of some dog foods owners think will be healthy may be linked to a fatal form of 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,” their 2018 warning said. “These reports are unusual because DCM is occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease.”
Canine DCM is a disease that results in an enlarged heart. As a result, the heart’s chambers become dilated and the heart has difficulty pumping, with potential for leaking heart valves and a build-up of fluids in the chest and abdomen.
“Heart function may improve in cases that are not linked to genetics with appropriate veterinary treatment and dietary modification if caught early,” they say.
Genetically, larger breeds are thought to be more susceptible to DCM, including Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. But more recently the FDA’s attention was caught when cases were reported of Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers, as well as mixed breeds.
The FDA checked the diets of those cases and found they frequently included “potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other “pulses” (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch and fiber derivatives early in the ingredient list, indicating that they are main ingredients.”
“You’ll have to have a protein source, most commonly beef or chicken,” Dr. Charles Livaudais of North Hills Animal Hospital says about the crucial things we should look for in our pet’s food. “It might be grains, it might be tapioca, it might be potato but it has to be something and they need fats as well.”
According to Livaudais, a common trend in attempting to structure a health-conscious diet is seeking out grain-free foods, and this is a potential risk in the link between these grain-free dog foods and the recent cases of DCM.
The FDA believes those foods are somehow connected to a deficiency in taurine, which is an amino acid that’s critical to dog heart health.
“More research needs to be done on that,” says Livaudais. “We don’t want to scare people unnecessarily but at the same time…it might be better to make sure your dog is getting food with grains in it until we know more.”
The lesson in all of this, if nothing else, is that we all should give more attention to the labels of the dog food we buy. Even if you’re not consciously staying away from specific ingredients, knowing what goes into your pet’s food will be a much stronger starting point to troubleshoot health problems if they do arise.
Knowing what’s in your pet’s daily diet helps vets pinpoint potential sources of risks like the recent uptick in DCM cases. Even knowing where pet foods are made is a useful tool, with a recent PetMD survey revealing that 98 percent of pet owners say they want ingredients that either come from the United States or are from other countries with similar strict standards.
According to Vice President of Operations for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and head of the ASPCA’s Pet Nutrition Services, Mindy Bough, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates “Made in the USA” claims on all products that are human or pet related. Everything from the packaging to the ingredients and production of the food must be carried through in the United States in order to earn that label, she says.
And that subjecting the maker to being reviewed by organizations like the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which has very specific guidelines for the allowed percentages of named ingredients on a label, serving as another step to ensure consumers get exactly what’s on the nutrition and ingredients label.
Another good thing to be aware of, according to PetMD, is understanding the difference between a label that reads “Manufactured By” versus a label that says “Manufactured For.” A label that says “manufactured for” or “distributed by” indicates the food was actually manufactured by somebody other than the brand you’re purchasing from — a common practice by private label pet food labels, apparently.
A “manufactured by” mark denotes the “party responsible for the quality and safety of the product and location,” according to the FDA. For the attentive and aware pet owner, this all adds up to both knowing exactly what’s in the food you’re feeding your dog as well as having a direct source for asking questions about their food when concerns arise. For many people, this offers peace of mind that they’re getting safe food.
And if the end goal is to give the highest quality food to their pet and the most nutritious diet possible, this is a great starting point. PetMD says that the ASPCA generally won’t even recommend a generic or store brand as their first choice, supporting the idea that commercial and name brands are typically the highest in quality.
Now, once you’ve learned the dietary needs of your specific dog’s breed, you have a reliable starting point for ensuring that the pup is getting the healthiest food possible.