Eli Caouette, left, and Trevor Kramer pose with William, a three-year-old miniature Schnauzer. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Trevor Kramer)

VIDEO: Doubts intensify for dog owners, vets after FDA report on grain-free food

FDA lists 16 brands that may be linked with a greater risk of a canine heart condition known as DCM

Trevor Kramer says his heart skipped a beat when he learned his dog’s premium kibble might be linked to a serious heart condition.

His go-to label, Acana, tops a list of 16 brands the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says may be associated with a greater risk of canine dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM. His miniature schnauzer’s preferred poultry-heavy flavour, Light & Fit, is linked to at least two reported cases.

The news happened to coincide with Kramer running low on kibble, so the Vancouver pet owner took that as an opportunity to switch three-year-old William to Acana’s 50-per-cent fish variety — but he wonders if it’s safe to stick with any premium brand at all.

“We invest in a high-quality, more expensive dog food assuming that we’re giving our dog the best food available,” says Kramer, a vegan who’d prefer to cut all meat from his dog’s diet.

“When you see a story like this your heart sort of skips a beat because it makes you wonder: Would he be better off on a cheap supermarket dog food versus this supposedly higher-quality, grain-free boutique brand?”

The FDA’s latest update has intensified doubts about grain-free diets, which the federal agency first raised as a concern a year ago when it began looking into a possible food link to the deadly heart condition.

Among 515 reported cases of DCM were breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease, with the FDA noting, “the common thread appears to be legumes, pulses (seeds of legumes), and/or potatoes as main ingredients in the food.”

Any possible link is described as “a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors” and the FDA does not suggest avoiding certain brands or diets.

Nevertheless, some veterinarians encouraged a cautious approach until more is known.

“If you’re seeing peas or lentils in those first five ingredients, then that diet has a significant amount of legumes and you may want to avoid it,” says Dr. Maggie Brown-Bury of St. John’s, N.L., who adds that concerned pet owners should consult their veterinarian before switching food.

Toronto veterinary cardiologist Dr. Regan Williams agreed, also dissuading pet owners from boutique and “exotic diets” that might include unusual ingredients. Several of the affected brands featured kangaroo or bison meat.

“Out of an abundance of caution right now we’re saying maybe avoid those things until we figure out exactly what’s going on,” says Williams, who works at a downtown Toronto emergency clinic.

DCM causes the heart to enlarge and have difficulty pumping, sometimes causing heart valves to leak and leading to congestive heart failure.

Other brands mentioned in the statement include Zignature (with 64 cases), Taste of the Wild (53), 4Health (32), Earthborn Holistic (32), Blue Buffalo (31), Nature’s Domain (29), Fromm (24), Merrick (16), California Natural (15), Natural Balance (15), Orijen (12), Nature’s Variety (11), NutriSource (10), Nutro (10), and Rachael Ray Nutrish (10).

READ MORE: B.C. hunter fined after luring bears in with greased logs, dog food

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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