Do not panic just yet if you are feeding your dog kibble from one of the 16 brands named as having a potential link with canine heart disease.
Grain-free, dry dog food has come under the spotlight as part of investigations by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into a possible connection between certain diets and the development of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a disease that can lead to heart failure.
Popular brands sold here, including Acana, Zignature and Taste of the Wild, were among those most frequently associated with dogs with the disease in cases reported to the FDA, the agency said in a report released last week.
However, veterinarians told The Straits Times that the issue may not be specific to the named brands and diet is not the only factor in the development of the disease.
The FDA announced the probe in July last year, after a rise in cases in breeds not known to have a genetic predisposition to the disease.
It is more common in male dogs of large and giant breeds, such as great danes and doberman pinschers. But there has been a rising number of cases involving golden retrievers, as well as smaller dogs such as bulldogs and shih tzus.
The FDA said the majority of the more than 500 dogs reported with DCM were on diets of dry foods labelled "grain-free". Peas and/or lentils were also found in 93 per cent of reported diets, it said in an update on ongoing investigations.
While the nature of the link between diet and DCM has yet to be determined, the FDA said it is trying to better understand the role of taurine, an amino acid thought to promote heart health. Many DCM cases involving golden retrievers have been linked to taurine deficiency, the report said.
Brands named in the report have emphasised that no scientific link has been established between their foods and the risk of dogs developing the disease.
Dr Jean-Paul Ly, a veterinarian and clinical nutritionist, said he has seen more small dogs here develop heart conditions in their older years, adding that a balanced diet must include fresh meat, fruit and vegetables.
Kibble is created by heating food to between 200 deg C and 300 deg C, and protein, taurine as well as other nutrients are lost in the process, said Dr Ly.
Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, called the FDA's findings "very concerning".
Dr Gill, a veterinarian, said DCM is not an uncommon disease in dogs. Apart from genetics, nutrient deficiencies can also increase the risk of developing DCM, he said.
Signs of DCM include lethargy, loss of appetite, breathing difficulty, coughing and fainting.
Dr Daniel Sing of Toa Payoh Vets said that proving that diet is the main cause is difficult.
"Similar to heart disease in humans, it depends on lifestyle. If the dog is more active, then food plays a more minor role," he said.
A spokesman for pet-care retail chain Pet Lovers Centre said it carries six of the 16 brands named by the FDA, along with other brands.
Sales of the six brands have not been affected thus far, it said.
Retailer Polypet said it carries five of the brands, some of which are bestsellers.
Technical officer Marija Beatriz, 23, said she began feeding her two dogs dry food from Taste of the Wild earlier this year but will stop.
"I'm switching to home-cooked food and fruit. At least, I can control most of what they eat," she said.
"My dogs are seniors already but I hope to improve their diet and keep them as healthy as possible so that they can have quality golden years," she said.