SINGAPORE - Don't 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.
Veterinarians The Straits Times spoke to, however, said that the issue may not be specific to the named brands, and that 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 older 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 like bulldogs and shih tzus, the report said.
The FDA said that 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.
Taste of the Wild, an American brand, said in a statement on its website that it began adding taurine to its grain-free formulations last year as some dogs with DCM were found to have low taurine levels.
Dr Jean-Paul Ly, a veterinarian and clinical nutritionist, said that he has seen more small dogs here develop heart conditions in their older years.
He noted that most of the diets cited in the FDA report related to dry food. Kibble is created by heating food to between 200 and 300 deg C and protein, taurine as well as other nutrients were lost in the process, he said. Dy Ly, one of the owners of the Addiction brand of dog food, said "a balanced diet must include fresh meat, fruits and vegetables".
Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, called the FDA's findings "very concerning", though he noted that investigations were still ongoing.
Dr Gill, a veterinarian, said that DCM is not an uncommon disease in dogs, with some breeds more predisposed than others. Nutrient deficiencies can also increase the risk of developing DCM, he said.
"To be safe, and until further announcements are made, one option dog owners have is to switch brands. There is no benefit from feeding a dog a grain-free diet, except in specific circumstances and when directed by a veterinarian," said Dr Gill.
Pet owners should also take their dogs for regular health checks, and look out for signs of DCM, which include lethargy, loss of appetite, breathing difficulty, coughing and fainting.
Dr Daniel Sing of Toa Payoh Vets said that the disease is more common in smaller breeds here, though 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 that it carries six of the 16 brands named by the FDA, along with other exclusive brands. Sales of the six brands have not been affected thus far, it said.
Retailer Polypet said that it carries five of the brands, some of which are best-sellers.
"Naturally pet lovers are concerned. However, the respective brands have provided factual information on their websites," a spokesman said, adding that there has been no recall of the products.
Technical officer Marija Beatriz said that she began feeding her two small dogs dry food from Taste of the Wild earlier this year.
While there have been no issues with the food, Ms Beatriz said she will be going off the brand as a precaution.
"I'm actually switching to home-cooked food and fruits for good; at least I can decide and control most of what they eat," said Ms Beatriz, 23.
"My dogs are senior dogs already but I still hope to improve their diet and keep them as healthy as possible so they can have quality golden years," she said.