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Experts vouch for raw food diet as FDA investigates list of dog food brands

The U.S. FDA has linked certain types of dog food to increased heart disease.
The U.S. FDA has linked certain types of dog food to increased heart disease. Getty Images

Halifax dog lover Patrick Stutz was shocked to discover that Nature’s Domain, the food he’s been feeding his two pups for years, was on the list of brands under investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

He thought it was a reputable mix available for a steal at his local Costco.

“I just thought going with the grain-free would be good, but apparently it’s the grain-free that’s actually giving problems,” he told Global News as he walked his pit bull Winston and his pit bull-shepherd mix Lucy through Point Pleasant Park in Halifax.

The FDA has released a list of 16 dog food brands it’s putting under the microscope for possible ties to a dangerous canine heart disease. The vast majority of those brands are marketed as grain-free or legume-heavy and are most frequently associated with canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

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READ MORE: Certain dog foods brands may be linked to increased risk of heart disease: FDA

DCM can cause heart failure in dogs, as the muscle wall of the heart thins and makes it difficult for the organ to pump blood. Symptoms include fatigue, weight loss and sudden collapse, but a trip to the veterinarian for the requisite heart test for a diagnosis can cost around $400.

Local experts, however, say there’s no reason to panic if you’ve been feeding your pooch a brand on the list. The issue at hand, they explain, is less about the brand itself but the ingredients they have in common.

“The biggest foods that are showing in this report, it’s not about brand, it’s about dry dog food or kibble,” said Jollytails Inc. co-owner Tristan Flynn.

“So if people are concerned, the best way to make sure your dog is getting the best food is to look at a raw diet.”

Karen Campbell, president of Totally Raw Pet Food, agreed.

“What I’d always recommend is, look at the ingredients and ask yourself if that’s something a carnivore should be consuming, and if it’s not, then maybe it’s time to move onto something more natural,” she said.

Totally Raw Pet Food president Karen Campbell urges pet owners to remember that dogs are carnivores.
Totally Raw Pet Food president Karen Campbell urges pet owners to remember that dogs are carnivores. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

READ MORE: Dog food sold in Canada recalled over potentially toxic vitamin D levels

Rodney Habib, pet food researcher and founder of Planet Paws, said many of the foods on the list are also bagged, rather than canned. If you must go with processed foods, he explained, opt for cans, add in some fresh food and switch up the brands often.

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Eggs are a personal favourite addition, he added.

“First and foremost, absolutely rotation is critical,” Habib said in an interview. “But try not to rotate within the same company or within the same formulations. Whether legumes are the issue right now or not, a lot of pet food formulators say to stay below 20 per cent use of those legumes into the diet.”

That means dog owners should look for a diverse ingredient list on the back of the package, he explained, rather than one that’s 50 per cent potato or tuber, for example.

None of the brands on the FDA’s list has been conclusively linked to DCM, and Habib said industry observers estimate the FDA could take up to five years to conclude its investigation.