TOPEKA, KAN. And BOSTON — Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Embark announced May 11 a partnership to study the genetic aspects of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs to determine which genes influence the progression of the canine heart disease. The research will aim to inform pet owners and the veterinary community on how to detect the disease earlier and support recovery.

The study is expected to be more robust than previous genetic research on DCM, which have involved between 10 and 100 dogs. Hill’s and Embark plan to include more than 1,000 pure and mixed breed dogs in their research.

"Hill's and Embark share a relentless commitment to pet wellbeing," said Dave Baloga, vice president of science and technology for Hill’s Pet Nutrition. "We have the scientific programs and capabilities necessary to undertake a data-driven study of this scope and depth to bring our understanding of the underlying factors of this disease to a new level, which could lead to early diagnostics and potential for improved nutritional interventions."

The study will account for several breeds including and in addition to those most likely to develop DCM, which are larger breeds such as Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds and English Cocker Spaniels.

"We created Embark to drive lifesaving canine research faster than previously possible," said Ryan Boyko, chief executive officer of Embark. "We are excited to work with the scientists at Hill's to discover new ways to address DCM in dogs and uncover the genetic basis for many other dog diseases and traits to improve and extend their lives.”

This follows a long-winded investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into a potential link between cases of DCM and grain-free dog foods. The agency first announced the investigation in July 2018, providing periodic updates but relying heavily on industry leaders to provide research on the disease and its alleged link to grain-free pet diets.

Since the FDA’s latest update on DCM in June 2019, several pet food companies named in the agency’s report have pointed out there is currently no causative evidence linking grain-free or legume-rich dog foods to the development of DCM.

During the 2019 Feed and Pet Food Joint Conference in the fall of 2019, Dr. Steven Solomon, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, answered questions about the agency’s ongoing surveillance of the DCM issue.

“…we’re trying to meet with the veterinary community, animal nutritionists, pet food companies and having discussions,” Solomon said. “We’ve had many of those discussions with PFI; we’re trying to find the right process to engage in those discussions… We’re looking to continue to expand the investigation, but I think there are opportunities for others to jump in and then share their scientific information and expertise.”

He also said it is possible that there are a “combination of genetic functions” related to the development of DCM, making it a complex issue.

Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Embark are currently seeking information from dog owners who have been clinically diagnosed with DCM. Pet owners who are interested in contributing to the study are encouraged to fill out a survey.

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