MANHATTAN, KAN. — On Sept. 29, scientific experts from academia, industry and veterinary medicine came together to participate virtually in a scientific forum hosted by Kansas State University (KSU) examining potential causes of non-hereditary canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued what the agency referred to as an “inflection point” Nov. 3, in which the FDA confirmed it has no definitive information indicating that certain diets are inherently unsafe. Specifically, the statement issued from the FDA said the agency “has not taken regulatory action against or declared any specific pet food products unsafe or definitively linked to DCM.”

During his opening remarks at the symposium, Dr. Steven Solomon, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), acknowledged that the “complex scientific messaging” on DCM and diet has contributed to misinterpretation about the safety of a grain-free diet.

“What we at CVM have learned since these cases first started coming to our attention is that DCM is a scientifically complex, multifaceted issue,” Solomon said. “… And I want to be clear: we at CVM currently do not view this as a regulatory issue. We have not requested any recalls. We have not taken any compliance or enforcement activity.”

Leading pet food brands welcomed the FDA’s clarification indicating there is no known causal relationship between diet, specifically grain-free foods, and canine heart disease.

In a statement issued by Canadian-based Champion Petfoods, Chief Executive Officer Blaine McPeak said, “The agency’s latest remarks and findings on DCM confirm that a grain-free diet provides safe and healthy nutrition, and that the risk factors for DCM relate to the dog’s unique health situation. Evidence shows that the absence of grains in a dog’s diet is not linked to the development of DCM, as the presence of grains in a dog’s diet does not prevent against DCM. We hope this brings clarity to pet lovers and gives them the confidence and trust to select the best diet for their dogs."

Researchers from BSM Partners, Bentonville, Ark., an independent pet food consulting firm, in collaboration with Dr. Stacey Leach, a veterinary cardiologist at the University of Missouri, presented new data on DCM and grain-free dog food at the forum. Based on data from more than 67,000 canine DCM patients received from 14 different cardiology practices, the researchers found the data did not support a significant change in DCM incidence over time, nor a correlation with grain-free pet food sales.

According to their research, the average incidence rate of DCM from 2000 to 2019 was 3.83% (between 2.41% and 5.65%), meanwhile grain-free pet food sales from 2011 to 2019 increased 500%. A paper that includes this data has been submitted to a scientific journal for peer-review.

Speaking for its members who manufacture pet food and treats in the United States, Pet Food Institute said in a statement Nov. 4 its members are “devoting thousands of hours to improving our understanding of DCM and its causes, all with the goal of advancing pet well-being.”

The FDA said it is grateful for the significant efforts of experts in academia, the veterinarian community and industry to advance the science of pet nutrition. The agency hopes additional, future studies will aid in the further understanding of nutrition and overall pet health.

Many of the abstracts and presentations from the KSU Scientific Forum Exploring Causes of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs are available on the university’s website.

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