By Don Hanson, PCBC-A, BFRAP
A note from Don - I have summarized 4.5 years of research on this topic and included facts and my opinions in this column. If you wish to review the data and publications I have used to develop those opinions, I encourage you to read the expanded version of this article on my blog at https://forcefreepets.com/blog/, where I have included all of the citations and links to the various documents I refer to in this article.
There is NO scientific evidence to support the claim that feeding your dog grain-free or BEG diets puts them at increased risk for dilated cardiomyopathy, according to an update on the FDA website on Friday, December 23. 2022.
This is excellent news! People can now feed their pets a grain-free or BEG diet without fear. However, it is also tragic news, as how this investigation was handled was a travesty.
The FDA investigation announced on July 18, 2018, was interpreted by many to conclude that grain-free and BEG pet food were harmful. Unfortunately, the FDA and others involved did not attempt to correct this misinterpretation. While we do not know the exact motivation behind this investigation, an article by 110r.org revealed an email sent to the FDA in June of 2018 by Dr. Lisa Freeman, a Veterinary Nutritionist at Tufts University. That email indicates Dr. Freeman's intent. She requested that veterinarians report cases of DCM to the FDA "If patient is eating any diet besides those made by well-known, reputable companies or if eating a boutique, exotic ingredient, or grain-free (BEG) diet."
Dr. Freeman’s email troubles me. Excluding diets made by what Freeman calls "reputable companies" is poor science. A scientific study would look at food from all manufacturers. Her email also suggests that, at least to Freeman, this investigation goes beyond grain-free foods to foods that include non-traditional animal proteins and foods she has labeled as BEG diets.
Dr. Freeman fails to define "reputable companies." However, an article authored by Dr. Freeman in JAVMA in December of 2018 indicates both Nestlé Purina PetCare and Royal Canin have funded her research. Therefore, I believe it is fair to conclude that they are “reputable” companies she has pre-judged as innocent. Why the bias against the small, independent pet food companies?
The FDA and the veterinarians that initiated this “investigation” were not the only ones complicit in this farce. The national and local news media latched on to the FDA announcements like flies on dog feces. Without fact-checking and an apparent presumptive and undeserving trust of the FDA and Tufts University, the media reported the story, never asking critical questions.
From the beginning, many in the veterinary community were singing from the FDA/Freeman hymnal, proselytizing that ignorant pet parents must avoid feeding BEG diets and should only use food made by "reputable companies." Unfortunately, some veterinarians and their staff were circulating these exact words created by Freeman in person and on their websites. Veterinarians are supposed to be scientists, but many acted like sheep in this case.
In the summer of 2022, Did Industry Funding Influence an FDA Investigation into Canine Heart Disease and Grain-Free Dog Food? by Helen Santoro was published by 100r.org and the Associated Press. An incredible work of investigative reporting, Santoro raises serious questions about the FDA, the veterinarians who initiated this investigation, and the pet food companies themselves. If you care about what you feed your pet, I recommend you read Santoro’s entire article.
On Friday, December 23, 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicated that it is ending updates on its four-and-a-half-year investigation into dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and grain-free pet food because the data does not support its previous assertion that the feeding of grain-free pet foods causes DCM. As stated by Debbie Philllips-Donaldson of PetFoodIndustry.com: “It’s a classic PR tactic: releasing less-than-positive news on a Friday in hopes it will go unnoticed leading into the weekend.” In the case of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) announcement that it is ending updates on its dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)/grain-free pet food investigation “unless there is meaningful new scientific information to share, the news came out the Friday before Christmas, effectively burying it over the long holiday weekend and season.” Let’s hope that the news media and the veterinary community are not as complicit in burying this debacle as they were in promoting it.
I believe in science. It can be the epitome of knowledge when it's not biased by personal ambition or profit, but science is not infallible. Sadly, big businesses can and have suppressed or twisted science (tobacco, sugar, oxycodone, DCM, and grain-free dog food?) for financial gain throughout history. In this case, those who presented false claims about specific types of pet food without first having scientific evidence to support their claims have disgraced themselves and their profession. Moreover, they have given us ample reason to mistrust and doubt them for a very long time.
Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) and the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), serving on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairing the Advocacy Committee. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast, available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/, the Apple Podcast app, and Don's blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.
©14JAN23, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved