Local dog one of hundreds sickened by grain free food

Special Reports

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Our pets are a part of the family, and that means we all want to give them the best food available. Within the last year, though, a certain type of dog food has led to a potentially dangerous health defect in some dogs. It’s a trendy diet that one local dog owner said ended up hurting his dog.  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now investigating hundreds of cases linked to the grain free diets. Eric O’Brien’s dog, Mae, ended up being one of the lucky ones. At 11-years-old, she remains the heart of her family.

“She’s our first family dog. We’ve never had any major issues with her,” O’Brien said.

A healthy pet by all accounts until he noticed Mae had developed a persistent cough two years ago.

“We had a couple of cases where she lost consciousness when we were walking her,” he explained.

Mae’s vet at the time diagnosed her with an upper respiratory infection, but things were not improving with medication.  Eventually, the O’Briens found themselves in the office of veterinary cardiologist Dr. Cassidy Sedacca at Upstate Veterinary Specialties.

“She came in with symptoms of congestive heart failure, so fluid in the lungs,” Dr. Sedacca explained.

He diagnosed her with dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM. Simply put, her little heart was not pumping properly.

“You can see how poorly contracting the muscle is; it is barely moving,” Dr. Sedacca pointed out in her echo cardiogram.

“He didn’t know how this was going to go, and we knew it was pretty serious.  We were pretty nervous about it,” O’Brien remembered.

Mae was put on a series of medications to treat her DCM. It was around this time that the FDA started investigating hundreds of cases of DCM and a possible link between certain pet foods marketed as grain free.

“It was at that appointment where he asked us what her diet was,” O’Brien recalled.

And Dr. Sedacca discovered that she was on a grain free diet.

“When she was younger, she had some minor issues with itching and scratching, so we picked a food that didn’t have chicken and rice, and it just happened to be grain free,” O’Brien said.

Dr. Sedacca explained the problem, “One of the theories behind it is, yes, there’s not grain in these diets but the grain is being replaced by all these other plant based proteins. The first ingredient may be chicken or venison, but if you add up plant based protein, there is actually more plant based protein than animal protein, and that’s a diet for a vegetarian, which is not what a dog is. Dogs are omnivores.”

Some of the popular dog brands reported to the FDA in DCM cases include but aren’t limited to:

  • ACANA
  • Taste of the Wild
  • Natural Balance
  • Rachel Ray’s Nutrish

More than 90 percent of those products were labeled grain free, and 93 percent had peas or lentils.

“When Dr. Sedacca told us to switch her diet to one that wasn’t grain free we didn’t expect too much cause, you know, she’s not a young dog,” O’Brien said.

But just a few months after the switch, her heart dramatically improved.

“Now look at the heart right there,” Dr. Sedacca pointed out. “How vigorous and nice that contraction is.”

O’Brien expressed, “Really is pretty dramatic improvement. We were frankly shocked.”

In fact, Mae is doing so well she is off most of her heart medication, and now she’s back to leading the O’Brien pack.

“If it’s recognized, and you switch their diets in most instances, you can have complete reversal to all changes to the heart.”

Click HERE to read to the FDA’s full report of DCM linked to grain free diets.

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