Popular type of dog food potentially killing otherwise healthy dogs, vet says

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Dogs are getting sick. Some are even dying. Veterinarians said their dog food may be to blame. The dogs develop a heart disease that vets have linked to their diet. Now the FDA is involved.

These dog owners thought they were going above and beyond for their pets by feeding them expensive, specialty foods. But one Mid-South vet told FOX13 the foods aren’t making dogs healthier, they’re potentially killing them.

Melissa Lunsford rescued her Lab/Golden mix, Huck ten years ago. Huck has a lot of allergies, so Lunsford knew he was going to need special food. She decided to go with a grain-free diet.

"I researched food for three months: where it was manufactured, the way they processed it, where it came from, how long they’ve been in business,” said Lunsford.

The grain-free dog food trend came about around the same time that people began going gluten-free. Lunsford says she was blindsided when the FDA announced it was investigating a link between dog deaths and grain-free food.

"It was very shocking to hear that even though I had done a lot of research trying to help him, it actually was harmful to him."

The investigation came about after hundreds of dogs on a specialty diet were diagnosed with DCM - or Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

"At this point, we don’t know what it is in the grain-free foods that are causing this cardiomyopathy that is showing up,” said Dr. Carr Kelsey, of Kelsey Canine Medical Clinic. He is Huck’s vet. He said DCM was something they kept an eye out for in giant breeds, like Great Danes and Newfoundlands, but was turning up in other breeds. The common connection was a grain-free diet.

"The dogs would start to be slower, more lethargic, might start coughing. They’re pretty subtle signs, at least initially, until it really progresses. They do eventually get congestive heart failure and pass away from that,” Kelsey explained.

The food in question is sold by several different brands.

The FDA has not asked manufacturers to make any changes as they investigate, but they are asking vets and pet owners to report any cases of DCM that may be connected to diet.

Lunsford said she’s grateful they made the switch before Huck showed any signs of DCM.

"I think marketing has a lot to do with it, so don’t get sucked in to what you think the ‘new thing’ is. Research it and make sure it’s the right thing for you and your pet,” she said finally.

Dr. Kelsey suggests dog owners speak with the vet before making the switch to or from grain-free food.

If you notice the symptoms in your dog, contact your veterinarian immediately.