COLORADO — When Gurney Sloan took his 4 year-old Brittany dog, Edie in for a canine anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery, he assumed the dog would make it out just fine. The surgery is common among dogs.
What happened during the surgery, is something he and his wife didn't see coming.
"She was an energetic, healthy fit, dog," Sloan said, "The vet put her under, and instantly her heart stopped, and he couldn't bring her back."
As it turned out, Edie had a condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) - where the heart expands, preventing blood flow.
"We're seeing this disease, which we used to see on occasion in certain breeds, we're seeing dilated cardiomyopathy in other breeds that we haven't seen in the past," Dr. Brian Scansen, Associate Professor of Cardiology at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
In the last few years, researchers have noted a possible link between the heart condition and grain free dog food, and in breeds, like Brittanys that typically don't get the disease.
"It was devastating of course, our dogs are our life," Sloan said.
That devastation is something veterinarians and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are trying to figure out how to avoid in the future.
"Any dog eating any diet needs to be balanced and appropriately formulated, that means sources of carbohydrates, sources of protein, sources of fat, and appropriate nutrients," Scansen said.
The FDA recently released a list with 16 dog food brands associated with the more than 500 reported cases of DCM. The same report also noted an increase in cases with Golden Retrievers, typically these cases have been associated with Dobermans, Boxers, and Great Danes.
The Brands Named in the report are as follows: Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature's Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature's Variety, NutriSource, Nutro, Rachel Ray Nutrish
"I think that's what really clued everybody in to there being an issue is that we were seeing more of these cases in animals that normally wouldn't have had that problem," Dr. Kevin Lisenbee, a veterinarian with Northwest Animal Hospital Pet Care Center in Colorado Springs said. Lisenbee says he's having more discussions with pet owners about diet in the last few years and letting them know about these recent reports with the FDA.
The report isn't being met without some skepticism.
"They did this study on over 500 dogs and we have 70 million pets out there," Tracy Brookham said, who runs a pet store- Furry Friends Inc. with her mom in Colorado Springs. The company also manufactures its own dog food for people to buy.
Brookham says many customers come in asking questions about grain-free foods, and says most of the time the customers see benefits. Those benefits are something veterinarians don't always agree on.
"Grain free really started emerging when we learned that ingredients such as wheat, corn , and soy were creating these really horrific allergies for our pets," Brookham said, "there's a lot of research and a lot of unknowns that are happening right now."
Veterinarians say with many of the symptoms of DCM not showing up until later, the best thing to do is to check with your vet about what you're feeding your dog and go from there.