BOSTON (WHDH) - The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to a massive surge in puppy adoptions but veterinarians at the MSPCA’s Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston are sounding the alarm on specific dog food diets that have been linked to a type of fatal heart disease.

In 2018, the United States Food and Drug Administration launched an investigation to determine if there was a link between certain pet foods and Dilated Cardiomyopathy. Science is said to have found that a lack of grains in some specialty pet foods — as well as the addition of exotic, non-traditional ingredients to replace them — are putting pets at risk.

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MSPCA veterinarians are now warning pet owners to avoid foods lacking grains, such as rice, barley, and oats but heavy in exotic meats including kangaroo, lamb, buffalo, salmon, and venison.

“The theory was that [grain free] diets prevented dogs and cats from producing taurine, an essential nutrient for heart health in dogs,” Dr. Virginia Sinnott-Stutzman said in a news release. “Now we’re understanding that diets lacking grains as well as traditional proteins such as chicken and beef are likely contributing to the rise in heart disease.”

With many people using the recent COVID-19 lockdown as an opportunity to adopt and spend time with a new puppy, Sinnott-Stutzman says she has seen a worrisome trend: far too many puppies are being fed exotic diets, putting them at risk of the deadly condition.

“For many people, the new puppy acquired during the lockdown may be the first dog they’ve ever had, and it’s understandable that they’d want to feed their pet what they believe to be the most nutritious foods on the market,” Sinnott-Stutzman said.

Sinnott-Stutzman said that she also believes grain-free foods are often touted as healthier by specialty manufacturers, a dynamic that mirrors the popularization of grain-free diets embraced by some people.

Dr. Julia Lindholm, of Angell’s cardiology service, added, “Scientific research increasingly validates the necessity of some grains such as rice, barley, corn and oats in addition to traditional proteins such as chicken and beef. “The pet foods that lack these ingredients are often the same foods that include peas, lentils, potatoes, and exotic meat, which we believe are responsible for diet-related DCM.”

Sinnott-Stutzman and Lindholm are urging all pet owners to avoid exotic pet foods that are often produced in small batches and use meats such as rabbit and kangaroo, and include non-meat foods such as peas, lentils or potatoes as primary ingredients.

The MSPCA shared the following tips for pet owners to consider when picking out a food:

  • Only buy foods that include a label from The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) confirming that animal feeding tests, using AAFCO procedures, substantiate that the food provides complete and balanced nutrition.
  • Confirm that the food is appropriate for your pet’s specific life stage.
  • Stick to the proteins that are common in most pet foods: chicken and beef.

Sinnott-Stutzman and Lindholm also warned pet owners to refrain from feeding adult dog food to puppies and to avoid switching up protein sources because it can make it harder to manage allergies.

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