“This became such an emotional issue,” said Dana Brooks, CEO of the Pet Food Institute, whose members produce most pet foods in the U.S. “We’re scrambling to try to even determine what’s going on.”
Cause for concern
Grain-free pet diets became popular in the early 2000s, relying heavily on pulses — seeds from legume plants including peas, beans and lentils. By 2019, grain-free kibble represented 43 percent of dry pet foods sold.
Until 2017, the FDA saw one to three reports of DCM annually. But between Jan. 1 and July 10, 2018, it received 25 cases. Seven reports came from a single source, animal nutritionist Lisa Freeman from Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, an FDA spokesperson said. FDA records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, however, indicate those reports may not have been fully representative of cases seen at the Tufts clinic.
In a June 2018 email to FDA veterinary medical officer Jennifer Jones, Freeman attached a document instructing vets to report cases 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 diet.”
When asked if this could be perceived as cherry-picking data that would shape the inquiry, Freeman stated through Tufts media relations: “The protocol in that email was developed for and intended to help veterinary cardiologists in the early stages of the investigation into potential associations between diet and dilated cardiomyopathy.”