Managing Pet Health Information: A Lesson from DCM Issues Related to New Pet Foods

Posted by Positive Impressions on Apr 9th 2020

In a perfect world, pet owners could get all the health care information on their pet straight from their veterinarian. However, news and online communities also play a role in informing clients for better or worse. How can you get the word out while keeping your clients from panicking? Let’s look at the recent spike in health problems related to grain-free and boutique dog food.


Over the past decade, there have been increased diagnoses of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs with a major spike starting in 2018. Scientists studying this uptick have noticed a correlation between this disease and pets on a “boutique, exotic ingredient and grain free” or “BEG” diet.

The Clinic View

This problem first came to light when Dr. Joshua Stern, a cardiologist at UC Davis, noticed an increase in DCM cases in Golden Retrievers. He talked to some people working on the Morris Animal Foundation Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, and they noticed a similar increase in diagnoses. After reaching out to other cardiologist, they found that disease rates were higher across all breeds. This kicked off an investigation by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN).

Studies began in July 2018 with an update a year later. 320 cases were reported to the FDA in 2018. However, these cases only include animals diagnosed by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist by echocardiogram. Since few owners are going to be able to get or afford this test, actual numbers may be much higher.

The FDA says there’s a reporting bias for some breeds including Golden Retrievers. This probably stems from information being passed around in communities built around these breeds. However, the number of cases may be higher due to the breed’s disposition for taurine deficiency. Reports are coming in for DCM both related to taurine deficiency and with no known cause for breeds that rarely have this disease.

Of the diets of diagnosed animals, 90% of food was labeled “grain free” and 93% contained peas and/or lentils. There was no dominant protein component related to this diet, with diagnosed dogs being fed everything from chicken to kangaroo. Nutritionally, the grain and grain free brands that were tested had similar nutrient content, including taurine.

The FDA is working with food producers to find any possible causes in manufacturing and ingredients, while also doing research on dogs to find a possible culprit. At this point, the agency thinks there may be multiple factors involved.

The Pet Owner View

A problem like diet-related DCM may be in the back of the minds of everyone involved in pet health care. However, the average pet owner goes through periods of knowing or not knowing about it. The media reported on the problem when the FDA announced their research, and again when they announced the first results last year. Some clients may be thrown into a panic during these reports, while the rest of the time, they’re unaware of the problem. Meanwhile, clients who are involved in pet groups may hear about this issue from fellow members.

Sometimes, not being too concerned can be worse than having unsupported fears. The cost of treatment can cause clients to delay treatment if there’s a problem, and it makes them less likely to consult a professional. That means they rely on outside sources, for better or worse. Worse still, both pet enthusiasts and the media push to come up with a solution without consulting health care professionals.

Allaying Client Fears While Protecting Pet Health

While client concern runs hot and cold, there are ways you can help direct them toward actions that will protect their pets:

- Remind clients about the information they need before they come in for a visit. They may have trouble remembering what they feed their pet when they're in the office. Asking ahead of time lets them write down what they have at home.
- Steer clients toward accredited veterinary sources. Who should they call if they have questions after hours? Are there sites from accredited veterinary sources that you feel you can recommend? Should you start a blog to cover questions that are frequently asked at your clinic? The better the information is that they access, the more likely they’ll take the right course of action.
- Make sure your clients know how to contact you. Include clear, up-to-date information on everything you give clients, including reminder cards, business cards and medical information. Promotional items like magnetic business cards and collars are also a good idea, since they’ll be around long after clinic documents are filed away.

Keep Your Clients In the Loop

Positive Impressions, LLC has everything you need to stay in contact with your clients. From appointment reminders to medication labels, we can custom print products with the designs and information you want for your business. Check out our website or visit us on Facebook to see our current specials.

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