Mixed Results from Reaching Out to Pet Food Companies About DCM

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Long-time WDJ contributor Mary Straus and I are working on some articles about the cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy that have been discussed in every dog-related setting for many months now. One of the next issues of WDJ will contain the first of the pieces that we have been collaborating on. But I just thought I would share something interesting that I noticed in the process of gathering information from various pet food companies.

We wanted to see what sort of response a consumer might get from writing to pet food companies about a problem with their foods. We went to the websites of 39 pet food companies and looked for email addresses to send a note to, and found, to our surprise, that only seven listed any kind of email address. Instead, the majority of companies offer a web form for consumers to fill out – you know, the kind of thing where you fill in your name, email address, perhaps phone number, and then a comment/question, and then hit “submit.”

Why did I find this interesting? Because it leaves the consumer with no way to prove they had ever sent a letter or question to the company! Or provide them with a dated copy of the letter or question they sent!

My letter to pet food companies

This is the letter I sent to the 39 companies:

“Hello, I am trying to gather information about the response of pet food companies to the FDA’s announcements/updates about the apparent increase in cases of canine DCM, especially in dogs who have been fed diets containing peas and other legumes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Your company was among those whose products were named in reports to the FDA by consumers as being potentially implicated in their dogs’ disease.

Would you please tell me if or how your company has chosen to respond to the news of this issue?  Have you made any changes to any of your formulas? If so, what were those changes, and to which/how many of your products?

If you have not made any changes to your formulas, could you explain your justification for this?

If you have already released a pertinent response, could you please direct me to or send me a copy of that statement?”

Responses to my inqueries

I received responses from 25 of the 39 companies. Now, take this with a grain of salt, because I made a custom email address for the companies to respond to, and it’s possible that at least some of the companies wrote back because the email address clearly identified the inquiry I sent them as being from Whole Dog Journal (InquiryFromWholeDogJournal@gmail.com). Also, within a few days, five companies sent me personalized responses, based on the fact that my inquiry had been forwarded to someone at the company that knew me, either from manufacturing site tours or meetings at pet product trade shows or something.

Also, I received phone calls from representatives of three companies, each of whom I had met personally at some point in the past. My cell phone number was present in the letter I sent to each company, but only people with whom I had spoken in years past actually called me to discuss the letter I sent.

I received what appeared to be automatically generated responses from 24 companies – the kind of email that says, “We got your note, we’ll get back to you within 48 hours (or some such).” And like I said, one company’s representative called me right away, and two more called me within a few days, and about five more responded within days with a personalized response. But two weeks later, six of the companies who responded with these automatic responses still have not gotten back to me. At least (most of them) provided toll-free phone numbers to call if I was interested in getting a quicker response.

Of the 19 companies whose responses I have not yet described, a few were so generic as to be completely useless, or suggested that I call the company instead. For example:

“We would be happy to speak to you about this matter… Our Customer Care Specialists may be reached at 888-XXX-XXXX.”

How about this one? It sounds like the company is addressing my inquiry, because it uses some of the same words in my inquiry, but it doesn’t answer anything I asked! “We appreciate you bringing your concern regarding the canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy and we are happy to answer your inquiry. Please know that as a leader in pet nutrition, we stand behind the safety and quality of all our foods and meet or exceed every major food quality and safety standard including those issued by the FDA, USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and AAFCO. We also have not been contacted by the FDA regarding any cases involving our products.” (The response was longer, but didn’t address any of the questions that I asked.)

By the way, of the three companies whose representatives (including two company owners) who called me in response to my inquiry, none had spoken with anyone from the FDA regarding the cases of DCM that had reportedly implicated or mentioned their products. The two company owners I spoke with told me that they had tried to reach someone at the FDA, but had zero success.

I’m happy to report that a few companies did respond directly to my questions. The rest tended to refer me to statements on the company websites that they had already prepared in response to the issue well ahead of my inquiry. Those statements, of course, don’t necessarily answer my questions directly.

Try It Yourself

I’ll be trying to reach the companies again via their toll-free numbers and will report on whether that effort is more or less successful.

I will admit a bias toward companies that have phone numbers on their labels and websites and email addresses on at least their websites, to make it as easy as possible for consumers to reach them in case of a dog food-related health issue. And of course, my bias is even stronger toward companies who are staffed with knowledgeable people who can respond appropriately and directly to inquiries in a timely manner. Don’t assume for a second that this rules out all the so-called boutique pet food companies, or qualifies all the giant pet food stalwarts.

Try it yourself! Write to or call your favorite dog food company and ask something simple, such as “Have you always included taurine as a supplement in your dog diets? Do you do so now?” or “Can you tell me how much taurine, or cysteine and methionine, is in (name of food you feed your dog)?”

If you ask the latter question – and they have an answer! – make sure you ask also whether the amount is expressed “as fed” or on a “dry matter basis.”

Let us know how it goes!

69 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Nancy,
    I haven’t had to call companies regarding DCM but have called or emailed the following companies regarding zinc % in their food and other components while trying to find an appropriate diet for my liver diseased dog so that I could discuss with her Internal Medicine specialist. All three responded either the same day or the next with the info I needed and also replied immediately when I had additional questions about their response: Nulo, Wellness, Natural Balance.

    Thanks for all your great articles and blogs on timely issues!

    Nannette

  2. I reached out to Fromm, the main brand I feed our 3 dogs, a couple months ago. They called me back directly almost immediately and spent a full hour on the phone with me.
    The whole thing was getting upsetting; I was so happy with what we had been feeding – and so were they – but out of an abundance of caution, I had decided to switch. The customer service consultant talked me through Taurine contents and was not the least bit defensive (they have been very firyhcoming about all this.)
    She identified grain-containing foods that fit my needs and I chose two of those after discussing options. She asked many questions and calculated (with pen and paper) the amount I should feed each of the dogs at each meal based on individual weight, activity level, size and breed – for each of the two food varieties chosen! (They were different.)
    She shared how that was determined, too.
    I could not have been more impressed and it has been working out very well!

    • I, too, called Fromm, and received a personal response from the owner of the company. I chose FROMM food because it has good healthy grains (not corn!) and also contains Taurine. I believe this brand has great integrity, and I continue to order their food, because our 9 month old Great Pyrenees mix is thriving on it. Our vet says that grain should not be avoided, that grain-free is a marketing fad that has no scientific basis as being healthier for our pets, unless the dog is allergic to a certain grain. Then, of course, you don’t feed it that grain.

  3. I have reached out to Nutri Source and Petcurean about the DCM controversy. I received emails and personal phone calls. They were very helpful answered all my questions. They were very knowledgeable on the subject and had great suggestions.

    • What did Petcurian have to say, particularly since they primarily are a grain free pet food manufacturer?

      If you read their response to the DCM issue on their website, it has the tone of defensiveness about their grain free products.

      I switched my dog to a grain food kibble (Dr Gary’s Best of Breed) from her previous food which was Petcurian “Now”.

  4. In reading the comments to this article, I’m delighted to hear that companies are responding quickly and thoroughly to normal consumers. This was a very helpful article, Nancy! I just wanted to point out that the beginning of your article states you wanted to know what kind of response consumers would get if they contacted pet food companies about this issue; however, ‘normal’ consumers likely won’t have the companies’ presidents responding to our inquiries. The data would far more accurately reflect ‘real life’ consumer experiences if you were to use a fake name and an email address that didn’t display Whole Dog Journal. That being said, the article was very helpful.

  5. I appreciate your attempts to get information. However, there were a very small number of dogs affected and there has, as far as I know, been no evidence-based determination as to what caused the DCM. So I would not be surprised if most of the companies are not making ingredient changes until more is known. That doesn’t mean they are bad companies (maybe only their customer service side!). It takes time to develop a safe, effective product, and if changes were made as a knee-jerk reaction, the result could be worse than what they are making now–if, indeed, there is a problem with that company’s food.

    • Hi Amy,
      Not so sure I agree that only a small number of dogs are affected. I would be more prone to say this is just the beginning. For example my 9 year old Golden was running and playing on Dec 16 2017 and died suddenly on Dec 17 2017. They did an ultrasound and it was definitely heart related. I never took it any further. He was fed Orijen Original grain free his entire life. Now I believe it was DCM. I’m sure there are many others like me who thought they were doing the very best for their pets.

      • Yes Connie. My Oreo was diagnosed in January 2019 and was on 5 different medications and I changed the food I feed to Purina ProPlan. Each follow up appointment showed improvement. Until she ran around the yard 1 time on August 24 and died immediately at my feet when her heart suddenly stopped. Now, September 24, 2019 my other 2 dogs have been diagnosed. The statement that says a very small number of dogs have been affected is absolutely incorrect! What that should say is a very small number of people have actually REPORTED the problem. This is a huge problem . I did contact the food company that I fed and they told me the whole issue is a myth and there is nothing wrong with their food. I will do everything I can to make people see the light on this issue as I cannot stand the fact that I lost my 5 year girl to DCM and my 9 year old and other 5 year old are both on medication to try to save their lives.

        • How very sad to loose your dogs . My heart goes out to you. And I think you are accurate in leading to the cause as you had 3 dogs eating the same food.
          I believe I too lost my 7-8 y/o lovely Golden girl suddenly after only being fed grain-free dog kibble all her life. Thinking that our Goldens have such a high rate of cancer, and once diagnosed, are put in grain-free food-I thought getting ahead of that by solely feeding grain free would be prophylactic . Dog nutrition is highly complex. We consumers need great transparency and attentive prompt response from the Dogfood companies.
          I’m very impressed w/Nancy’s efforts in all our behalf. Again, my deep regrets for your very sad losses. ❤️🐾🐾

        • My dog went into congestive heart failure due to DCM. He was eating Acana grain free. He is now in a grain free study at Tufts University. Acana was defensive on the phone.
          It is now known that taurine is not the culprit. I too am telling everyone I know that unless your dog has a true grain allergy do not feed grain free.

    • Amy, I agree with Carol about the number of dogs impacted by DCM – the number may be much higher than now estimated. I switched foods immediately when I first learned about DCM (1 1/2 or 2 years ago). Just this month, I pestered my vet enough to get my Golden to a cardiologist…DCM, slight to moderate. The diagnosis came after $1300 worth of tests. I am lucky to have the funds to pursue the testing. Often I wonder how many people cannot/will not find out about their dog’s heart because of the expense.

      • so…your dog was doing great on a good high quality grain-free I’m sure, you switch foods and 2 years later you want a test – yup blame it on the prior food, not the food the dog is on now. No matter so many people find this DCM thing doesn’t pass the “smell” test

  6. Here’s the response I got from Champion foods:
    Thank you for contacting us with your concern regarding the FDA bulletin, I can understand that you may have questions.

    The FDA announced on July 12, 2018, that they are investigating a potential link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a type of heart disease, and grain-free diets rich in potatoes or legumes such as peas and lentils.

    Pet Lovers at this time can be comforted that the FDA has not contacted Champion Petfoods in connection to its investigation into DCM. Champion Petfoods has no scientific evidence that dogs eating any of our pet foods would be susceptible to DCM as the result of solely eating our products.

    It is important to note that DCM can be caused by many different factors, including a genetic pre-disposition, but there has not been any conclusive scientific evidence that links DCM to grain-free diets.

    ACANA and ORIJEN are formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles for all life stages. Cysteine and methionine content are available for taurine production in the dog’s body, and therefore taurine is not an essential amino acid for dogs. Taurine itself is naturally present from the meat ingredients we include in the food, we never have to supplement our ORIJEN or ACANA foods with synthetic amino acids.

    Champion Petfoods has worked hard to earn the trust of Pet Lovers, and we will continue to keep the health and safety of your pets first and foremost.

    If you have any other questions or I can be of further assistance please do write back.

    Warm Regards,
    Signed by one of the Customer Care representatives

    • Just like professional/everyday athletic types, out running and doing whatever they do est, and next thing you know, they keel over. Find out they had a heart attack. We don’t always get the answers we need/want in that regard as well.

  7. I have fed Fromm for over ten years.
    My oldest dog started having renal problems and needed to go on a prescription diet. Her breed is known to have renal problems and she is now 13.
    However, had the problem not occurred I would still be feeding Fromm.
    My dogs have always had the best coats when using their foods and I like the variety they offer. I know I will use Fromm for my other dog and any future dogs.
    I was shocked they were on the list and not surprised they immediately reached out to their customers who inquired. I think the FDA has done a disservice to some of these companies.

  8. The truth about pet food website addresses some of these same issues with getting dog food companies to respond. Amy Howton. You say that very small number of dogs have been affected but where is your data. Not to get you defensive but many pet owners report problems to companies and it is swept under the rug and is reported as small numbers instead. I am not sure what you have read but if you read the internet and the truth about pet food website which is funded by pet owners only , you will see there is a lot of corruption and foul play when it comes to dog food. Yes it does take time for dog food companies to change formulas but most will not do it anyway as it would cost them money to use real ingredients that would not make our dogs sick.

  9. On the truth about pet food website, you can pay $10 for a list of dog foods that Susan has researched that she feels she would feel comfortable feeding to her pets. She gives the reasons why. I do not use kibble (I feed raw) but I have found that with certain dogs I have had to feed kibble to at various times of their lives for one reason or another so I use her list. Most kibble including Orijen that I have used in the past now use canola oil (which is rapeseed and GMO) or they use flax seed in their ingredients which dogs cannot process the best. I used to use Fromm but I see it is not on the list for 2019.

    • I recently went to a vet nutritionist who completely trusted Annamaet and Honest Kitchen as being balanced healthy and completely user friendly. I know that Annamaet has feeding trials far stricter than AAFCO and Rob Downey, the founder, a sprint musher who was taught under Dr Kromfeld (sp?) at UPenn Rob Downey has articles at :http://www.annamaet.com/
      but the following addresses