Dog Food Dangers: Is Grain-Free Food the Problem?

Clear the Shelters

The heartbreak of losing a family pet is coupled with guilt for a Ridgefield family. Lauren and Brad Lutrus believe the grain-free food they fed their 3-year-old dog Kilo contributed to his death.

“The best way to describe Kilo is just to say he was amazing,” Lauren said.

But Kilo’s health quickly deteriorated.

The Lutruses said they noticed Kilo seemed to have trouble breathing. At first, they thought it might be allergies.

“The signs were minimal and that was the problem,” Brad said.

By the time Brad got Kilo to the vet, he said the dog was much worse.

The vet told the Lutruses there was fluid around Kilo’s heart. They advised the family to take Kilo to an emergency veterinary hospital to be examined by a specialist.

“When the cardiologist diagnosed him he said, ‘from what I see here this looks like it’s food related from a grain-free diet,’” said Brad.

The vet diagnosed Kilo with Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), a condition in which the heart muscle weakens and loses its ability to pump blood.

After five nights at the vet hospital, Kilo’s heart couldn’t take anymore. The Lutruses tearfully said goodbye to their gentle giant.          

“I just remember thinking, no he’s 3. He can’t be in heart failure. He’s 3,” said Lauren.

The FDA is investigating a possible link between DCM and grain-free pet foods that contain a high proportion of peas, lentils, other legume seeds and/or potatoes. The agency named 16 brands of dog food that may be associated with an elevated risk of heart failure.

Between January 1, 2014, and April 30, 2019, the FDA received reports of DCM in 560 dogs, including 119 deaths. The agency also received reports involving 14 cats.

The FDA said large dog breeds including the Doberman pinscher and Great Dane are known to be genetically predisposed to DCM. Ninety-five of the cases reported to the FDA involved golden retrievers.

“The significance of this is unknown, but it may be that some cases are genetic in origin or a combination of diet and genetic tendencies,” the FDA report said.

A genetic test showed Kilo did not have an elevated risk of DCM.

The FDA is not telling dog owners to stop feeding grain-free food to their pets.

Nicole DeCrisantis, a pet nutritionist and owner of NorthPoint Pets & Company in Cheshire, said the FDA report did not come to a conclusive answer. She said there are many things that could increase the risk for DCM, like tick-borne diseases or obesity.

DeCristantis said finding the right diet for your pet is your responsibility.

“It’s all about asking questions and doing your research,” she said.

Lauren and Brad Lutrus wish they’d known about the potential risks when Kilo was still alive. They hope their story may help other pet owners.

“Talk to their vet, make the best decision about what food to use, maybe switch foods if they need to,” said Lauren.


The Pet Food Institute, which says its member companies make 98% of all U.S. Pet Food said, “A coalition of nutritionists, veterinarians and product safety specialists have convened within PFI to further study this issue and better understand whether there is a relationship between dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and diet. In addition, PFI supports maintaining a collaborative and communicative relationship with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) as the agency investigates this issue.”

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Clear The Shelters

Shelters near you

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) - Thousands of pets are looking for their forever homes and News Channel 8 is On Your Side helping to make that happen in the Tampa Bay area.

We are teaming up with hundreds of shelters across the country to host Clear the Shelters, a nationwide pet adoption drive from Aug. 1 through Aug. 31, featuring virtual pet adoptions to make it easy for people to donate online to participating shelters and rescues.

More than 150,000 pets found their forever homes since 2015 and we want to add to the number.

Find a shelter near you:

  • Pasco County Animal Services, 19640 Dogpatch Lane, Land O'Lakes
  • Paw Warriors, Inc., 355 Spring Time Street, Spring Hill
  • Pinellas County Animal Services, 12450 Ulmerton Road, Largo
  • Cat Haven Rescue, Inc, 1231 Bruce B. Downs Blvd, Wesley Chapel
  • Cat Haven Rescue, Inc - Pasco, 8529 Little Road, New Port Richey
  • SPCA Tampa Bay, 9099 130th Ave N, Largo
  • Bishop Animal Shelter SPCA of Manatee County, 5718 21st Ave West, Bradenton
  • Hernando County Animal Services, 19450 Oliver Street, Brooksville
  • SPCA Florida, 5850 Brannen Rd S, Lakeland
  • Barking Out Loud Rescues, Inc, 300 N Lake Drive, Lorida
  • Precious Paws Rescue, Inc., Citrus County Florida, 5164 S. Florida Avenue, Inverness
  • Humane Society of Pinellas, 3040 State Road 590, Clearwater
  • Hernando County SPCA, 9075 Grant St, Brooksville
  • St Francis Society, PO Box 261614, Tampa
  • Humane Society of Tampa Bay, 3607 N Armenia Avenue, Tampa
  • Rebels Rescue, Petco 136 S. West shore Blvd, Tampa
  • SPCA Suncoast, 7734 Congress Street, New Port Richey
  • Friends of Strays Animal Shelter, 2911 47th Avenue North, St. Petersburg
  • Florida English Bulldog Rescue, P.O. Box 754, Odessa
  • The Humane Society of Polk County, Inc, 3195 Dundee Rd, Winter Haven
  • The Humane Society of Sarasota County, 2331 15th Street, Sarasota
  • Hands Helping Paws Rescue Inc., 53 W Bay Blvd S, Lake Wales
  • Humane Society of Manatee County, 2515 14th Avenue W, Bradenton
  • Highlands County Sheriffs Animal Services, 7300 Haywood Taylor Blvd, Sebring
  • Manatee County Animal Services, 305 25th St W, Palmetto
  • SPCA Suncoast, 7734 Congress Street, New Port Richey
  • Citrus County Animal Services, 4030 S. Airport Rd, Inverness
  • St Francis Society, PO Box 261614, Tampa
  • SPCA Tampa Bay, 9099 130th Ave N, Largo
  • Polk County Sheriff's Office Animal Control, 7115 De Castro Rd, Winter Haven
  • The Greener Side Haven, Inc., 3892 N Lecanto Hwy, Beverly Hills
  • Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch, 26920 Gopher Hill Road, Myakka City

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