Reduced Service: Seeing Sick Patients Only

The situation is very fluid. Please check this post or our Facebook page for updates.

Last updated March 17.

With recent developments in COVID-19, Medical District Veterinary Clinic is implementing reduced service in order to keep our staff, clients, and community safe. (Remember, your pets are not at risk from COVID-19, but having people bringing their pets to a public place increases the risks for people.)

We will continue to see SICK patients only; wellness and routine procedures will be postponed.

If your pet is due for a crucial vaccine, such as rabies, and your pet goes to daycare or boarding, please contact us to find out if an exception can be made.
If you have a fever, cough, sore throat, or possible exposure to COVID-19, please do not come to the clinic. Arrange for someone else to bring your sick pet to see us.
Stay safe! We all need to work together—but at least 6 feet apart—to implement these public health measures.

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation! We have the best clients in Chicago! ♥

Preparing Your 4-Legged Baby to Meet Your 2-Legged Baby

[Emmie watches her mom write this blog]

There will always be room in Dr. Kritzman’s heart for Emmie, but the space between the baby and the keyboard was getting pretty tight as she wrote this blog.

Our dog Emmie has been spending a lot of time in the nursery. It could be because she knows that she’s about to become a big sister. Or she just enjoys having a whole room with great sunlight to herself (for now).

We all wish—and often expect—that our pets will take to new members of the family easily. We love them, we love our kids, so they should love each other! But adding a new family member that doesn’t do much besides cry (initially) and take away precious belly-rub time can be a huge stressor for our pets.

If you’re like me, you’ve imagined that your pup will be like Nana from Peter Pan. I’ve even had to stop myself from buying that cute hat on Amazon multiple times, because it’s not fair to expect every pet to not only love but like a new baby or child in the family.

It’s a big change. So as I’m counting down the days until our little lady arrives, I thought I’d share just a few tidbits about how to prepare our pets medically and behaviorally for a new arrival.

The Medical

There aren’t many diseases to worry about transmitting from dog or cat to baby, but there are a few you should know about. They are all easily minimized, if not eliminated, with the appropriate care and prevention.

The first are intestinal parasites. Hookworms and roundworms that dogs carry can potentially carry can be spread when exposed skin comes into contact with the larva of these worms or the larva is ingested. The worms grow and can live in the skin or sometimes eye. So it’s important to keep your dogs on a heartworm preventive medication that also covers intestinal parasites. These are monthly preventatives for your dog such as Heartgard Plus or Sentinel Spectrum.

Toxoplasmosis also gets a lot of attention when expectant mothers live with feline family members. Toxoplasmosis is actually pretty difficult to get from cats. You’re more likely to get toxoplasmosis from undercooked pork or contaminated water than from your cat. Cats get toxoplasmosis from eating infected wildlife, so for most indoor-only domestic felines, the likelihood is very low. To play it safe, follow a few simple rules:

  • Clean the litter box once a day: it takes longer than 24 hours sitting in stool for toxoplasmosis to become infectious, so if you scoop once a day or more, it shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Keep your cat indoor only: if they can’t eat infected wildlife, they can’t get toxoplasmosis.
  • Avoid feeding your cat a raw diet: again, no infected meat consumption, no problem.
  • Have another family member or friend clean out the litter box once daily. (You might already be doing that if you were averse to smells as much as I was in my first trimester!)

If you are concerned about your possible exposure risk to toxoplasmosis, be sure to speak to your own physician about testing.

Changes in the Home

There are so many changes that come with a baby. Our little lady isn’t even here yet, and our house already feels so different. Your pets are aware of these changes too. It’s important that we try to anticipate changes to our pets’ schedule and lives so that we can prepare them, because once baby is here, there will be enough to worry about.

One new item is the stroller. If your dog is like our Emmie, she gets spooked by everything from a plastic bag floating in the wind to the vacuum cleaner. She has definitely barked at other people pushing strollers. It’s important to introduce the stroller before there’s a baby in it and get the dog used to walking with the stroller. If that means you’ll be that crazy neighbor pushing around an empty stroller with your dog, just say your vet made you do it. For dogs fearful of strollers, use positive reinforcement to create a positive association with being near the stroller. (For Emmie, that means treats—and LOTS of them!) Also, remember that you should NEVER attach your dog to the stroller when cruising with baby.

The car seat is another common piece of baby equipment that you’ll want to expose your dog to. Practice getting in and out of the car with your pup. You’ll want to make sure that your dog cannot get to your baby while in the car. You can purchase a dog seat belt or have a small crate available.

Introducing Baby to Your Pets

Have a family member or friend bring home something from the hospital with the baby’s smell on it before the baby’s arrival. The day baby comes home, have everyone come in before the person holding the baby come in. Keep your pet distracted with praise and treats while the baby comes in, and try to stay calm.

Later, while the dog is leashed, allow her to gently investigate, maybe just smelling at the feet for a short while. Then give your dog lots of praise for the gentle investigation. You want to avoid punishment, instead rewarding and praising gentle calm behavior. Avoid allowing the pet to lick the baby (but a few licks at the feet is not a huge concern). And never leave baby alone with your pets, ever.

Be sure to speak with your veterinarian if you think your pet may need medication to help with the anxiety of the changes that come with a new baby. Sometimes having an anti-anxiety medication can help with the transition to this great new adventure that the whole family is starting.

For more detailed information, the ASPCA and Veterinary Partners have articles that are very helpful, and please always feel free to contact your veterinarian.

Finally, I would like to thank all my wonderful colleagues and staff here at Medical District Veterinary Clinical for their support and well wishes as my husband and I get ready to welcome our future Illini!

She’s due at the end of this month, so if all goes according to plan, I will be on maternity leave through April, with Saturday hours starting again in May, and back to full time in June. We are very excited (and a little nervous) to start this next big adventure in our family!

—Alyssa Kritzman, DVM

Marijuana Toxicity and Your Pets

[marijuana]Seek Veterinary Care for Pets Exposed to Marijuana

Now that marijuana is legal within the state of Illinois, we anticipate an increase in pet toxicities within our clinic. Over the past six years the Pet Poison Hotline has seen more than a 450% increase in cannabis toxicities across the U.S. Within Chicago and Illinois, I expect to see more pets exposed to cannabis toxicosis now that the drug is legally available. As a result of edible marijuana products, many of these cases involve co-toxicities with chocolate and/or raisins in addition to cannabis toxicity.

There are three main categories of cannabinoids. THC, commonly referred to as marijuana, is the cannabinoid that is most commonly associated with toxicity. CDB, or the non-psychogenic cannabinoid, has a much wider safety margin and is currently being researched as to its true efficacy for both pain and seizure control. While CBD appears to be very safe, there is limited science regarding safety, efficacy, and purity of products. The third form is synthetic cannabinoids, which are illegal recreational drugs in all states and cause the most severe clinical signs.

CBD Oil Cautions

While there is limited research around CBD, many pet owners and companies feel there are positive benefits of its use. I recommend using caution because there is very little control over the market and thus the purity of the products can be extremely variable. Dr. Bill Gurley looked at 25 CBD products available in Mississippi. The products were analyzed, and the results were compared to the label claim. In many cases there was no detectable CBD present and in other cases there was a much larger percentage of CBD than the label stated. One product had CBD concentration 2000% higher than the label claim.

The lack of regulation can pose a risk for pets. Additionally, there is some early research that high doses of CBD may result in hepatic toxicity and increase liver values in mice. It is unknown if similar effects are seen in cats and dogs, but many believe they may experience similar side effects. The research is conducted by Drs. Igor Koturbash and Bill Gurley at the University of Arkansas School of Public health. To read their abstract click the link below:

Signs of Marijuana Toxicity

Animals exposed to any cannabinoids may experience adverse effects. Animals that have been exposed to marijuana can experience many of the signs seen in people, but the most commonly seen signs include drowsiness, depressed mentation, ataxic gait (wobbly), and urinary incontinence (dribbling urine). Less commonly pets can experience vomiting and diarrhea. In severe toxicities hyperactivity, hyperthermia, and seizures have been reported.

Pets that are exposed to synthetic cannabinoids usually have more severe effects.

Additionally, some of the most severe toxicities result from ingestion of edibles resulting in co-toxicities. If you think your pet has been exposed to marijuana, have your pet assessed immediately so appropriate steps may be taken to care for your pet. These steps may include decontamination, activated charcoal administration, and monitoring of respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. The steps will likely be different for each case, depending on the level of toxic exposure, the type of exposure, the time frame post exposure, and the clinical signs currently being experienced by the pet.

Keep Weed Out of Pet’s Reach

So the moral of the story is to keep all marijuana products out of reach of your pets and use CBD with caution. I have spoken with a lot of owners who are currently using CBD products and they have varying opinions. In some cases owners report huge improvements, but more commonly they see little to no improvement. I have not observed major side effects of CBD products in pets, but please use caution. If you ever suspect your pet is having adverse effects, please discuss with your veterinarian and have your pet examined.

Dr. Drew Sullivan
Medical Director

Tips for Traveling with Your Pet

[dog and cat with maps and suitcases]As the holiday season approaches, many of you will be traveling near and far with your four-legged family members. Flying with pets has become increasingly common over the years, and as a result of the growing number of pets flying, the travel requirements for many airlines have evolved.

The change in pet travel requirements can be a big surprise for many owners. I have witnessed many owners that are stressed and nervous at the final hour, trying to get everything together for their pet’s trip. The to-do list can seem endless, with many hoops to jump through. I cannot stress enough the importance of proper preparation.

Therefore, to aid in your travel plans this holiday season, and in the future, I put together some tips to help you prepare for airplane travel with your pets:

  1. Check the specific airline pet travel requirements

Each airline has different requirements for travel – including vaccinations, documentation filled out by the veterinarian, and carrier size. If your pet is not traveling in the cabin with you, there will most likely be additional steps to take to ensure they are ready to fly.

  1. If traveling internationally, research travel requirements of the destination country

For travel outside of the United States, additional planning and health care requirements may be required. I recommend checking the APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) Pet Travel Website to research all requirements for the country that you are traveling to. Below is the website:

You should also contact the foreign office of the country you are traveling to for more information.

There are pet travel companies that can help coordinate and organize all travel requirements and documents. This is especially helpful for international travel. In my experience, their service is extremely valuable for owners.

  1. Contact the Veterinarian

You have done your research, so it is time to see us! For some countries, you need to begin the process months in advance, and even when traveling domestically, a health certificate is required (often within 10 days of travel). Therefore, please plan accordingly when scheduling the visit.

I hope this is helpful! Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about your pet’s travel plans.

Happy Holidays!

Amber Slaughter, DVM

Thanksgiving Holiday Hours 2019

Our clinic will close at 4 pm on Wednesday, Nov. 27, for the Thanksgiving holiday. We reopen at 7 am on Saturday, Nov. 30.

Wishing everyone a warm and happy holiday!

If you need emergency veterinary care while we are closed, please visit MedVet Chicago, 3123 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago; (773) 281-7110.

[dog near gourds]

When Our Pets Get Too Much Holiday Spirit

[Ellie Kritzman wants some treats]The holiday season is upon us, despite my growing ire every time I see a Christmas display before Thanksgiving. (October 11 outside the Macy’s at Woodfield Mall was my first sighting.)

I think most of us are all too familiar with acquiring some “winter insulation” from holiday feasting. This happens to our pets, too. When I review a patient’s weights over the years, I routinely notice a pattern of hills and valleys of changes correlating to the seasons. Unfortunately, often the winter insulation doesn’t completely go away.

According to a 2016 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 59% of cats and 54% of dogs in the United States are classified as overweight or obese. This is a year-round epidemic, but pets often pack on the pounds in the wintertime.

Winter Weight Gain

There are a lot of reasons for winter weight gain. One is simply that our pets, more specifically dogs, just get less exercise in the winter. Who wants to walk the dog in the dark, cold morning for 30 minutes, when just a few months earlier it was bright out and you could get away with wearing your pajama shorts and t-shirt? (Maybe that’s just me.)

And, we all know that pathetic look Fluffy gives you when her paws get cold.

But more likely, just like studies of human weight management have reported, caloric intake plays a much larger role than activity does.

‘Food’ Does Not Equal ‘Love’

Most of us see food as love, and your dog does too. In fact, switching from free feeding to meal feedings can deepen the human-animal bond. That’s because then the animal connects you to their food source. We might as well use the term “primary food giver” instead of “pet owner.”

From there it’s an easy step to “If I give Fluffy more yummy food, she will know how much I love her.” This mindset can get our pets into trouble quickly. You may eat that tablespoon of peanut butter without the extra 90 calories making a huge hit to your daily caloric budget. Your 24-pound Fluffy, on the other hand, needs only 400 calories a day. One tablespoon of peanut butter for Fluffy would be equivalent to fitting one Big Mac into your day.

Not only would regularly adding a Big Mac make you loosen your belt, but it would also raise your blood pressure, among other health concerns. And it’s the same for Fluffy.

Holiday Food Hazards

During the holidays it’s common to feel that our pets should get special holiday meals just like we do. Unfortunately, I’ve seen illnesses related to every special dish you can imagine:

  • Turkey bone stuck in the esophagus of a Yorkshire terrier.
  • Vomiting up orange mush after getting too much sweet potato casserole (you know, the one with the marshmallows on it).
  • Anemia from too much garlic in the roasted potatoes.
  • Swallowing a needle attached to a garland of popcorn (oddly enough, that dog didn’t have to have surgery).
  • Chocolate toxicity from getting into the gifts under the tree.
  • And more Thanksgiving pancreatitis cases than I can count.

Whether these treats are given or stolen, we need to be wary of our pets getting rich, sugary foods that they aren’t accustomed to. Indulging in our holiday foods can cause pancreatitis, diarrhea, toxicities, and/or gastritis in our pets.

If you insist that Fluffy gets her Thanksgiving dinner, set aside a small amount of turkey and vegetables (no onions, garlic, or grapes!) and cook them plainly by either boiling or cooking with a small amount of olive oil.

Avoid giving pets “just a little bit” of everything that makes it to your holiday table. Trust me, they will still think it’s a Thanksgiving miracle that they get even a tiny amount of human food. And remember, most pets will think kibble is a treat, if you act like it is.

One final note: please don’t tell my dog, Emmie, that I wrote this blog about not feeding your dog too much food. She’d plot my demise if she knew! (That’s Emmie above, decked out in holiday ribbon and begging for turkey with her eyes.)

Happy Holidays to you all!

—Dr. Alyssa Kritzman

Scare Tactics: The Obligatory October Blog

[dog dressed as Coast Guard officer]The pressure to write an autumnal Halloween post regarding animals is intense. In a sense, I understand that the public wants to hear the hits. But doesn’t anyone want to read my small and carefully worded treatise on 1976’s children’s musical mafia masterpiece movie, Bugsy Malone? Or a simple reflection on how playing Hearts with one dog and two cats is the ideal with which all other forms of happiness should be compared? Yes. I understand my limitations to be understood. So in that regard:

There’s nothing bad about Halloween or this time of the year, and yet anyone who works in the veterinary world knows the inevitable problems this time of year brings into our everyday world, and I shall address all the obvious ones and a few not-so-obvious ones.


As someone who spends a great deal of my free and sleeping time thinking about candy, I completely understand why having a complete and quality selection of sweets available for your trick-or-treaters is integral to your obligation of being a good human.

Again, and also at the risk of revealing too much, as someone who thinks about the difference in peanut butter-to-chocolate ratios between normal Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Pumpkin Halloween Cups, I get why you may want to plan early and be prepared to have more candy than any one house could possibly pass out in a 3- to 4-hour Halloween evening.

That being said, despite whatever you have heard, thought, or been told by your co-worker who swears that his Aunt’s dog loves candy, candy is toxic to dogs and can make cats very sick.

Chocolate can kill your dog, causing neurotoxicity and cardiovascular toxicity and, at a minimum, forcing dogs to be treated for severe gastrointestinal and pancreatic trauma.

A small dog can get sick (and die) from a small amount of candy. A big dog can also get sick from the amount of candy it can consume in short periods of time.

One moment away from the candy tray to compliment a few kids who have come to the door dressed as Star Wars Jedi (though inevitably with the wrong color light saber, not that I am paying attention), can give a dog, especially my dog, just enough time to destroy your night and cause a quick immediate trip to the emergency room.

Just because your dog ate chocolate once and didn’t get sick, doesn’t mean that it’s safe forever. And there are differences between eating 6 oz and 36 oz.

Join the billions of people who need to call ASCPA Poison Control if you need help. Or call us, if we are open. Or call your local friendly ER. Do this immediately.

If you want to go out and participate in Halloween with your child who has very specific tastes and forced you to stay up till 3 am on Halloween Eve again for the fifth straight year so you can make Tron’s light sequence on his costume perfect, or if you want to go out yourself dressed in the Midwest’s most popular Halloween costume (Sexy Raincoat-wearer), well, first take care of your animal.

Chocolate has a delayed reaction, so people will sometimes think if their dog seems fine after a few hours, that the dog will be fine. Often the worst effects happen at hour 6, 10, or 12.


Someone needs to stick up for people who want to dress their animals up in costumes. If your dog or cat had real agency, they’d break out of our houses and set up an equal and free society in an abandoned but warm warehouse somewhere in Pilsen. But they don’t. So dress them up, take a picture and just enjoy your day. If they don’t like that type of thing, then don’t. If you have a Pug and dress them up as Pugsy Malone, I would appreciate a photo. And, really, any photo.


Be attentive to your anxious dogs and cats. Doorbells ringing, witch decorations with electronic cackles, kids running around, people with “toy” guns (which in Chicago are just “guns”), screaming, flashing lights, and just general festivities can set tons of dogs and cats off in their angst-ridden misery.

Just like you do for 4th of July and New Year’s, feel free to ask for sedation protocols or anxiety medications, and it’s never a problem to pre-medicate for the subsequent GI upset and urinary discomfort that occurs from severe and acute trauma.

Maybe walk your dogs at 4 pm and then wait until 10 pm to avoid the rush. Maybe lock your cats upstairs so they can’t run out the front door.

And do you have a black cat? Well good, because I love them, but don’t let them outside. Actually, keep all your animals inside that night.

Call with questions or concerns. Send us your Halloween photos. Dress as your own ethnicity. Read books with first-person cat narrators.

Brett Grossman, DVM

Beware of Toxic Pond Scum, aka Blue-Green Algae

[blue green algae]In recent weeks you might have heard talk of “blue-green algae.” According to the ASPCA Pet Poison Center, there has been a spike in reported cases. A number of Facebook stories have also attributed the death of dogs across the United States to this toxic “algae.” The social media interest has prompted many major news stations to air segments about this “algae.”

Here is a brief overview of this toxin and pointers to help keep you and your pets safe.

Blue-green algae is actually not even algae but a naturally occurring bacteria known as cyanobacteria. During rapid growth phases, this bacterium produces colonies that create “blooms.” These bacterial blooms create a blueish-green paint-like look to the surface of the water. The look of the bacteria resembles algae, hence the name blue-green algae.

Cyanobacteria can be found in all fresh water lakes, streams, and ponds and is most prevalent in the warmer summer months. The bacteria may produce toxins that can cause illness, but not all cyanobacteria produce these toxins.

To be safe, it is best to avoid all water sources that appear to have any presence of blue-green algae (blue-green paint-like appearance, surface mats, discolored green/blue streaks). The State of Illinois recently issued a warning to Illinois residents about the potential of blue-green algae and recommends to avoid contact with suspicious-looking water.

For those of you who live in Chicago, the Chicago Park District issued a warning in June recommending staying away from the Humboldt Park lagoon, where traces of blue-green algae had been detected. The Park District posted big yellow signs around the lagoon warning visitors of the potential risk. Look for the yellow warning signs around Chicago parks, but if the water looks suspicious, do not let you dogs in the water or allow them to drink the water.

There are various toxins that can be produced by cyanobacteria. Mild forms of illness include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness. More severe toxins affect the neurologic system and can lead to death within 15 minutes of exposure.

Given the toxicity of this dangerous bacterial toxin, it is safest to avoid bodies of water where there is the potential of blue green algae. If you have any questions about blue-green algae, please don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian.

Drew Sullivan, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic


Sources and for more information, visit these sites:

ASPCA Pet Safety Alert:

State of Illinois Warning:

Pet Poison Hotline Blue-Green Algae:

Chicago Tribune warning:

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday Is National Check the Chip Day

[lost pet flier]

Like most pet owners, I can’t imagine the horror of having my pet lost or stolen. It’s scary and difficult to think about someone finding my little Sadie and having no way to contact me! That’s why, when she was a puppy, I had her microchipped. I wanted to take every precaution to bring her back home in the event we are separated.

I have personally witnessed many dogs and cats that were separated from their owners. I’ve seen the fear and confusion in their eyes. They seem to be wondering where they are, why they are surrounded by strangers, and how they will ever can get back home to the familiar faces and smells.

Then, with a quick scan and phone call, they are back with their loved ones, happy as can be and spoiled rotten again!

Happy endings like these are why microchips are so important for your pets. I have heard so many owners voice their regret at not having their pets microchipped, which is why I urge all of you to have it done. Microchips don’t eliminate the value of a collar or ID tag, but they can make a huge difference when it comes to reuniting lost pets with their families.

A common misconception I hear about microchips is that they are like a GPS. This is not the case. You cannot track a microchip. Rather, when the microchip is scanned, you can obtain information about the pet (usually by contacting the manufacturer who has the registration information).

For this reason, it is very important to keep the registration information accurate. If you move or change your contact information, you should contact the microchip manufacturer to update your pet’s information.

Below are some facts about microchips, provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). With support from HomeAgain, these organizations established and publicized “Check the Chip Day,” celebrated on August 15.

  • 1 in 3 family pets will get lost
  • Only 6 out of 10 microchips are registered
  • Microchipped dogs are more than twice as likely to be returned to their owners
  • Microchipped cats are more than 20 times more likely to be returned to their owners

And now some happy successful reunion news: To date, HomeAgain has reunited more than two million pets with their owners, including a dog named Gidget, that was found in Portland, Ore., more than 2,500 miles from her home in Pittsburgh, Pa., and a cat in California named George that was reunited with his family after 13-year separation!

Celebrate “Check the Chip Day” by:

  • Making an appointment for microchipping, if your pet isn’t already microchipped. (Then make sure that your pet’s chip is immediately registered.)
  • Checking the accuracy of your already-microchipped pet’s registration information in the microchip manufacturer’s database.
  • Updating your pet’s microchip registration information if needed.

Please visit this AVMA website for additional information about Check the Chip Day, including a list of microchip manufacturers included in the AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool:

I hope I have convinced all of you how important it is to have your pet microchipped! If you have any questions about what having a microchip placed entails, if you would like us to check your pet for a microchip, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to have a microchip placed, please contact us.

—Amber Slaughter, DVM

Photo by Ewan Munro

Grain Free Food: Naming Names, Not Playing Games

[doberman pinscher]

It was about a year ago that the solemn and simple veterinary world became unstably chaotic regarding the Holy Grail of things your aunt’s neighbor recommended for your dog: Grain-Free Food.

The innocent early days of 2018 were carefree and loose, with the veterinary world throwing out lines like “There’s no reason to be on a grain-free diet, but it does no harm.” Owners were happy. Dogs were happy. Your aunt’s neighbor was happy. We left work on time.

And then, as a slow, brooding cello tremolo intensified from below, the FDA and AVMA issued statements about what they had determined was a specific correlation between grain-free food and heart disease.

You can relive the splendor in my August 2018 blog post or directly from the source:

Recently, to celebrate the anniversary, the FDA has come out swinging with the names of brands that they had previously only hinted at being at the root of the problem. As the calls come pouring into the clinic for all dogs on these foods, I will try to break down the new news, though this isn’t really new at all. There have been some updates over the last year so I will try to summarize.

First, let’s get the awkward first-date questions out of the way.

What are the brands implicated?

Here are the grain-free food brands and the number of dog deaths linked to their food.

Acana 67
Zignature 64
Taste of the Wild 53
4Health 32
Earthborn Holistic 32
Blue Buffalo 31
Nature’s Domain 29
Fromm 24
Merrick 16
California Natural 15
Natural Balance 15
Orijen 12
Nature’s Variety 11
NutriSource 10
Nutro 10
Rachael Ray Nutrish 10

No one specific protein source was identified as the problem. Cases included raw food, semi-moist food, wet food, and dry kibble.

Second, wait … what? What do you mean deaths, what?

Here is a good question-and-answer page from the FDA:

There have been 524 reports of dilated cardiomyopathy (imagine the heart enlarging like a balloon) between 2014 and 2019, and the majority of these occurred in the past 6 months. The United States has about 77 million pet dogs, so this is a small percentage, but these numbers reflect an increase in, most importantly, dog breeds not genetically likely to have dilated cardiomyopathy. (Breeds with a genetic predisposition to DCM include Doberman Pinschers, great Danes, boxers, and Irish wolfhounds.)

There is still a lack of understanding of what is going on. The early worries were that it was related to taurine deficiency, but almost all of the indicted food contained proper levels of taurine. Golden retrievers, specifically, are suspected to contract DCM due to taurine deficiency, but still, no exact information as to how this relates to grain-free diets.

The majority of implicated diets were high in legumes (peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, peanuts) and potatoes, which are generally used to replace the grains. (Rice is a grain, not a legume. Leave rice out of this.)

Third, what should you do?

Let’s be really clear here that 524 deaths is a very low number, but this situation is still very scary, because the FDA is still not sure why these deaths are occurring and how the diet and the deaths are linked. The grain-free-ness may not be the problem, but we just don’t know.

If your dog is dependent on a certain food listed above, it may not be the specific aspect of the lack of grain that is causing the optimal results of a diet, but something else that could be found in a different diet (for example, fiber content). We cannot tell you that you need to switch off of grain-free food, or that you have to drop your allegiance to the brands listed above, but until we know what is doing this, there is some risk.

I do not give my dog a grain-free diet, but I also do not have a dog with any gastrointestinal issues. That being said, grain-allergies are just not a thing in dogs, and, it could be concluded, feeding a grain-free diet is not worth the risk.

Please talk to us if you have questions, and of course, if your dog is suffering from lethargy, weakness, coughing, exercise intolerance, increased respiratory rate/effort, or anything that seems abnormal, please let us know.

Brett Grossman, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic

Featured image by Julia Heath from Pixabay.