MSPCA-Angell Headquarters

350 South Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02130
(617) 522-7400
Email Us

Angell Animal Medical Centers – Boston

350 South Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02130
(617) 522-7282
More Info

Angell West

293 Second Avenue, Waltham, MA 02451
(781) 902-8400
For on-site assistance (check-ins and pick-ups):
(339) 970-0790
More Info

Angell at Essex

565 Maple Street, Danvers, MA 01923
(978) 304-4648
More Info

Animal Care and Adoption Centers – Boston

350 South Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02130
(617) 522-5055
More Info

Animal Care and Adoption Centers – Cape Cod

1577 Falmouth Road, Centerville, MA 02632
(508) 775-0940
More Info

Animal Care and Adoption Centers – Nevins Farm

400 Broadway, Methuen, MA 01844
(978) 687-7453
More Info

Animal Care and Adoption Centers – Northeast Animal Shelter

347 Highland Ave., Salem, MA 01970
(978) 745-9888
More Info

Donate Now


More Ways to Donate

From an online gift to a charitable gift annuity, your contribution will have a significant impact in the lives of thousands of animals.


Angell Animal Medical Center Re-Sounds Alarm on Link between Pet Heart Disease, “Exotic Proteins” and Grain-Free Foods

Veterinarians See Spike in Puppies on Potentially Dangerous Diets; Cite Rush to Adopt during Coronavirus Lockdown and Popularization of Grain-Free Eating

BOSTON, June 19, 2020 – Since 2018, when the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) began investigating the link between certain pet foods and a type of heart disease known as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), the science has coalesced around a startling conclusion: the lack of grains in some specialty pet foods—as well as the addition of exotic, non-traditional ingredients to replace them—are putting pets at risk.

Now, veterinarians at the MSPCA’s Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston are warning pet owners to avoid pet foods lacking grains such as rice, barley and oats but heavy in exotic meats including kangaroo, lamb, buffalo, salmon and venison.

Warning: Avoid “Boutique” Exotic Pet Foods

Since the USFDA began its investigation, Angell veterinarians mostly focused on counseling pet owners to avoid grain-free diets, because they were so heavily linked with heart disease.  “The theory was that [grain free] diets prevented dogs and cats from producing taurine, an essential nutrient for heart health in dogs,” said Dr. Virginia Sinnott-Stutzman.

“Now we’re understanding that diets lacking grains as well as traditional proteins such as chicken and beef are likely contributing to the rise in heart disease.”

Concern for Puppies
Now, with so many people having adopted or bought new puppies during the ongoing stay-at-home orders, Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman has seen a worrisome trend: far too many of these puppies are being fed exotic diets, putting them at risk of the deadly condition.

“For many people, the new puppy acquired during the lockdown may be the first dog they’ve ever had, and it’s understandable that they’d want to feed their pet what they believe to be the most nutritious foods on the market,” she said.

Grain-free foods are often touted as healthier by specialty manufacturers, a dynamic that mirrors the popularization of grain-free diets embraced by some people, Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman believes.  They are also the foods most likely to contain exotic meats such as kangaroo vs. traditional proteins like chicken and beef.

“Scientific research increasingly validates the necessity of some grains such as rice, barley, corn and oats in addition to traditional proteins such as chicken and beef,” said Dr. Julia Lindholm of Angell’s cardiology service.  “The pet foods that lack these ingredients are often the same foods that include peas, lentils, potatoes and exotic meats—which we believe are responsible for diet-related DCM,” she added.

Golden Rule for Selecting Pet Foods: Listen to the Experts

Drs. Sinnott-Stutzman and Lindholm warn that exotic pet foods tend to share common factors.  They are often produced by small-batch manufacturers, incorporate meats such as rabbit and kangaroo, and include non-meat foods such as peas, lentils or potatoes as primary ingredients.

The veterinarians advise dog owners to only buy pet food from manufacturers that conduct feeding trials.

  1. Only buy foods that include a label from The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) confirming that animal feeding tests, using AAFCO procedures, substantiate that the food provides complete and balanced nutrition.  “Avoid any foods that claim to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Food Nutrient Profiles without testing, because those foods have, in fact, not been tested in live animals,” said Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman.
  2. Confirm that the food is appropriate for your pet’s specific life stage.  “Do not feed adult food to puppies as those foods are often deficient in calcium,” said Dr. Lindholm.
  3. Stick to the proteins that are common in most pet foods: chicken and beef.  “Regularly switching up protein sources can make it harder to manage allergies that pets may develop later in life.  Moreover, feeding exotic meats such as kangaroo, lamb, buffalo, salmon and venison are increasingly linked to cardiomyopathy,” said Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman.