HOLLADAY, Utah – Willow, a standard poodle, was just five years old when she died, leaving her guardians, Katerina and Mike Hicken, shocked.
“Willow had no signs that she was sick until mid-June,” said Katerina. “She started to develop a cough. Besides her cough, you would never know. She was literally the most active, funniest, biggest personality dog.”
“We don’t want anybody to have to go through this; it’s the most heartbreaking, preventable tragedy.”
An ingredient in some dog foods that scientists say may be deadly to dogs. Tonight at 10 p.m., @KslMatt speaks with a family who lost their dog, Willow, and looks into warnings. pic.twitter.com/2CyfY8ni2i
— KSL 5 TV (@KSL5TV) September 21, 2020
At first, the veterinarian diagnosed Willow as having kennel cough but when treatment failed to lessen symptoms, she was brought back for an echocardiogram. It revealed Willow had dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM – a disease where the heart muscles wear thin, eventually causing the heart to fail.
Willow’s heart was broken, which broke her family’s heart.
“It’s not a human life that we lost,” said Mike, but “It feels like it, absolutely feels like it,” finished Katerina.
A Broken Heart Disease
After Willow died, the Hickens began looking into DCM cases.
Heart disease can be hereditary in dogs, so the Hickens said they checked with Willow’s breeder.
“Is there anything in her blood line that would indicate that she could have genetically gotten this (DCM) and all of them said, ‘No,’” said Katerina.
After spending several weeks researching online, the Hickens found what they believe to be a common denominator between her death and the deaths of many other dogs all over the country: grain-free dog food.
“We thought, ‘Hey, let’s switch to a healthier alternative of organic grain-free dog food,’” said Mike, “making the assumption that the dog food companies have done the research and done the testing and know that this is the proper nutrition your dog needs.”
Science Behind The Diet
The KSL Investigators took Willow’s story to Utah State University’s Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences Department.
Kara Thornton-Kurth has made a career of studying and teaching the science of animal feed. She told us she was not surprised by Willow’s fate.
“There have been a number of reports that grain-free dog foods are actually leading to dilated cardiomyopathy which can cause heart failure,” said Thornton-Kurth. Some of those reports have come from the Food and Drug Administration, which has been studying the potential link between the disease and a pet’s grain-free diet.
The FDA reports they…