Dear Dr. Fox: As a vegan, I would appreciate your opinion. I have an 18-pound, 5-year-old dog, rescued and neutered. What is your professional opinion about the Natural Balance vegetarian/vegan formula for dogs?

The ingredients are brown rice, oat groats, barley, peas, potato protein, canola oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), potatoes, dicalcium phosphate, dried tomato pomace, natural flavor, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, choline chloride, taurine, minerals (several listed), salt, vitamins (vitamin E supplement, vitamin A supplement, D-calcium pantothenate, niacin, riboflavin supplement, vitamin D2 supplement, vitamin B12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, biotin), flaxseed, dried spinach, parsley, cranberries, L-lysine monohydrochloride, L-carnitine, citric acid (used as a preservative), mixed tocopherols (used as a preservative), yucca schidigera extract, dried kelp, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), rosemary extract. — C.H.F., Larkspur, California

Dear C.H.F.: Unacceptable, in my opinion. It is nutritionally incomplete, and likely in some breeds to cause dilated cardiomyopathy and other health problems. Read on for more on the subject.

FDA lists brands most commonly linked with DCM: The FDA collected 515 reports of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs and nine in cats between January 2014 and April 2019; and because some reports involved multiple pets in a single home, the agency said the total number of animals affected is probably higher.

Although genetic predisposition seems to play a role in some cases of DCM, the FDA has been exploring a possible link with diet. The agency’s latest update includes a list of associated brands and numbers of cases reported for each:

Acana: 67 cases. 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.

Many other brands are probably linked to this heart disease in dogs. In my opinion, there are genetic and epigenetic factors involved in the genesis of this cardiac inflammatory disease, which causes enlargement of the heart and eventual heart failure. But diet may also be a factor. The lectins in some vegetables (pulses and potatoes) may block uptake of taurine, a deficiency of which can lead to this disease in dogs and cats.

Dysbiosis may also play some role. There is a lack of beneficial gut bacteria and a paucity of prebiotics and probiotics in many pet foods, as well as a lack of omega-3 fatty acids and an unbalanced excess of omega-6 fatty acids from corn and corn-fed animals.

Dear Dr. Fox: Our grandson has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. He is 6 years old and is in therapy.

His parents say that their pediatrician says it is genetic, not caused by vaccines. You have written about some of the harms that vaccinations can cause to pets, and we wonder if animals ever develop something like autism. If so, that would be proof of risk, wouldn’t it? — M.M., Fort Myers, Florida

Dear M.M.: This is indeed an issue of grave concern and controversy in the human population. There are genetic and so-called epigenetic aspects to this disorder. Many interesting articles and studies have been posted to www.childrenshealthdefense.org, for your further reading.

To my knowledge, there is no clinical evidence of animals developing any condition resembling autism, or any association between being given vaccinations and subsequent changes in cognitive and affective behaviors in cats and dogs. I would like to hear from readers who may have experienced otherwise with their animals (beyond the short-term trauma that some animals experience from going to the veterinary clinic for shots and checkups).

Post-vaccination seizures in dogs have been reported, which does indicate that vaccines can affect the brains of companion animals, possibly due to the presence of aluminum and mercury in most vaccines. This does not mean that companion animals should not be given vaccinations, since the health risks of non-vaccinated populations far exceed the risks of adverse side-effects to a few individuals. The latter can be reduced by avoiding giving too many combined vaccines at the same time, and skipping unnecessary re-vaccinations by doing blood titer evaluations of immune status.

I am much more concerned about the short- and long-term health and environmental consequences on companion animals from topical and oral anti-flea and anti-parasite drugs. For details, see my article “Companion Animal Risks of Flea and Tick Insecticides” posted on my website (drfoxonehealth.com).

Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.