DCM Keeping some Perspective
I could literally write pages about the new scare thrust upon us regarding grain-free pet foods and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). We do have several old posts on our website dating back almost 18 months related to the subject. There are many downright falsehoods and misconceptions being perpetuated our there by the media and social media outlets playing on your emotions. You love your pets and so do we so we understand your concern. We have our own pets as well and that is the driving force behind Wholesome Pet Essentials! So here’s an attempt to summarize what is known right now….
First a disclaimer: We are not veterinarians at WPE and cannot diagnose or treat DCM and are not experts on the disease or any other disease. We do, however, handle several complete lines of pet foods developed and formulated by PHD Nutritionists. Within our group we have many hours of study at ISU in Animal Science (Nutrition) and decades of work in the animal feed industry as well as hours of continuing study by all employees in pet nutrition and feeding management. We are not influenced by the major players in most veterinary schools like Royal Canin (RC Veterinary Diet), Hills (Science Diet, Prescription Diet), or Nestle Purina (Pro-Plan Veterinary Diets).
Much of the following is from the FDA information released to date:
DCM is generally recognized as a genetic condition in larger breed dogs such as Retrievers, Great Danes, German Shepards, etc. Retrievers appear to be particularly susceptible.
The number of cases reported to the FDA have significantly increased in 2018 and 2019. The agency notes that most dogs in the US have been eating pet food without apparently developing DCM. The increase does suggest a potential increase in cases not genetically predisposed.
Most of the reports showed that the dogs were eating dry dog food. Since the vast majority of dogs eat dry dog food that is not a surprise. Chicken was the number 1 animal protein source identified in the foods. That is also not a surprise since chicken is the most used ingredient in pet foods.
Does this mean dry dog food is the culprit? No (most dogs eat dry dog food)
Does this mean chicken is the culprit? No (majority of dogs eat chicken based dog food)
Some are claiming “exotic” meat sources are the problem? So chicken is an exotic meat source?
Grain-free generally means a product does not contain corn, soy, wheat rice, barley or other grains and/or grain by-products. A majority of the diets in the cases reported to the FDA were grain-free. Peas, lentils, chickpeas and potatoes are a common replacement product for grain in grain-free diets. Grain-free diets have been implicated as a possible contributor to the increase in DCM.
Do grain-free diets cause DCM? No evidence to support that claim at this time
Does all research point to grain free diets? NO
DCM Diagnosed Dogs North Carolina State University 2015
22 dogs – grain-free pet food
29 dogs – grain-based pet food
At a recent veterinary forum – American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) – some research was presented by Dr. Darcy Adin veterinary cardiologist of North Carolina State University. “Taurine and carnitine deficiencies are associated with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs.” The research states 49 dogs were diagnosed with DCM at the North Carolina State vet school between 2015 – 2017. Dr. Adin’s research found 22 dogs diagnosed were eating a grain-free diet, but…29 dogs diagnosed with DCM were eating a grain-based diet.
A few years back cats were dying from a similar condition that was ultimately attributed to taurine deficiency. Taurine is an amino acid important to several body functions including eyesight and heart strength. The addition of taurine to cat diets basically resolved the problem. In dogs taurine can be synthesized from methionine and cysteine (two other “essential” amino acids…meaning they must be fed for a healthy diet). Almost all our brands have been adding additional taurine to diets as a precautionary measure for some time now.
Has the addition of supplemental taurine helped? Doesn’t appear so
Are grains a good source of methionine, cysteine or taurine? NO
What are good sources? Meats, Fish, Dairy
The FDA published the names of 16 brands of dog food that have been fed to dogs reported to the FDA with DCM based on them having at least 10 events. Here is a more complete list as I browse the actual FDA document:
Hills, EVO, Rachael Ray Nutrish, Merrick, Earthborn Holistic, Natures Variety, California Natural, Zignature, Acana, Taste of the Wild, Kirkland Signature, Blue Buffalo, 4health GF, Halo, Purina One, Victor Hi Pro, Orijen, Fromm, Natural Balance, Go, Fromm, Nutrisource, Acana, Nutro, Canidae, Diamond Naturals, Whole Earth Farms, Abound Natural, Wellness CORE, Petcurean, Castor and Pollux, Authority, Honest Kitchen, Weruva, Eagle Pack, Blue Wilderness,, Instinct, Farmina, Pine Forest, Pinnacle, Primal Raw, Iams, Royal Canin, Sportmix, ProPac, Purina Grain Free, Nutro Max, Freshpet, Holistic Select, Redford Naturals I may have missed some but it looks like most are on here, including the majors and prescription labels.
The most frequently identified brands in the FDA DCM cases also are some of the largest sellers of grain-free foods. Taste of the Wild is frequently considered the largest grain-free food sold in the country with nearly 29 million bags sold since September 2017. They are near the top of the list. In any list of this type I would expect them to be based on sheer volume sold. (We don’t sell TOW but for other reasons!)
Should I switch brands? Nearly all brands are on the list
Should I be feeding a grain-free diet? Depends on why you are feeding it. Most of our customers have legitimate concerns related to allergies and/or intolerences to grains. Actual allergies to rice seem to be rarer than other grains, however. Proteins seem to be more often a cause.
There is no conclusion here right now to be drawn. But with your peace of mind and your pet’s safety in mind here are some potential options out of an abundance of caution:
- Keep your routine vet visits to check on your pet’s overall health!
- With large breed dogs (especially Retrievers, Danes, Shepards, etc) in particular if they have no known issues with rice in their diets we have several options to consider allowing you to avoid grain-free foods but still avoid corn, wheat, by-products, etc.
- We have several grain-free foods not based on lentils and/or peas or potatoes. They use an alternative starch source
- SWITCH to raw….Primal, Sojos, Honest Kitchen, Stella and Chewys, Nulo all have raw diets which we carry that do not utilize lentils, peas or potatoes. Freeze dried or frozen
- Supplement additional taurine….although no evidence this helps
- Rotate foods…particularly protein sources if your pet can tolerate…you can even rotate brands if you’re feeding high quality diets
- Continue doing what you are doing until we can perhaps finally get some science based conclusions….which we have NONE currently.
We promise to keep you as up to date as possible! It can be a very overwhelming issue with many angles….most of which don’t appear to lead anywhere right now. The media can’t begin to explain what is happening. They don’t have the depth of background or information to work with.
I think part of the problem with current dog foods is that so many manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon, and are lowering the actual meat content of the foods by adding peas/lentils as both a protein source and starchy fiber. That replacement reduces the taurine level, even though the percent protein remains the same. I look for foods that have peas/lentils further down the list, and actual meat as the first ingredient.