DCM - These 3 letters have been a huge source of stress for pet owners everywhere. DCM stands for : Dilated cardiomyopathy. (the heart's ability to pump blood is lessened because its main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is enlarged and weakened) Why is this such a cause of stress?? Everyone is concerned that the food they are feeding their pets will kill them. This has been especially stressful for those who felt that they were spending more money on a higher quality of kibble, for the benefit of their dog. Any "Information" released about the DCM issue, has been nothing but misinformation, fear mongering vets and the lack of answers; since 2018, as this is an ongoing investigation.
On June 27th, 2019, the FDA released their third status report related to their ongoing investigation. The newest report states that a total of 524 reports of DCM (515 in dogs, 9 in cats), most of which were submitted after the initial public alert was released in July 2018. The report also identifies pet food brands that have been most frequently named in DCM cases reported to the FDA. However, the FDA has not yet confirmed whether or how these case reports are linked to diet.
One of the purposes of these updates is to bring this issue to consumers’ attention so that any new information can be reported and collected by the FDA. The FDA continues to encourage pet owners and veterinary professionals to report cases of DCM in dogs and cats that are suspected to be linked to diet.
Many believe that the cause of DCM is, that there is no grain in the diet, as grain free, exotic meats and "boutique" diets are being targeted. This is not accurate. It is believed that the cause of DCM is not the lack of grains, or addition of exotic meats, but the legumes, peas and lentils that they need to use in order to create a grain free kibble. (If grains are not included in the recipe, they still need a binding agents to create the formed kibble pieces) Theses legumes, peas and lentils are possibly blocking the absorption of nutrition (Taurine), but even this they are unsure about because, some dogs with DCM on grain-free diets showed normal blood taurine levels. DCM is also reported to occur in dogs eating diets that are not grain-free. Millions of healthy dogs around the world eat grain-free diets their entire lives; this is the first time that grain-free diets have been implicated as a potential cause of heart disease. Complicating the matter further is that genetics may also play a role in the development of DCM. So, what is going on? To dive deeper into this issue, we must look at what is currently known about the relationship between diet and the development of heart disease in dogs.
At this time, it is not clear what it is about these diets that may be connected to DCM in dogs. There are multiple possible causes of DCM. Taurine deficiency is well-documented as a potential cause of DCM, but it is not the only cause of DCM. Nutritional makeup of the main ingredients or how dogs process them, main ingredient sourcing, processing, amount used, or other factors could be involved.
Taurine is a unique amino acid. Most amino acids are used to make protein, but taurine is a free amino acid in the body. Though the exact function of taurine is not entirely understood, it is known to be involved in heart health. In dogs and cats, taurine also plays an important role in activating bile acids in the liver, enabling them to break down fats. Cats must get taurine from their diet, but dogs can make taurine using two other amino acids, methionine and cysteine. Therefore, taurine is not considered necessary in dogs’ diets if enough methionine and cysteine are present. Although the methionine content in pulses is lower compared to animal-based proteins, this can easily be accounted for by using ingredients rich in this amino acid or using supplementation.
This is not the first time that diet has been linked to heart disease in dogs. In the early 2000’s, before grain-free diets became mainstream, lamb and rice diets were identified as being correlated with low taurine and heart disease in dogs. It was suggested that the lamb meal in these diets did not provide enough methionine and cysteine. However, it could not be confirmed that lamb meal was a direct cause of heart disease in dogs. Instead, it was realized that the diet as a whole must be considered to make sure it provides all the nutrients dogs need. This causes one to ask, “why are peas, lentils, and grain-free diets being blamed for causing heart disease in dogs, when we know that ingredients themselves are not the issue?” The challenge is that pointing a finger at ingredients without more in-depth information causes panic and uncertainty for pet parents without providing any fact-based answers or solutions.
The FDA has NOT yet determined the nature of the possible connection between these foods and canine DCM, so we do not have definitive information indicating that the food needs to be removed from the market. Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.
The FDA stated on July 12, 2018, February 19, 2019 and June 27, 2019 that the agency does not advise any dietary changes based solely on the information gathered. Grain-free diets can have many tangible benefits over grain-based foods in general and should not be categorized as a potential concern or problem.
The underlying cause of DCM isn't known, though it is thought to have a genetic component. Many of the signs of heart disease in dogs match those of a canine that is hot, such as panting and looking tired. The FDA's findings also coincide with the summer's rising temperatures.
There have been a greater proportion of males than females, consistent with what is seen in genetic forms. The significance of this is unknown, but it may be that some cases are genetic in origin or a combination of diet and genetic tendencies.Large and giant breeds, such as Great Danes, Doberman pinschers or Irish wolfhounds, are typically more frequently at risk. But in the FDA's report, smaller breeds, such as Shih Tzu, Jack Russell terrier and pug, were also among those with more than one reported case of DCM.
On July 2, 2019 the FDA released a list of 16 foods that they "SUSPECT" cause DCM, majority of them are grain free. There are just 16 on the FDA list, although there are other brands that are suspect, but not listed. There are actually about 50 brands that are suspect, but they did not release the full list. That would include Hills, Science Diet & Purina Pro Plan. Of the dog-food brands on the FDA's list, 91 per cent of the products were labelled grain-free (did not contain corn, soy, wheat, rice, barley or other grains), while 93 per cent contained peas, lentils (including chickpeas and beans), or potatoes (including sweet potatoes).
The brands identified include:
- Taste of the Wild.
- Earthborn Holistic.
- Blue Buffalo.
- Nature's Domain.
- California Natural.
- Natural Balance.
- Nature's Variety.
- Rachael Ray Nutrish.
The products are sold online and many are available in stores in Canada.
But this is only 16 of the approximate 50 that are being investigated, including the veterinary brands.
This list caused great panic and confusion. Owners feeding some of the highest quality kibble were now possibly "killing" there dogs! Vets were jumping on the band wagon, sharing the misinformation, as it appeared that their foods were not on the list. Many took this as an opportunity to sell their own brand of food, although the FDA stated that this is NOT necessary. This caused more panic and confusion with pet owners. They could not understand how their vets could recommend a food that was on the list, why there were only 16 brands, out of 50, but why were the others not included, and why was the whole list not as public. (Many did some additional research and exposed the vet lines on the list.)
This lead to more misinformation being spread, panicking pet parents, vets admitting that they do not have any nutritional training, and demanding that clients "CHOOSE THEIR OWN FOOD!" when they could not answer questions about why they recommend one food on the list, but not others. This resulted in backlash from the pet food advocates & those who had done research on the topic already.
In a FAQ posted to its website, Champion Pet foods (Acana & Origen) said that the FDA "provides no causative scientific link between DCM and our products, ingredients or grain-free diets as a whole."
"We think it is misleading for the FDA to post the names of brands, while at the same time fully stating that they have no scientific evidence linking diet to DCM," Champion also said.
Dr. Sarah Dodd, a veterinarian and researcher at the University of Guelph, claims "You could put anything in a bag and call it dog food, as long as your manufacturing and contact details are on the bag,"
So Why are they warning people about particular brands when they are not sure of the cause of DCM? FDA claims it has an obligation, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to disclose the names of brands that are reported related to any specific health concern that the FDA is researching. The FDA’s announcement provides no causative scientific link between DCM and ingredients or grain-free diets as a whole and it is unfortunate that the release of incomplete information is causing confusion among Pet Lovers about the food they purchase for their pets and the diets they follow.
Those who know me and have been in my shop, are aware that I support a raw natural diet for dogs. Many of you have heard me complain about the pet industry, especially when it comes to diet and kibble manufacturers. I absolutely hate Nestle's business morals, and will not stand behind their products (Human or Animal) as I do not trust that they care about any life, just money. This is why you will not find their products in my store. It is also why we have dropped some products, as other companies get bought out by them. Nestle has repetitively proven that profit is their goal, even if people or animals lives are compromised. I unfortunately find this a lot in the industry. It upsets me greatly. I have had vets apologize to me because I called them out for contributing to the mass hysteria this "information", admitting that they are adding to the problem by giving answers, when there are none at this time.
The information that is really being missed by many, is that the FDA claims that there is no need to switch your dogs food, if it is on the list, as they have not determined the cause of DCM. If your dog gets DCM to let them know. In other words, this list is what is being investigated, there is not a proof that these foods are causing problems. There are many other factors possible. It is suggested that you do not switch your dog to a grain inclusive food, especially if your dog does have grain sensitivities. It is also suggested that you rotate proteins and possibly brands. In terms of protein, the type is just as important as the amount in the diet. Taurine is naturally found in animal-based proteins. Therefore, diets that contain an adequate level of high-quality animal protein should provide sufficient levels of taurine. However, lower quality animal-based proteins (i.e. those that provide low levels of one or more essential amino acid) may not provide adequate methionine and cysteine for dogs to produce enough taurine. Knowing this, it’s critical to consider ingredients’ protein quality when formulating foods for both dogs and cats. Pet foods are also often supplemented with single amino acids, particularly methionine, lysine, and taurine, to ensure they contain sufficient amounts.
Overall, it is important to remember that “correlation does not equal causation”. Not all grain-free diets are nutritionally equal, and it is likely misguided to point fingers at single ingredients or the “grain-free” aspect of diets as the cause of heart disease in dogs. The evidence shows that the issue is much more complex than suggested by the FDA statement, and that protein quality and quantity, processing techniques, fibre content and other characteristics of a diet can all contribute to taurine status. While FDA researchers work to uncover science-based facts and compile a comprehensive report, we recommend contacting your veterinarian with any concerns about your pet’s health.
As the FDA is also targeting, exotic meats and boutique diets, one of the best things that has come from all this, is that they are now doing more research on raw diets. I am hoping that once these studies are done, that they will prove to everyone, all the benefits of a raw diet. These are studies that should have been done when kibble was first introduced. I expect that the FDA will NOT release any of their findings, until that investigation or research is complete. Very much unlike what they have done just recently with kibble.
All this being said, please do not panic that your dog's food will kill them. Of 70,000,000 dogs in the USA, there are 50,000 that have DCM. For 515 of them, it is POSSIBLY due to taurine deficiency or diet. Feed what you feel is best for your dog. Consider rotating proteins. Possibly brands. Pay attention to your dog. If they seem ill, or not like themselves, please go see a vet. If your dog is diagnosed with DCM, be sure to ask your vet to have your information included in the study. This is why the FDA released the information and it could save others. I will try to update info about the investigation & research, but when there is conclusive evidences towards the link between food & DCM. Until then, I do not wish for people to panic over misinformation or become more confused about this issue. If you have any questions, please feel free to come into the shop for a visit. If you want to try a raw natural diet for your dog & avoid kibble all together, We can definitely help with that. ;)
FDA Pet Food Regulations
1. CVM Updates – FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease. July 12, 2018. Retrieved September 15, 2018, from https://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/newsevents/cvmupdates/ucm613305.htm
2. Backus, R. C., et al., Taurine deficiency in Newfoundlands fed commercially available complete and balanced diets. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 2003. 223(8): 1130-1136.
3. National Research Council. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. 2006. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
4. Boye, J., Zare, F., and A. Pletch. Pulse proteins: Processing, characterization, functional properties and applications in food and feed. Food Res. Int., 2010. 43(2): 414-431.
5. Torres, C. L., et al., Taurine status in normal dogs fed a commercial diet associated with taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy. J. Anim. Physiol. Anim. Nutr. 2003. 87(9-10): 359-372.
6. Thompson, A. Ingredients: Where Pet Food Starts. Top. Companion Anim. Med. 2008. 23(3): 127-132.
7. Tran, Q. D., Hendricks, W .H., and A.F.B van der Pol. Effects of extrusion processing on nutrients in dry pet food. J. Sci. Food Agric. 2008. 88(9): 1487-1493.
8. Stratton-Phelps, M., et al., Dietary Rice Bran Decreases Plasma and Whole-Blood Taurine in Cats. J. Nutr. 2002. 132(6): 1745-1747.
9. Adin, D., et al., Echocardiographic phenotype of canine dilated cardiomyopathy differs based on diet type. Vet. Card. 2019. 21: 1-9.
10. Kaplan, J.L., et al., Taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy in golden retrievers fed commercial diets. PLOS ONE, 2018. 13(12): e0209112.
11. Freeman, L. M., et al., Diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs: what do we know? J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 2018. 253(11): 1390-1394
12. CVM Updates – FDA Provides Update on Investigation into Potential Connection Between Certain Diets and Cases of Canine Heart Disease. February 19, 2019. Retrieved February 19, 2019, from https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/ucm630993.htm
13. CVM Updates – FDA Provides Third Status Report on Investigation into Potential Connection Between Certain Diets and Cases of Canine Heart Disease. June 27, 2019. Retrieved June 27, 2019, from https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/cvm-updates/fda-provides-third-status-report-investigation-potential-connection-between-certain-diets-and-cases