Thanks for your interest in learning more about DCM and the importance of Taurine in your pet's diet – Here’s the latest news on DCM Staying up to date on this topic is important. Having a deeper understanding of our dog's diets will help you have a better conversation with your pet's veterinary team.
Here's a quote from a recent newsletter by highly respected veterinarian, Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM;
"From the first day the FDA and veterinary cardiologists and nutritionists labeled grain-free BEG diets as causing DCM in dogs, I called BULL. This was just a ploy by the large pet food manufacturers using their influence on FDA to single out smaller companies that are gaining an increase in market share. Unfortunately, their ploy worked, resulting in discontinuation of many wonderful pet foods and huge revenue losses for good companies.
The veterinary community has bought into this rhetoric, often recommending a return to poor quality, grain-filled, low-meat diets for pets.
Can certain high-quality grains provide benefits for some dogs? Yes.
Do I recommend diets filled with grains or legumes and potatoes? No.
At this point in time, there are more questions than answers. I have never recommended feeding high-starch diets to dogs or cats. Peas, chickpeas, lentils, potatoes, and other high starch ingredients may or may not be the problem associated with the increase in DCM. I just don't think they are a good addition to the diets of our pets for many reasons: obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and other inflammatory conditions are seen more often in pets eating large amounts of these ingredients.
While the cardiologists at Tufts recommend against feeding raw or home-prepared diets, I can only attest to the benefits I have seen in my own dogs by feeding these diets. All my cavaliers have developed mitral valve disease (a different disease from dilated cardiomyopathy, but heart disease nonetheless). They have eaten raw and home-prepared diets for years. The average life expectancy for a cavalier once placed on heart medications is under three years. We have far surpassed that in all our dogs. Coincidence? I think not."
Dr. Judy Morgan is a nationally renowned author and veterinarian certified in acupuncture, food therapy, and chiropractic care for dogs, cats, and horses.
Diagnosing and Treating Heart Disease in Dogs and Cats
By Dr Judy Morgan, DVM
"Many breeds of dogs and cats are prone to heart disease. While there are no proven methods to decrease the risk of heart disease in a breed genetically prone to its development, a pet owner has many nutritional, herbal, and therapeutic options to support healthy heart function."
Read more about your options here
The (Dis) Connection between Grain-Free Foods and DCM
By Linda P. Case - The Science Dog
From The Science Dog Blog Post: 4.6.2022
Where are We Now with This Issue?
We know a number of things:
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy is Multifaceted: First, DCM is a complex disease that is most likely influenced by multiple factors. One of the most important and well-studied of these is genetics – a number of dog breeds are known to be genetically predisposed to developing DCM. Other risk factors for DCM include adult size, metabolic rate, age, presence of overweight conditions, and, as we have learned, dietary factors that may influence a dog’s taurine status over time. All of these factors, taken together, may affect an individual dog’s lifetime risk of developing DCM.
- Dietary Factors: Plant-based ingredients such as peas, lentils and potatoes are frequent replacements for grains in grain-free dog foods. Most of the current studies have shown that feeding foods with these ingredients do not directly influence the taurine status (or heart health) of dogs. However, shifts in bile acid excretion have been reported by several groups and this type of change may (over time) contribute to an alteration in gut microbial populations, fermentation processes and possibly taurine homeostasis. Still, this information is a far reach from concluding that these ingredients directly compromise a dog’s taurine status – there is no evidence of that. There is also no evidence to date that these ingredients negatively affect a dog’s heart health or contribute to the development of DCM. We need long-term studies to determine if shifts in fecal bile excretion actually lead to these outcomes and present a risk to dog health.
- It is NOT Grain-Free Foods: Grain-free products are a large and diverse group of foods that include multiple brands, a range of formulations, and a variety of ingredients. To date, there is no evidence that feeding grain-free foods are a direct cause of DCM in dogs. This recent study provides one more piece of important evidence as it found that the dramatic rise in feeding of grain-free foods over the last 12 years was not associated with an accompanying rise in DCM cases in dogs
New Survey of Veterinarian Cardiologists:
DCM Incidence in Dogs Remained Flat with No Correlation to 500% Growth of Grain-Free Diet Category Over Nearly a Decade
The survey looked at the incidence of DCM with the growth of grain-free diets over the past decade. You would think that if grain-free foods grew over 500% during that period that there would be a corresponding increase in DCM over those years. The survey found no correlation between the growth of Grain Free Diets and the incidence of DCM in dogs.
A total of 68 breeds from 2004-2019 were identified in this survey and they grouped them by inherited breeds, small breeds, mixed breeds, retrievers, and other.
Despite a five-fold increase in grain-free pet food sales from 2011-2019, there was not a significant increase in cases of DCM.
"Veterinarians and scientists from BSM Partners, the largest pet care research and consulting firm, and the University of Missouri, published an analysis of a retrospective survey that evaluated the annual incidence of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) diagnosed by veterinary cardiologists across the United States, along with previously unknown information regarding the growth of grain-free pet food store sales.
Researchers received information on more than 68,000 total canine cardiology cases from veterinary cardiology referral hospitals, diagnosed between 2000 and 2019. The average incidence rate of DCM, amongst these referral cases seen in participating hospitals during the survey period, was 3.9% (range 2.53-5.65%). They also analyzed data regarding grain-free pet food store sales provided by the Nielsen Company, which showed a 500% increase in sales from 2011 to 2019.
"Based on the data we received from veterinary cardiologists across the United States, we did not observe a significant increase in DCM incidence rate over time, which included the recent period when grain-free pet food sales grew exponentially," said Dr. Stephanie Clark, PhD, CVT, PAS, CFS, Dpl. ACAS of BSM Partners, an article co-author and a board-certified companion animal nutritionist. "The existing scientific literature indicates that nutritional factors can lead to the development of DCM, but we did not find a correlation in the DCM incidence rate to grain-free pet food sales." "
Here's the complete peer-reviewed article which was published in Frontiers in Animal Science magazine.
The author of this article is Ryan Yamka, PhD, a founder and an independent consultant with Luna Science and Nutrition, and founder of the Guardian Pet Food Co. He is board certified in companion animal nutrition by the American College of Animal Sciences and a fellow with the American College of Nutrition. Yamka calls on his extensive background in pet nutrition, and multiple years developing, formulating and launching dog and cat foods as a senior executive with leading pet food companies, to address common myths and misconceptions about pet food.
This is an article you could share with your Veterinarian concerning the connection between DCM and Grain Free Pet Foods.
"This may be a shocker to some, but the truth is, there is not a direct cause-and-effect link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and grain-free pet foods. In fact, there has never been a single research study to demonstrate the relationship; rather, the fact is: The association between DCM and grain-free foods has been weak at best.
It appears that some veterinarians, especially in academia, and even some of my colleagues in the pet food industry conveniently ignore that even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acknowledged that DCM is a scientifically complex, multi-faceted issue. This is sad, considering that practicing veterinarians often do not have time to research the topic themselves and actually look to these experts for legitimate and truthful information.
Additionally, FDA acknowledged that out of the more than 2,000 cases investigated, only 1,100 could be confirmed as DCM (note: NOT nutritional DCM, as there are many types). Meaning, veterinarians were inaccurate in their diagnosis for 45% of the cases submitted to FDA versus other potential cardiac issues, such as heart murmurs. Lastly, FDA even noted that pulse ingredients have been used in pet food for a long time, and again, there is no evidence to indicate that they are inherently dangerous to dogs."
From Dr Judy Morgan's Friday Five:
"Taurine is an amino acid. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of protein. There are 22 amino acids that are needed for proper functioning of the body. It is found in high quantities in the brain, retina, heart, and in platelets. It functions in tissues by stabilizing cell membranes and aiding the transport of potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium in and out of cells. Taurine helps to generate and regulate nerve impulses and supports the maintenance of normal fluid balance; it is also used by the body in visual pathways, as well as in the brain and nervous system, where it works together with glycine and GABA as a neurotransmitter.
Dogs can utilize foods high in cysteine and methionine to make taurine. (Cats cannot.) Cysteine is found in highest levels in eggs, soy, cheese, poultry, oats, broccoli, red pepper, and garlic. Methionine is found in highest levels in eggs, fish, sesame seeds, soy, cheese, beef, and poultry.
While companies that produce grain-filled pet food insist that grains provide enough methionine and cysteine for dogs to make enough taurine, it is clear that the amino acids needed to produce optimal health exist mainly in animal products, not grains. The vast majority of dry pet foods contain little or no real meat, but instead use cheaper substitutes like grain proteins (corn gluten, wheat gluten, pea protein, soy protein), and by-product meals. Many pet food companies now add taurine to their products, however there are no stated requirements for supplementing dog food with taurine. Cat food almost always includes supplemental Taurine"
Here’s the FDA’s latest statement on DCM in Dogs.
Historically, DCM has been primarily linked to genetic predisposition in certain breeds, but in the context of these atypical cases, emerging science appears to indicate that non-hereditary DCM is a complex medical condition that may be affected by the interplay of multiple factors such as genetics, underlying medical conditions, and diet.
FDA has not taken regulatory action against or declared any specific pet food products unsafe or definitively linked to DCM. As the scientific community looks further into the role that diet may play in these cases, we hope to explore additional avenues about ingredient levels, nutrient bioavailability, ingredient sourcing, and diet processing to determine if there are any common factors. We have asked pet food manufacturers to share diet formulation information, which could substantially benefit our understanding of the role of diet.
“It’s an inflection point that provides FDA with an opportunity to clarify and emphasize some key points about non-hereditary DCM,” said Steven M. Solomon, DVM, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM).
Here’s more news concerning DCM and Grain-Free Diets:
8.18.2020 New Study: 7 Months on a Grain-Free Food Didn’t Cause DCM Signs
“…after feeding one of those brands, Acana made by Champion Petfoods, to Labrador Retrievers for nearly seven months, the dogs didn’t show physiological changes that scientists believe may accompany DCM. The journal Translational Animal Science published the results.”
Scientists continue searching for the ultimate cause of the DCM cases that the FDA is investigating.
6.15.2020 A new study failed to find a definitive relationship between grain-free and legume-rich diets and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. This study was published in a peer-reviewed veterinary journal on June 15, 2020. (see link above)
A group of veterinarians, veterinary cardiologists and animal nutritionists from BSM Partners, a pet care research and consulting firm, examined more than 150 studies for the analysis. We had the opportunity to sit in on two presentations over the past eight months with BSM Partners and their research has proven to be very compelling.
“We wanted to gain the best understanding of this issue, so we examined the results of more than 150 studies, which taken together did not support a link between grain-free and legume-rich diets, and DCM,” said Dr. Sydney McCauley, an animal nutritionist and the article’s lead author. “What the science does make clear is that DCM is largely an inherited disease.”
The new article details published research highlighting a number of other factors that could contribute to the presence of DCM. These include nutrient deficiencies, myocarditis, chronic tachycardia and hypothyroid disease.
“We believe that further research is needed in order to reach sound conclusions with respect to the relationship between diet and DCM,” said Dr. Eva Oxford, a veterinary cardiologist and an article coauthor. “This is why BSM Partners has initiated multiple original research projects that will shed additional light on this topic.”
BSM researchers also stated that while the FDA has referenced many reported cases of DCM in dogs eating grain-free or legume-rich diets, the majority of these cases contained incomplete information.
“For example, integral data such as the dog’s complete diet history, age, or the presence of concurrent conditions were often missing,” according to the press release. “Additionally, some of the reported cases were of dog breeds with a known genetic predisposition to DCM, which further confounds the claim of a dietary role.
The Truth About Pet Food:
New Study suggests FDA has some serious explaining to do regarding DCM
Here’s our latest statement on DCM – it’s our short version of what you should consider when you’re researching DCM.
It’s impossible to determine a cause-and-effect relationship between diet and DCM due to a lack of standardization and so many different variables in any current studies or reporting including from the FDA. Any breed can present with a DCM phenotype and there are many known causes including an inherited predisposition or another cause (viral, tick-borne, autoimmune etc). Cardiovascular disease is the fourth most common cause of death in dogs and DCM represents about 10% of cardiac diagnoses. (Genetics of Human and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy – Internal Journal of Genomics) It’s very difficult to identify to the cause of the DCM, especially dietary issues although some breeds have a poor ability to either synthesize their own Taurine from the amino acids in the food or under-utilize the Taurine levels in the diet. A heart biopsy can determine if there’s an inflammation of the myocardium which is a known cause of DCM in dogs. Fortunately there are a number of studies* (See Links Above) going on to determine what steps need to be taken (if any) but it might be five years before we know what’s really going on but the best thing a pet parent can do is to add in fresh, whole food sources every day to their pet’s diet, rotate their foods and add in good natural sources of Taurine into their dogs diet like sardines, hearts, liver, fermented raw goat milk, etc. Regardless of whether the food is grain-free or has grain the diet must contain sufficient levels of meat protein and not protein primarily from plants. ( e.g. rice, oat groats, brewers rice, wheat, corn gluten meal, etc. Also, watch the peas and lentils more common in the grain free diets) Meat protein is key to ensure the proper levels of amino acids for your pet’s diet. Know what your pet is eating. This is a nutritional standard that has never changed. There’s no simple answer but being informed is key.
We’ve added more links for additional information regarding DCM so that you have ample information to help you better understand your dog’s health and nutrition needs.
Here’s an excellent article by Nutrition Veterinarian Jean Hofve on what she believes is really behind your pet’s heart health.
We are staying on top of the situation and we’d like to let you know that we’ve always carried a variety of high-quality diets for pets that include grains as well as our grain-free varieties as well as our extensive whole raw foods, freeze-dried, dehydrated and baked food options. In addition, we have many whole food supplements that can boost your pet’s nutrition no matter what food your feeding.
We are here for you and we’re staying on top of this on-going investigation because your pet’s health is our number one priority since 2004.
Here’s a lot more information regarding the on-going FDA investigation:
We’ve been talking to many concerned customers about the recent status update from the FDA and the issue of a potential link between diet-related DCM – Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy and dogs eating a grain-free diet.
We wanted to take the opportunity to break this down for you. (This post is rather long but we believe it’s important information for you)
We take the health of your pet very seriously and our passion for the health and well-being of our animals was the big reason we opened Four Muddy Paws 15 years ago. The pet food industry has changed a great deal in the past 15 years and we’ve seen our share of recalls including the massive recall in 2007 due to melamine in pet food. It’s important to remember that the FDA has not issued any recalls with this latest update but we understand how alarming these updates can be especially when it comes to the health of our own pets.
Here’s what we know so far about this report:
Per the FDA report, “the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that there are 77 million pet dogs in the United States. As of April 30, 2019, the FDA has received reports about 560 dogs diagnosed with DCM suspected to be linked to diet. Tens of millions of dogs have been eating dog food without developing DCM.”
That’s 560 dogs out of 72 million. Approximately one in four dogs will get cancer every year and nearly half of all dogs over ten will die from it. Now, that’s something to be concerned about, in comparison to the 0.000007% chance of DCM.
The brands associated with the increase in DCM are the most popular brands and not solely those available in the small independent pet market but the big brands as well.
Originally it was thought that exotic proteins were the issue but the FDA reports that 75% were not exotic proteins but actually chicken. Not that chicken itself is the issue just that it’s the most popular protein.
95% of the dogs were fed solely dry kibble and not rotated off any particular food, sometimes for years.
25% of the dogs are predisposed to getting DCM genetically.
This is an on-going investigation and the FDA has based their statement 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.
We’ve talked a lot about nutrition over the years and our philosophy has always been about adding in variety into your pet’s diet, adding in fresh foods into the diet and supplementing with additional whole food supplements which is why we call these our “magic in the bowl” products.
This is also exactly why we designed our WAG Club Loyalty Program the way we did. We want to encourage you to change up your pet’s food on a regular basis and still get rewarded with a FREE bag of food for every 10 that you purchase of that size, regardless of manufacturer. We’ve always encouraged our Fresh Raw Feeders to rotate among three different proteins from three different manufacturers. Every pet is different and every pet food is different. Our bodies crave variety and need variety to thrive rather than just survive. That’s why we don’t eat a bowl of “complete and balanced” Total cereal at every meal for years and expect to be healthy – especially if we don’t add in a banana, blueberries, etc. to add extra nutrition to our own food. So, we need to make sure we’re adding in whole foods to our pet’s diets too in addition to feeding a wide variety of foods.
Here are the three things we believe you can do right now to bring more variety into your pet’s diet.
- Change Proteins regularly
- Change Manufacturers regularly
- Add in Variety with whole fresh foods and supplements
Remember that the amino acids in question for our pets’ heart health only come from fresh animal protein sources. Taurine, Cystine, and Methionine. Most dry foods must add them back in after cooking and they are synthetic and not from a whole food source. We advocated that you should add in animal protein-rich fresh foods whenever you can.
We’ve always encouraged moving toward a fresh food diet as much as possible. On a scale of processed foods, you want to move toward the top of the pyramid with whole raw foods giving your pet’s bodies the nutrients they need to thrive and create a healthy microbiome in their gut and a healthy immune system to have the body function at an optimal level. Focusing on giving your pet more protein-rich foods rather than carb-rich foods makes a big difference. Adding in a fermented raw goat or cow milk/kefir, extra taurine, prebiotics/probiotics, raw eggs, chicken hearts, and digestive enzymes can help supplement what your pet’s bodies need. Ideally, you can do this at least a few times a week but at a minimum please rotate your pet’s food on a very regular basis.
On a personal note, our dogs have always been fed a variety of raw diets that we carry at Four Muddy Paws. We’ve always rotated their proteins and manufacturers with every bag we purchase. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t supplement with additional nutrients too. Working with our holistic veterinarian we’re able to give our boys the additional nutrients they need. We discovered a couple of years ago that Foster has a heart arrhythmia so we give him additional Taurine every day to support his heart health. If you’re concerned about your own pet you can work with your own Vet and have your pet’s Taurine levels tested. Knowledge is power and being aware of what our pets are eating is one of the most important gifts we can give them.
We’re in this together and we’re working every day to educate ourselves and educate you about your pet’s health and well-being. Rest assured; we’re following this situation very closely. The options for our pets have greatly improved over the past 15 years but our knowledge is not yet perfect and we continue to learn more every day and why we must continue to be advocates for our pet’s health. This is why we’ve always carried a wide variety of foods containing grains, grain-free options plus dehydrated, freeze-dried and raw options. Please know that we take your support very seriously and we will do everything we can to give you the options you need to help your pets live a long and healthy life together.
We thank you for your continued trust in the care of your pets,
Jeff Jensen and Matt Brazelton, Foster and Potter, and our dedicated teams at both Lafayette Square and Edwardsville
Vendor Links on DCM