The DCM Scare: Don’t Panic



We strive to provide the best, and most accurate, information to our clients and do everything we can to lead you in the right direction for your pets health, so after the initial FDA report in June 2018 announcing that there may be a link between grain-free diets to DCM, we have been diligently doing research on DCM and keeping tabs on updated FDA reports. 

What is DCM?

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a type of canine heart disease that affects the heart muscle. The hearts of dogs with DCM have a decreased ability to pump blood, which often results in congestive heart failure.

DCM is not uncommon in dogs, however the reason that these cases have caught the attention of the FDA is because it had begun to appear in more cases with dogs that are not genetically predisposed to the condition due to breed. According to the AKC “some breeds, especially large and giant breeds, have a predisposition to DCM. These breeds include Doberman PinschersGreat DanesNewfoundlandsIrish Wolfhounds, and Saint Bernards. While DCM is less common in medium and small breeds, English and American Cocker Spaniels are also predisposed to this condition.” DCM is commonly associated with a taurine deficiency, increasing taurine in an affected dog’s diet has often been proven to help the condition to some degree; however, many of the dogs who were diagnosed with DCM in these reports had their blood tests come back with normal levels of taurine. Taurine comes from meat and organs, not from grain products, so a lack of Taurine would not be directly caused by a grain-free diet.

FDA Reports & What It Means

As of July 2019, FDA updated their findings and named 16 brands of dog food that came up in their reports. What does this mean? Contrary to what it seems, these food brands have not been linked to diet-associated DCM. The FDA released these names because the brand had come up in 10 or more reported cases; however there is still no known cause for this rise in DCM cases. They do not state specific food within these brands, and unfortunately have led many people to panic by the premature release of brand names.

What do the Vets think?

Dr. Steve M. Solomen, D.V.M., M.P.H., director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, even said, “…we have not yet determined the nature of this potential link [between dog food and DCM].”

In response to legumes, peas, lentils, etc being a possible cause since they are used to replace grains in grain-free diets, Dr. Jerry Klein, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the AKC, states that “at this time, there is no proof that these ingredients are the cause of DCM in a broader range of dogs…”

Dr. Lisa M. Freeman, from Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, reports “for the vast majority of dogs, we do not yet know what is causing this disease.” She also adds, “it is unlikely that most dogs eating [these diets] will develop DCM.”

Food for thought

It is estimated that the number of dogs in the United States is around 77 Million. Roughly 20% of these dogs are currently on a grain-free commercial diet, and growing, based on sale reports for pet food over the last few years; that is about 15.4 million dogs on grain-free diets. According to the FDA, there have been 524 reports of DCM from June 2018 to April 2019, some of which are multi-pet households, and roughly 10% of the reports were from dogs being fed a grain-inclusive diet. Even if we round up to 600 reports, you are looking at less than .00004% of dogs fed grain-free diets currently being affected in the United States. 

The brands released to the public have not been definitively proven to be linked to DCM. There is still no known cause for DCM, diet-related or otherwise. Dogs affected were fed both grain and grain-free diets. Hills Science Diet, Pedigree, Purina, and several other brands were being fed to dogs who were also reported as diagnosed with DCM to the FDA; however, these brands were not included in the 16 publicly named brands by the FDA. In addition, nearly 1/3 of the dogs currently reported to have DCM to the FDA were overweight or obese. 

What should you do?

Based on our research, our suggestion is that you check the ingredients of your dog’s food making sure that the food has meat proteins as the top ingredients. 

If your dog being fed one of the named brands and is doing well on it, you do not have to rush to switch your brand. We do, however, always recommend rotating flavors and proteins regularly to help give your dog a variety of different vitamins and minerals that may vary from different proteins; many dogs enjoy the change and it keeps meal time interesting.

If you are concerned your dog may be missing something, try out a multi-vitamin supplement to add to your dog’s diet; we recommend ones that include taurine. Or visit with your veterinarian to discuss your individual dog’s needs.

Make sure that your dog is kept at his or her ideal weight; obesity in dogs makes them far more susceptible to many health conditions including heart diseases, such as DCM.

What are early signs of DCM and heart disease?

Weakness, slowing down, less able to exercise, shortness of breath, coughing, or fainting are all early warning signs. If you notice any of these, get your dog checked out by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will listen for a heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythm; keep in mind your veterinarian may suggest additional tests, such as x-rays, blood tests, electrocardiogram, and ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram – the test of choice to diagnose DCM). 






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