DCM and Grain-Free Diets for Dogs

By September 16, 2019Uncategorized

What you need to know about grain-free diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

It’s natural to get concerned anytime that we see a news headline implicating a negative relationship between our pet’s health and wellbeing and their diet.

At Cabbagetown Pet Clinic, we have been fielding many calls about a recent report released by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) in the United States (dog food manufacturers are NOT regulated in Canada). This study was initiated after the FDA received 515 reports of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs between Jan. 1, 2014 and April 30, 2019 which appeared to link dog breeds not typically susceptible to DCM genetically, and diets predominately labelled and marketed as “grain free”.

The report details FDA’s ongoing investigation into a “potential connection between certain diets and cases of canine heart disease”. We feel its important try and set the record straight and to help reduce some of the anxiety surrounding its recent findings.

You can read the full report here:

https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/news-events/fda-investigation-potential-link-between-certain-diets-and-canine-dilated-cardiomyopathy

At this time, there is no verifiable evidence that these ingredients are a primary cause of DCM, but dog lovers should be aware of this alert and it’s ongoing investigation.

Q&A for DCM and Grain-free Dog Food.

What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) ?

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a serious disease affecting the heart.

Canine DCM occurs when the muscle wall of a dog’s heart thins, thereby weakening it and making it more difficult to pump blood. Congestive heart failure, irregular heartbeat and sudden death can result.

What Causes DCM ?

There a many factors that can lead to the development of canine DCM. Genetics appear to play a central role in the predisposition some dog breeds (Dobermans and Boxers have had specific genetic mutations identified) which makes them more susceptible to develop DCM.

One factor of concern with respect to nutrition, which is the focus of this report, is a deficiency of some amino acids (namely taurine and carnitine) or other nutritional components in the diet which may be causing an increase in cases of DCM in dog breeds not known to have genetic predisposition.

The FDA has not come to a definitive conclusion with respect to why “grain-free” dog food diets are suspect. The only common relationship that investigators at the FDA have observed is “grain-free” diets that use peas, lentils and other legumes and/or potatoes listed as one of the main ingredients appear to be associated with an increased incidence of canine DCM. There are currently many theories, but no conclusive answers clarifying how these diets can intensify this condition.  

How do I know if my dog has DCM ?

The indicators of DCM differ depending on the breed of dog and at what stage the disease has progressed.

Symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • pale gums
  • increased heart rate
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • periods of weakness
  • fainting
  • abdominal distension

Abnormal respiratory signs are most common initial complaint.

What should I do if my dog eats a grain-free, legume-based or other implicated diets ?

As a general rule of thumb, the best thing you can do for your dog’s dietary health is to consult your veterinarian. Together you can weigh the pros and cons of your dog’s diet and, if necessary, monitor your dog for signs of DCM. A discussion with your veterinarian will result in a tailored recommendation that reflects your dog’s needs and medical history.

To be clear, the FDA is not advising dietary changes based solely on the information gathered to date.

How did the FDA compile the list of brands ?

Of the dog food brands on the FDA’s list, 91% of the products were labeled grain-free and did not contain corn, soy, wheat, rice, barley or other grains, while 93% contained peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans, or potatoes. The common thread appears to be legumes, pulses (seeds of legumes), and/or potatoes as main ingredients in the food.

The FDA does not believe these cases can be explained simply by whether or not they contain grains, or by brand or manufacturer. Brands cited by the FDA most frequently (as of April 30, 2019) that had at least ten reports include: 

Currently, no therapeutic diets manufactured by Hills, Purina or Royal Canin have been associated with cases of diet-associated DCM.

Has the FDA recalled any of these brands ?

No. It is important to note that the FDA has not recalled any of the brands mentioned above. The potential connection between these foods and canine DCM has not been definitively confirmed, and there’s not enough conclusive data indicating that the aforementioned brands need to be removed from the market.

What’s Next ?

If your dog is showing possible signs of DCM, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. If the indicators are severe enough and your veterinarian is not available, obtain emergency veterinary care.

To conclude, the FDA is continuing to investigate and gather more information in an effort to identify whether there is a specific dietary link to development of DCM and will provide updates to the public as information develops.

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