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Our take on the latest (Nov 2020) FDA statement on the ongoing investigation into DCM
Written By: Natalie, Pack Member

In June of last year, we wrote a blog (1) about the FDA’s update (2) on the possibility of grain-free diets contributing to Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy, a heart disease also known as DCM. The FDA’s unprecedented release of brand names alongside the article followed by the media’s premature conclusions caused fear, panic, and confusion before there were any actual answers. Many of you have reached out to us with questions, and we have tried to shed as much light on this subject as possible. There has been a lot of misinformation thrown around as we have waited for an official conclusion that is backed by solid science and research. 

We are very happy to be able to report that finally, after years of collecting and analyzing both consumer and veterinarian data reports, the FDA has concluded that there is no scientific evidence that the development of DCM is caused by a grain free diet. (3) It was reported 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.” This essentially says that proper studies and research needs to be done before making any conclusions about the root cause of DCM.

The new report also clarified that the “FDA has not taken regulatory action against or declared any specific pet food products unsafe or definitively linked to DCM.” (4) Remember the media (and probably your vet) misinterpreting the update from last June and maintaining that brands x, y, and z are being implicated as a potential cause of DCM is NOT a conclusion backed by science, and the FDA has NOT declared any of those named brands nutritionally deficient or as a cause of DCM. With this information, pet owners everywhere can finally take a breath. In this article, we’re going to talk about DCM, what happened with the FDA, and what the latest update means and how it may affect you and your pet.

Let’s Recap: What Even Is DCM In The First Place?
DCM is a disease that affects the muscles within the heart, resulting in the heart becoming enlarged. If left untreated, this enlargement can lead to congestive heart failure. DCM can be caused by several things (such as drugs, infections, and thyroid issues) but is most commonly a genetic issue. Labs, Cocker Spaniels, Dobermans, and Irish Wolfhounds tend to have a higher prevalence of DCM. Roughly 1% of dogs in the United States are impacted by this condition.

The Rundown On The DCM Issue:
In 2018, the FDA announced it was investigating a potential link between DCM and dogs being fed a diet rich in legumes and/or potatoes. This article (5) caused a lot of concern and confusion, although absolutely no conclusions could be made at that time. 

Next, in February of 2019, a report (6) was released describing the lifestyles of 294 dogs that had been diagnosed with DCM from 2014 to 2018, and a large proportion of those dogs reportedly ate a grain free diet. A small group of clinicians also called out what they called “BEG” (Boutique, Exotic, Grain-Free) diets as being the cause, even though half of the dogs were eating a kibble that was poultry, fish, or lamb based, and none of the foods were nutritionally deficient.

Lastly, in June of 2019 the FDA named the brands (7) of food that were being most implicated in cases of DCM. Although these were cherry picked cases and the data the FDA showed very closely represented a market share report of the brands’ sales in grain free foods, the release of the names painted these brands in a very negative light. Understandably, this scared pet parents that had been feeding their dog a brand included in the report. Let me stress, even with the release of the brand names, there was NO conclusive evidence that DCM was being caused by specific formulas, or even grain-free foods in general.

The Most Current News:
On September 29, 2020, Kansas State University held a virtual scientific forum to examine the causes of DCM and its possible link to diet. Veterinarians, scientific experts, and pet food companies all came together in the mission to understand DCM and its relationship with diet. Over the last several years, several endeavors have been made to understand the issue, some of which include: 

  • A study (8) where 4 female and 4 male Labrador Retrievers were fed Acana for seven months and monitored closely for signs of DCM. After this time period, not one of the dogs had any signs indicating reduced heart function or compromised nutritional status.
  • An analysis (9) on nutrient deficiencies and heart health, which brought to light that dogs and cats that were deficient in potassium, amino acids, or trace minerals were more likely to develop heart diseases including DCM versus animals that were not deficient
  • Several different studies of the effect of heavy metals in the diet. After the analysis of several studies, it has been realized that since taurine (an amino acid critical to heart function) detoxifies heavy metals, a diet containing these toxins depletes taurine levels as the body works to neutralize them. (10, 11, 12)

So What Do We Know?
While there will be more investigation into DCM and its potential causes, pet owners can rest assured that the FDA has not declared any grain-free pet foods unsafe nor linked a grain free diet to DCM. Furthermore, the issue with DCM is NOT solely seen in grain free foods! Many cases of DCM have been reported to the FDA with the dog in question having been fed a grain containing diet. The FDA even admits that they “are not advising dietary changes” and “many of these ingredients (legumes) have long been included in pet food.” (13)

It is important to note that any heart disease in dogs, just like heart disease in people, has many factors that come into play. Additional studies must be done to determine to what extent diet affects heart health, and what other factors may play into the development of DCM or other heart disease.

How Does This Affect My Dog And I? What Should I Do?
Here at St. PetersBARK, we are incredibly passionate about keeping our customers’ (as well as our own!) dogs and cats as healthy as possible. It is completely devastating that animals have gotten sick, and we look forward to more studies and more conclusive research. However, it can be safely said that DCM is a complicated disease that is influenced by many factors, and it cannot be said that there is a “best” or “safest” diet for all dogs, since every dog is different and every dog reacts differently to different foods. It is our mission to help people find the diet that works best for them and their pet as individuals.

Here’s What We’re Recommending For Now:

  • If your dog is happy and healthy, it is probably best to just keep doing what you’re doing. Perhaps feeding Zignature has finally solved your dog’s gastrointestinal issues, or your dog’s skin condition has finally cleared up on a diet of Orijen. If you do have concerns, feel free to reach out to us. We are happy to help answer any questions you may have!
  • If you are able, incorporate as many fresh and raw foods, especially animal products rich in taurine, as you can. Goat milk, raw food, and eggs are all excellent options for supplemental or partial feeding.
  • If you home cook for your dog, incorporate one of our dehydrated base mixes to help ensure a balanced meal. Even if you don’t home cook, adding a daily multivitamin to your dog or cat’s regimen can help cover your nutritional bases.
  • Diversify your pet’s nutrition as much as possible. Try different flavors, different toppers like broth or raw milk, or mix in different types of canned food when you’re able.
  • Educate yourself, ask questions, and talk to your vet if you are worried. Tests can be done if you are concerned about DCM, and don’t let your vet shame you for trying to make the best decision for you and your dog. Just keep in mind that we all have the same exact information available to us!
  • Still want help? Book a pet food consultation with us.

The Final Word (For Now!):
We at St. PetersBARK would like to extend thank you’s to all our friends and customers that have come to us for insight into the whirlwind of conflicting information and research. Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for reaching out. And thank you for wanting to stay informed. We know your pets are members of your family, and that you want the best for them! 

While it is reassuring that research has shown there is no scientific evidence showing grain free diets cause DCM, we understand that you may still have questions and concerns. We will be here to help and will maintain a compassionate and judgement-free atmosphere. Book a pet food consultation if you want a detailed diet recommendation for your particular situation. Your support and love is so very appreciated, and we will be here if you ever want to talk!