Wednesday, Jul. 3rd 2019

Updated Information on DCM  (Dilated Cardiomyopathy) and Grain-Free diets

In an earlier newsletter, I discussed the recent concern about connections between certain diets, mainly promoted as Grain-Free, and a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy where the heart muscle becomes flabby and enlarged.  In some discussion groups, comments border on hysteria over this concern.  I wanted to update my clients on the latest information and commentary that appears relatively balanced.  At the end of this newsletter, I will comment on my conclusions.

So far, what is KNOWN is that over 500 dogs (out of the 9 million or so in the US) have been diagnosed with DCM while eating diets high in legume or potato content.  Most of these were advertised as grain-free diets.  No research has yet been done to prove whether the diets were actually a contributing cause or not.  Many of these affected dogs were of breeds known to be genetically predisposed to this condition anyway, though not all.  Taurine deficiency was originally implicated.  This amino acid is known to be important to heart health in cats, and some breeds of dog.  However, it is generally not a factor for most dogs.  Some DCM dogs have responded to taurine supplementation, but the majority did not seem to have this need as they had normal taurine levels.  At this time, it is suspected that the high legume or potato content in these diets may be interfering with taurine absorption or its use in the body in some way, but this is not proven.  Some vet organizations are recommending only feeding diets from four major pet food manufacturers.  Due to the high level of processing of ingredients in most of their diets, we feel our clients can do better.  More on that below.  

FDA’s most recent press release can be found here:

A response from Dr Jean Dodds from Hemopet/Nutriscan labs can be found here:

UC-Davis has this white paper with more information and links:

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association has this to say about selecting pet foods and how to question manufacturers:

This is a response from Stella and Chewy’s, one of the various food manufacturers we often recommend:


I have always and will continue to recommend variety in your pet’s diet.   One common connection between the reported cases of DCM has been the use of a single diet for months to years.  Any diet may turn out to be deficient for a given dog over the long term, since their needs change by age, activity, health, and season of the year.  Feeding three or more completely different foods (not different flavors of the same brand) on a daily/weekly basis can help not only to prevent nutrient imbalance.  It can also promote healthier gut bacteria to prevent sensitive GI tracts. Once you’ve carefully introduced each new food one at a time, as long as you maintain the variety your dog will be better able to handle new foods or treats due to a more varied gut biome.  

Feeding at least some meat-based foods, preferably fresh/frozen/freeze-dried, will provide plenty of taurine.  Avoiding diets where peas, soy, chickpeas, other legumes, or potatoes are higher than fifth or sixth on the ingredient list should avoid any concern that these ingredients might be contributing to heart disease.  While there as yet is no research proving connection between certain grain-free diets and DCM, there is significant research showing how highly processed all-kibble diets can contribute to inflammation, diabetes, obesity, and other health concerns in our pets. 

In most dogs, it is not necessary to avoid grain.  Most breeds were developed in parts of the world where grain was a normal part of the diet before dog food existed, and therefore, they can digest it just fine.  We prefer to avoid wheat, corn, and soy, but other grains as a second or lower ingredient in a diet are perfectly acceptable.  Cats, however, should be on a grain-free diet, preferably partly or all moist in nature because of their unique metabolic needs.

If you wish to have a more personalized evaluation of your pet’s diet suitability, we are happy to schedule them for a Chinese and physical exam to determine their specific health needs and then do an extended nutritional consult to help guide you in your pet food decisions.  If you have concerns that your previous diet choices may have put your pet at risk for DCM, we are happy to work with you on a diagnostic plan to determine if they are in need of treatment.



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