We have received a lot of calls since the FDA released their report on June 29th 2019 regarding grain free diets and their link to a heart disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). This is a pretty scary report for most pet owners since grain free diets have been a fad for the past several years or so and it’s hard to even find a diet that does not say it’s “grain free”. If you haven’t read the report or seen the news story, here is a link to the FDA report:
It’s a fairly extensive report but here are the highlights. The FDA started receiving reports of DCM possibly related to diet in early 2014, released a PSA last July, and started receiving a large influx in reports of diets linked to DCM since the PSA. Ultimately, they received over 500 reports of DCM and unfortunately about 23% of those dogs died from their heart disease. The report listed 16 different brands of pet food that were most frequently reported.
Our main takeaway from this report, aside from “OMG I feed that brand to my dog so what now?”, is that there are an estimated 77 million pet dogs in the US and a lot of them are on a grain free diet of some kind. This means that there have likely been billions of pounds of this type of dog food sold and consumed by pets and the math equates to an approximate 0.00067% chance that your pet has been affected (515 cases/77,000,000 pet dogs in the US). The other important note is that there has not been a reported cause yet. There may be a link to a non-essential amino acid called Taurine and there may be a link with diets that contain peas and/or lentils. There is extensive ongoing research with pet food companies and private practices to try to identify a cause. Veterinary cardiologists are working hard to figure this out.
So what is DCM anyway and what do I need to monitor for? In short, DCM is dilation of the heart muscle which makes it inefficient as a pump and dogs may exhibit signs such as weakness, lethargy, coughing, difficulty breathing, and collapse. The disease has been successfully managed with diet change and medications to help the heart pump a little better.
So how did this happen and what can I do? Most pet owners have to make a dizzyingly difficult decision on what to feed their pets and it is all driven by marketing. There is also a gross misconception of what “byproducts” are and what dogs can metabolize for usable energy. So here is our take on it. This is a link to a pet food blog post we have on our website that was posted in March of 2017:
There are a small percentage of dogs that need to be on a special diet due to an underlying allergy, and an even smaller percentage that cannot tolerate grains. In fact, most of the food allergy dogs out there have an allergy to the protein not the carbohydrate source. Of that, the most common allergy is to chicken and beef. It is important to have a conversation with your veterinarian about what specific nutritional needs your pet may have. We personally believe in diets that have been extensively tested for quality control, diet trials, and meets or exceeds all nutritional standards. These diets tend to come from companies that also employ veterinarians and conduct research on their diets such as Purina, Hill’s/Science Diet, Royal Canin, and Iams/Eukanuba. Ask most veterinarians what we feed our own pets and you are likely to hear the same: Purina, Hill’s, Royal Canin and Iams. It is not that we are bought and paid for, it is that we believe in the results and want to treat your pets the same way we treat our own.
Choosing a diet for your pet can be stressful since we know you want to do the right thing and feed them the best. We hope to guide this decision and base it more on research and results rather than ad campaigns and the feelings of a pet store.
Again, if there are specific questions on what you should feed your pet, please consult with your veterinarian. If your pet is exhibiting any symptoms that may be associated with DCM, please consult with your veterinarian. We are here for you, please call to set up a consultation at 760-633-2254 (Encinitas) or 760-230-2249 (Carlsbad).