Canine DCM: What is it and what does it mean for my pup's food?

Written, with love, on: August 16, 2019

When the FDA released an update on its investigation into potential links between certain diets and canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in June, dog owners around the country were left in a state of shock. We all love our dogs, and the thought that feeding a particular type of food could potentially be doing our four-legged family members harm was a devastating blow.

But now that the dust has settled and the media speculation surrounding the announcement has died down, it’s time to unpack the FDA’s update and work out exactly what it means for your dog’s diet.

We’ll do that in more detail below, but before you start stressing about what you should and shouldn’t be feeding your pooch, remember this one key takeaway from the latest update: nothing has been confirmed. The FDA is still gathering data and continuing its investigation, and as yet there’s no conclusive proof that grain-free diets are linked to DCM.

With that out of the way, let’s sniff out exactly what this report is all about.

What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a type of heart disease that affects a dog’s heart muscle. It causes an enlarged heart and reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood, eventually leading to congestive heart failure.

It’s a severe and life-threatening condition, so there are plenty of reasons why the FDA is taking this investigation very seriously.

What’s the Latest?

In June 2019, the FDA released the latest update on its investigation into potential links between certain diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). 

Let’s take a moment to look at some of the key points of the investigation so far:

  • Nothing has been scientifically proven. There’s a lot we don’t yet know about the potential links between diets and DCM, as revealed in this statement from the FDA: “Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.” So, while some people may be quick to point the finger at certain ingredients or diets, the jury is still out.
  • The investigation is ongoing. The FDA’s June update prompted some media outlets to start jumping to conclusions about the causes of heart disease in dogs. In reality, the science is still in its early stages, as this extract from the study explains: “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.”
  • DCM only affects a small percentage of dogs. According to The American Veterinary Medical Association, there are around 77 million pet dogs in the USA. However, the FDA study centers on 524 reports of DCM (515 dogs, 9 cats) received between January 1, 2014 and April 30, 2019. That’s a pretty small percentage of the canine population, so the vast majority of dogs across the USA have been eating pet food without developing DCM.
  • Some breeds are predisposed to DCM. DCM is a genetic condition more commonly seen in large and giant breeds like Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers and Irish Wolfhounds. Interestingly, more than 30% of the dogs in the FDA study were breeds predisposed to DCM.

The FDA also highlighted the fact that of the 524 DCM reports it received, approximately 222 of these were between December 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019. Some commenters have suggested this sharp increase in cases correlates with the rising popularity of grain-free diets. 

Of course, it could also merely be a reflection of the fact that the FDA issued its first public alert on diet-related DCM in July 2018, and the jump in reports is a result of increasing public awareness of the issue.

What Does it Mean for Me and My Dog?

With the investigation still ongoing, dog lovers around the country will no doubt be desperate to hear some definitive answers. In the meantime, you’re probably wondering what the report means for your dog, her diet and her general wellbeing. 

And while we wait to see what the investigation reveals, there are a few simple things you can do for your pet:

  • Take a deep breath. The suggestion of any link between doggy diets and heart disease is alarming, even downright scary, but it’s worth remembering that nothing has been confirmed. The FDA doesn’t yet know how certain diets may be associated with DCM in dogs, and the full results of the investigation won’t be known anytime soon. Until they are, there’s no point panicking.

  • Know the signs of DCM. No matter what type of diet you feed your dog, make sure you recognize the symptoms of DCM. If your pooch has reduced energy levels, a cough, breathing difficulties or episodes of collapse, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

    • If you’re unsure what to feed your dog, ask your vet. This piece of advice came from Dr Steven M. Solomon, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, in the news release that accompanied the latest study update: “...because we have not yet determined the nature of this potential link, we continue to encourage consumers to work closely with their veterinarians, who may consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, to select the best diet for their pets’ needs,” he said. So, with a little help from a trusted vet, you can ensure that your dog is eating the right diet. 

    Why Feed Heed? 

    Here at Heed Foods, the welfare of dogs is our number-one priority. Just like you, we want nothing but the best for your four-legged friend, and we’re eager for the FDA to get to the bottom of any links between diet and DCM as soon as possible.

    However, we have not been contacted by the FDA and there is currently no indication that any of our products are linked to the investigation in any way. And while the FDA has raised concerns about the safety of legume-heavy diets, the first three ingredients in all Heed recipes are high-quality animal proteins.

    Best of all, our premium kibble blends are developed by leading pet nutritionists around the world. We believe that good digestion is essential for good health, and our kibble is designed with gut health in mind. All of our recipes also undergo rigorous independent testing to ensure that they’re easy to digest, safe to eat and dog-gone delicious.

    If that doesn’t put a smile on your dog’s face and a wag in his tail, nothing will!

    Looking Ahead

    The FDA is working with the pet food industry, veterinarians and of course dog owners to get to the bottom of this concerning issue. It’s a complicated task and one that’s going to take some time, so all dog owners can do right now is wait and see what the investigation reveals.

    The good news is that, in the long run, the study will ensure that we’re equipped with even better knowledge about the best diet for our furry friends. We may have a stressful and frustrating wait for answers in front of us, but anything that helps us ensure that our dogs live longer, happier and healthier lives is surely worth the effort.

     

     

    Resources:

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

    https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/questions-answers-fda-center-veterinary-medicines-investigation-possible-connection-between-diet-and

    https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-fdas-grain-free-diet-alert/

     https://yourdogadvisor.com/grain-free-dog-food/