What is DCM?
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a type of heart disease in which the heart muscle becomes weak and the heart becomes enlarged. This results in poor heart function, leading to exercise intolerance, collapse, pale gums, coughing, and panting. Eventually, DCM results in complete heart failure and sudden cardiac death. Many dogs show no symptoms until the disease is quite advanced that is known to affect both dogs and cats.
An association between DCM and diet has not been discussed frequently in the 2000s, and the connection was not discovered until the late 1980s in cats and the mid 1990s in dogs.
Diet related causes of DCM
Unfortunately, in recent years more and more cases of DCM in dogs appear to have been related to their diets. The U.S. FDA recently released a report that there may be a link between DCM and dogs eating pet foods that have high concentrations of peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes. Many “grain-free” dog foods use these ingredients, which could cause low taurine levels in dogs or taurine deficiency. Taurine is an essential amino acid for pets and is linked to heart health. In cats and dogs, low levels of taurine (or other proteins that can make taurine) may be related to an increased chance of DCM.
The FDA has not officially stated that diet is directly related to DCM, but continues to do more studies and research. Many dogs live completely healthy, full lives while eating grain-free diets. Furthermore, certain dog breeds can be more susceptible to low taurine levels, which many people are not aware of. Although this topic is constantly evolving, it is important for pet owners to study the information that is currently available!
Dog food brands linked to DCM
In mid 2019, the FDA announced a list of some of the dog food brands including raw dog food diets that could be linked to coronary artery disease and heart failure in dogs. The report listed, in descending order of most incidents of heart disease, the brands include:
- Acana Dog Food
- Orijen Dog Food
- Taste of the Wild
- Earthborn Holistic
- Blue Buffalo
- Nature’s Domain
- California Natural
- Natural Balance
- Nature’s Variety
- Rachael Ray Nutrish
Although DCM in dogs can be impacted by genetics, many of the dogs researched in the FDA’s investigation didn’t have a genetic predisposition to the condition. This disease is more commonly seen in larger breeds of dogs such as Doberman Pinscher and Great Dane. but the FDA also stated that it’s seen smaller dogs such as Cocker Spaniels becoming afflicted as well.
Again, the FDA has made no formal connection between a grain-free diet and DCM in dogs, but some experts are weighing in. John de Jong, president of the veterinary association, stated that grain-free is not always the best alternative for dogs. He draws attention to the fact that wolves and dog relatives in the wild are herbivores in the wild, and often ingest grain naturally. What works for one dog, may not work for another; therefore, Dr. de Jong advises vet consultations for pet owners who are worried.
What to do next?
Keep updated on the latest research
It is important to keep in mind that the FDA is continually collecting information on this issue and that more research is coming out from multiple different, reliable sources such as veterinary medicine publications. A recent study done in June 2020 found that there isn’t definitive evidence to suggest a connection between grain-free diets and DCM. It is clear that this is a complex issue that is impacted by both dietary and genetic factors.
Look out for signs of DCM in your pet
The best way to fight DCM is to ensure your dog gets annual vet check-ups. The symptoms can start very suddenly, but your dog has probably had DCM for years with no symptoms. It is important to bring your dog to the vet annually as these checkups could identify an issue before any symptoms arise. If you notice any of the following symptoms or signs of DCM you should contact your vet immediately:
- Problem breathing, including rapid breathing when resting or sleeping
- Decreased energy levels, especially if the dogs faints or collapses
- Signs of chest pain in your dog
- Weight loss or a decrease in appetite
- Depression or lack of willingness to interact
Take your dog for regular vet checkups
If your dog is diagnosed with DCM and he’s eating a BEG, vegetarian, vegan, or home-prepared diet, measuring plasma and whole blood taurine concentrations is a good first step. It would also be a good idea to test other dogs in the household that are eating the same diet. When speaking to your vet, you should also be able to provide a detailed dietary history, including labels or product bags if possible.
Further, we recommend that owners of dogs with possible diet-associated DCM be instructed to save samples of all dietary components they are currently feeding, including not only the main food itself but also all treats, chews, and supplements. Ideally, this would include not just samples of the dietary components but also product bags or labels.
Changing your dog’s diet
If your vet believes that the DCM is related to your dog’s diet, talk to them about changing the dog to a food that is made by a well-established manufacturer and contains standard ingredients (eg, chicken, beef, rice, corn, and wheat). Changing to a raw or home-prepared diet is not recommended as it could actually increase other health risks if not formulated or prepared correctly. Essentially, consultation with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist is the most important step you can take, especially when feeding raw or home-cooked meals.
We can help you compare with our article about Raw vs. Kibble vs. Fresh Food!
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