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The FDA, DCM, and Grain-Free Foods

Jun 29th 2019

The FDA, DCM, and Grain-Free Foods

The FDA has been investigating a possible link between diet and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) for several years. It released its third status report on Thursday, June 28th. We have been studying DCM closely since the first FDA report and are working with vets and other experts to investigate.

Below, we’ll walk you through the most common questions we’re getting about the report, and what we know so far.

What did the FDA say?

The FDA has not found a cause or come to a conclusion about what is causing the rise in DCM cases but says that a combination of genetic and environmental components is likely responsible. They have noted a strong correlation between diets containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, and/or potatoes and sweet potatoes as main ingredients (listed within the first 10 ingredients in the ingredients list) and reports of DCM in the cases they have received. These are ingredients commonly found in “grain-free” formulations. The vast majority of reported cases were for dogs eating dry dog food formulations but raw, semi-moist, and wet foods were also represented.

In June, the FDA released a list of brands that were fed to dogs with reported cases of DCM. The brands we sell that were included are:

  • Acana
  • Zignature
  • Natural Balance
  • Blue Buffalo
  • NutriSource
  • Orijen
  • Nature’s Variety
  • Taste of the Wild
  • Fromm
  • The FDA does not know and does not say that these foods or any specific ingredient or combination of ingredients causes DCM, they have not recommended that pet owners stop feeding any specific food, nor has any brand or product been recalled for causing DCM. That notwithstanding, many media and social media reports have proclaimed that grain-free diets, boutique brands, and/or exotic ingredients “cause canine heart disease.” With the naming of particular brands, some media are now proclaiming that those brands cause heart disease. To be clear, this is not what the FDA’s status report says. The FDA’s investigation of a very complex issue that seems to be affecting a very small percentage of pets is far from over. They are initiating a study into the effect of nutrition and genetics on DCM that will likely take years to complete. The full answer will not be known for some time.

    Do I need to change foods? 

    Not necessarily. If your pet is thriving on his or her current diet, there is no compelling reason to change immediately. However, with definitive answers so far away, here are some prudent steps you can take:

    • Rotate what you feed your dog - We have long recommended this as a best practice both to provide a wider variety of nutrients and to prevent excessive exposure to the same ingredients. (Most of the diseased dogs were fed the same food for a very long time.) Unless your pet has a grain sensitivity, there is no particular advantage to a grain-free diet and no reason you couldn’t switch between grain-containing and grain-free diets. Of course, watch your pet closely and discontinue feeding any food that creates problems or that they won’t eat.
    • Switch to a diet made of fresh, whole-food ingredients that are minimally processed - This is what the majority of nutritionists recommend for people. The same applies to our pets. Most do not contain have legumes, potatoes, or sweet potatoes as main ingredients.

    If you are concerned that your pet is at risk or is suffering from DCM, please contact your veterinarian. If you decide to switch foods and need advice, we are happy to help you.

    What is DCM and how common is it?

    Canine DCM is a disease that causes thinning of the cardiac muscle that results in a decreased ability to pump blood through the circulatory system, possibly leading to heart failure. Symptoms include but are not limited to: rapid or labored breathing, especially when sleeping; coughing or gagging; lethargy; weight loss; and depression.

    Since the FDA started tracking this issue in 2014, they have received 515 reports of DCM in dogs through 4/30/19. We don’t know how many unreported cases there are but out of a population of about 77 million dogs in the US, this is a very rare event. However, certain breeds including Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, and Saint Bernard’s are particularly susceptible. Occasionally, German Shepherds and some medium-sized breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, and Portuguese Water Dogs are affected. It is thought that there is a genetic predisposition to the condition in these breeds.

    I’d like to switch to a kibble that does not contain legumes or potatoes. What are my options?

    If you’re looking for a non-legume, non-potato dry food, we recommend Nature’s Logic and First Mate’s Grain-Friendly line.

    If you are ready to consider a fresh whole food diet, we recommend JustFoodForDogs or a raw food. These come frozen and almost all of our raw brands are potato and legume-free, including Tucker’s, Primal, and Stella & Chewy.

    We continue to keep a close eye on this issue and will keep you apprised as more information emerges.