The FDA has been investigating cases of DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy) as relates to diets for several years. We read frantic posts on social media and receive emails from panicked dog parents every time a new statement comes out. This last one from June 27, 2019 was no exception. Although we can’t tell anyone what to feed their dogs, we’d like to share some thoughts based on facts rather than hysteria.
FDA has known about the cases since 2014. This is not new.
“Between Jan. 1, 2014, when the FDA first received a few sporadic reports, and April 30, 2019, the FDA received 524 reports of DCM (515 canine reports, 9 feline reports). The majority of the reports were submitted to the FDA after its first public alert in July 2018. Some of these reports involved more than one affected animal from the same household, so the total number of affected animals is greater than 524.” How much greater? Looking a bit further at the news release we can see it was 560 dogs. Total deaths: 119.
Let us be very clear. One death is one too many. However, we feel that given the marketing headlines it’s time to consider all the angles. Marketing happens when the FDA puts out this news release “FDA issues third status report on investigation into potential connection between certain diets and cases of canine heart disease” (keep your focus on the words ‘potential connection’) and a news agency picks it up and show this instead “ FDA announces dog food brands that could cause heart failure” The latter strikes us as a bit more of an attention grabbing headline with the expected emotional response from dog parents. Coincidence?
The FDA has listed brands that have been reported by vets and pet parents which seems like a step in the right direction, but people are jumping on this as if it’s a scientific find. The fact is that FDA states “It’s important to note that the FDA doesn’t yet know how certain diets may be associated with DCM in some dogs.”
Since the foods listed are grain-free and most contain lentils and/or peas it’s become commonplace to hear vets and social media give directives to not feed any grain-free food.
Our thoughts? Of the many, many millions of dogs eating grain-free diets there are 560 complaints. All have been labeled as DCM rather than differentiating between NM (nutritionally mediated) and non- NM. There are several breeds that are genetically predisposed to DCM. Golden Retrievers are predisposed to taurine deficiency which can be linked to DCM. Goldens have been a focus of the studies.
A few years ago, we started seeing DCM in breeds that are not high on the genetic list for this disease. That gave us pause. We wrote about it and formulated diets that seemed to turn things around. Clearly these cases were nutritionally responsive, but we’ve seen DCM in raw fed dogs that were never given peas and lentils. By the same token, we’ve had dogs that ate lentils as part of the diet (rare, but it happens) for a lifetime without a problem.
These are the FDA case reports.
We agree with the FDA that far more research is needed. Correlation does not prove causation. While we can’t say with certainty that peas and lentils aren’t an issue for some (clearly not many) dogs, we also believe the amount matters. Having more transparent labeling that identifies how much protein is derived from meat vs other foods would be a start.
We receive thoughts from people who believe that dogs should never be fed anything that’s inappropriate to the species. While we want to agree with that logical sentiment, we know that not all dogs are species appropriate, but can thrive on specific diets.
With so many unknowns many dog parents are simply going to feel more comfortable avoiding grain free, legume inclusive diets. The reality is that many of the dogs on these diets are on them because they have food sensitivities and they don't have many other options. In these cases, we hope the information we've summarized helps you make informed feeding decisions going forward, without the panic.
Monica and Jody