The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report that has caused concern among many dog owners. The report linked several grain free dog foods to DCM – dilated cardiomyopathy. But the FDA report rushed to judgement before they actually found the cause of DCM.
DCM is an enlargement of the heart that does not allow it to function properly. Although the study dogs affected with DCM ate both grain inclusive and grain free diets, this was not noted in the report. Even the FDA believes that DCM may involve multiple factors and that the actual cause is still not determined. So I suggest not panicking.
DCM causes the heart and its chambers to become dilated, making it harder for the heart to pump. The heart valves can also leak, causing fluids to build up. This can lead to congestive heart failure. DCM is rare in cats and in small dog breeds (except cocker spaniels), and is usually found in large or giant breed dogs. DCM in dogs was first diagnosed in the 1980s, long before grain free dog foods were introduced. We still do not fully understand the underlying cause of DCM.
Several different proteins are used in the dog foods the FDA listed. This pretty much rules out the protein sources as a cause of DCM. All the foods listed contain taurine. Taurine deficiency has been linked to DCM. The FDA report suggests that certain legumes might block the adsorption of taurine. But not all the foods listed use the same legumes. Several of the companies supplement extra levels of taurine and L-Carnitine to aid dogs that are unable to ingest naturally.
Could grain free diets contribute to causing DCM? Maybe. Grain free diets have only been around a few years, so we do not know about possible long term effects developing from feeding these type diets. Conversely, we have seen major short term benefits.
Should you avoid grain free diets? That’s a personal call. Only .000007% of 77 million dogs have been diagnosed with DCM. If you have large or giant breed dogs, watch for any possible symptoms such as difficulty breathing, coughing, becoming lethargic, or collapsing. If you prefer to err on the side of caution, find a substitute limited in the grains included. I would avoid glutens such as corn or wheat.
Switching foods may lead to other problems for your dog. Before switching, visit with your veterinarian or call your dog food manufacturer and find out the steps they are taking to address DCM. Keep an open mind and see how your pet is doing. If you see any changes in behavior contact your veterinarian.
Larry Jandrew has acquired his nutritional expertise over several decades in the pet food industry, including the last two as owner of Pet Source in Hendersonville.