Quick read: FDA study on DCM & dog food

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

There is a lot of buzz about dog foods causing dogs to be very sick. If you haven't read up on this yet, here is a quick overview of what is happening:

What is the FDA study about?

Starting in 2017-2018 the FDA noticed an increase in the cases (from roughly 1 per year to over 300) of canine DCM - dilated cardiomyopathy, a serious condition affecting the heart muscles. The opened a study to understand why this was happening and found a possible common factor in most of the dogs - the kinds of food they were eating.

What is DCM?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition of the heart where the muscles thin (among other symptoms) and the hearts capacity to pump blood is reduced. DCM can be genetic, especially in breeds like Great Danes, Boxers and Spaniels, it can be caused by certain infections, and it can occur with certain dietary imbalances. Symptoms include lethargy, weakness or collapse, coughing, and increased breathing rate. If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, take them to the vet.

So what kinds of dog food causes DCM?

Well first, the FDA study is still in progress and labeled as inconclusive. Which means they need more information to be sure that it really is the dog food causing DCM in these cases. At this time, it is just suspected that certain foods could be a culprit. Many of the dogs that were involved with this study were eating "grain-free" and/or boutique diets that were high in plant protein, particularly peas, lentils, and other legumes.

Is "grain-free" bad? Why are legumes in dog food and are they not healthy for my dog?

Unfortunately there is not a black/white answer to this question, which is leaving many pet owners frustrated and afraid right now. Pet food needs a binder and thickener to allow it to be processed, packaged and stored for the consumer. Historically these binders have been things like wheat, corn, soy, rice and other grains, however with the recent consumer trends toward grain-free diets, these binders were replaced with legumes. This change alters the nutrition profile, particular the essential amino acids. This is possibly what causes DCM, but we still don't know for sure. It is important to note that grain-free foods were not the only ones identified as a possible culprit in this study.

My dog eats grain-free or one of the brands identified in the study, should I change their food?

Give your vet a call. There are a multitude of factors that will determine if you should make changes to your pets diet and switching foods shouldn't be done quickly unless your pet is experiencing symptoms of a disease. Read food labels closely and don't be afraid to contact the manufacturer if they label is confusing or you have other questions. We, as consumers, will drive the decisions of what goes into our pets food and how it is processed.

Learn more about the study here:

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