Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy. Ring any bells for anybody? I can tell you, a year ago most of us would say a big fat nope, but recently the term (also referred to as DCM) has made headlines in the pet care industry, and has crept its way into mainstream media as well. If you’re new to this party, I’ll summarize it like this: the FDA released a statement last year stating they were investigating a handful of atypical cases of DCM and that the diets of the dogs in these atypical cases included potatoes and multiple legumes (peas, lentils, etc), high in their ingredient list (it is assumed these potatoes and legumes were an intended substitute for grains, as the studies circle around grain-free and boutique protein diets - more on that below). The cases were considered atypical because they affected breeds that aren’t known for a genetic link to DCM (regardless of diet). The statement came after reports were made to the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine regarding this seeming uptick in cases of DCM. Sidebar - DCM is often a precursor to Congestive Heart Failure, which is serious and potentially fatal if not treated, so it’s natural that the FDA would want to investigate ANY source of increased reports of it. To read the latest FDA update on the topic, click here. This report is causing all kinds of madness because it includes a list of the brands most associated with the reports they’ve received. I’m calling it the Naughty List and I sure do feed my dogs one of the brands listed on it, and recommend a lot of these brands to you guys (my customers) on the regular.
Okay, enough sciency words. I am not a vet, nor am I here to make recommendations to you about what you do or don’t feed your dog. I’m just a person who only reads news if it relates to animals, only reads magazines if they have Dog in the title, and sees a LOT of different kinds of dog food brought in and out by my boarding customers. I’m also an opinionated person and a blog is just that - my opinion. I’ve read every article I could get my paws on relating to this DCM thing, and I’m just here to share the points that I think are being missed in the mainstream doomsday media.
Here’s what I’ve told myself regarding how I choose to feed my own dogs, after reading up on this topic:
At this point, this “diet-related DCM” only affects .00005% of the dog population. The most powerful bit of info I’ve read was from this article in which PhD research associate professor and coordinator of the pet food program at Kansas State University Greg Aldrich is quoted explaining that approximately 25 percent of 90 million dogs in the U.S. identified by the American Pet Products Association’s latest pet ownership survey eat grain-free diets. Yet only 294 dogs had contracted DCM through mid-December 2018, according to the FDA. This is literally a one in a million incidence,’ he said. Whoa. Perspective: chances of your dog getting diabetes is something like 1 in 300….so do I really want to get rid of a food that my dogs love based on one in a million odds?
Of COURSE there are going to be more reports of DCM now, because people treat their animals like PEOPLE nowadays! Every bit of literature out there references (lower) instances of DCM back in the early 2000’s and even back into the 1990’s. Think about your family dog circa 1999. If your dog had a heart murmur or enlarged heart were you really seeking out a veterinary cardiologist to give you a more detailed diagnosis? Probably not. If your family was like mine you barely even had an indoor dog at that point and definitely weren’t taking it to cardiologist appointments. Dogs could have been affected by DCM all along but weren’t reported to the FDA because back then they were just dogs, and if they developed a heart condition at 8 years old we’d sigh and say we wish we’d had more time with them.
Hills and Purina aren’t the only ones with a hundred years under their belts. This is the one that sets me off. All the doomsday articles have a quote in them that say something like, “you’re better off going with food from a company like Hills or Purina that have many years of experience and nutrition studies to back their ingredient choices.” What I have learned is that Hills (Science Diet), Nestle (Purina) and Mars (Royal Canin) are the only ones who are large enough to afford to have nutrition professionals on staff and conduct their own feeding trials (as opposed to formulating their foods based on standards set forth by an entity called AAFCO). Fine. But that doesn’t mean companies like Earthborn Holistic and Fromm aren’t using third party testing to back their nutritional makeup. Both companies are over a hundred years old and are only smaller than the big three in size and revenues because they don’t sell in big box stores. After a hundred years, though, I think if their food was subpar to the others, we’d have already known about it. PS - if you read the actual studies and journal articles about the DCM topic, guess who is pumping “research support” into the vets conducting the studies?….Hills, Purina, and Royal Canin.
My dogs LIKE it. Again, not a scientist, and what I am about to say is going to make me unpopular among some of my customers. Without being specific about brands, I can say that based on the number of dogs we take care of in boarding and daycare, those that eat food you can buy at your grocery store are more often the ones that are super obese, out of shape, taking medicine for various conditions (arthritis, diabetes, chronic ear infections, etc), and are usually the ones who refuse to eat, and who are most often sitting on the sidelines panting instead of interacting and playing. The dogs who eat stuff on the Naughty List (doesn’t matter if it’s grain-in or grain-free, we believe good grains like rice are good for dogs) are often those with shiny coats, better body shape even into their older years, less often on medication, and more likely to romp and play with other dogs. And they actually eat their food, because IT TASTES BETTER.
I still drink Diet Coke. Remember back when it came out that aspartame was bad for you? For a few weeks people acted like one sip of Diet Coke was going to render you dead in two weeks. I swear that’s how people are acting over this. The bottom line for me is that I’d much rather put my dog at risk of something where there is literally one in a million chance of problems instead of sending them backward into a bag of some corn-loaded garbage that is FAR more likely to interfere with their quality of life in the short term. As a human, we can’t get on facebook without seeing an article about the next food thing that is waiting to give us cancer or Alzheimer’s or a heart attack. And guess what - somewhere deep beyond those articles is some sort of support from examples like the Dairy industry trying to knock out the soda industry because it’s affected their sales, or the Rice industry is trying to make people terrified of potatoes by telling you they digest like sugar (also because their sales were affected). The dog food industry has caught up. No one wants to say this out loud but I’m going to - the three biggest brands NOT mentioned on the Naughty List are also the ones whose sales have been most affected by people starting to care about what and how they feed their dogs. For years several lines within those three have been beat to crap because of the poor quality of their ingredients. People left them in favor of getting away from meat by-product meal and loads of corn, so maybe after all this time they’ve finally figured out a way to fight back against their plummeting sales…by supporting research that (if proven) would scare those of us back into those brands we left several years ago. Call me a conspiracy theorist but that’s where I’m at.
As for me and my house, we will keep feeding what works for us.
You can always fire your questions and concerns my way - even if you just want to tell me today that I’m crazy. firstname.lastname@example.org