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Dreaded DCM and Diet: What's the Deal?

The FDA conducted a study back in 2018 that initially linked "boutique brands" of Grain-Free Dog Food to a heart condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). Since then, the FDA has put out a total of five updated reports that ultimately culminated in being UNABLE to establish a link between Grain-Free Diets and DCM.

In fact, on December 23, 2022 the FDA put out a statement on its website stating that the "FDA does not intend to release further public updates until there is meaningful new scientific information to share....While adverse event numbers can be a potential signal of an issue with an FDA regulated product, by themselves, they do not supply sufficient data to establish a causal relationship with reported product(s). [Source 1]"

So where did this all come from then? According to an AP News article dated July 23, 2022 there may have been some initial bias for the origins of the study. A six-month long investigation was conducted and it was found, through Freedom of Information Act requests, that some of the information for the FDA study may have been cherry-picked to paint certain manufacturers within the pet food industry in a better light against "boutique, exotic-ingredient, or grain-free" (BEG) diets. Who are these big manufacturers? Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Nestlé Purina PetCare, P&G Pet Care (now Mars), and Royal Canin. Why does this matter? Because one of the initial supporters of the study, animal nutritionist Dr. Lisa Freeman from Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, had been receiving research funding, given sponsored lectures for, and/or provided professional services to those aforementioned manufactures. Two additional veterinarians, Darcy Adin from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and Joshua Stern from the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, had also been providing information for the study and had also been receiving funding from Purina PetCare and Hill's Pet Nutrition [Source 2].

If conflict-of-interest wasn't enough to lessen the credibility of this study on DCM's link to BEG Diets, let's look at the reported case numbers within the study itself.

"For the purposes of this investigation, the FDA defines a “case” as an illness reported to FDA involving a dog or cat that includes a diagnosis of DCM. Many of the reports submitted to the FDA included extensive clinical information, including echocardiogram results, cardiology/veterinary records, and detailed diet histories. The numbers below only include reports in which the dog or cat was diagnosed with DCM by a veterinarian and/or veterinary cardiologist. We did not include in these numbers the many general cardiac reports submitted to the FDA that did not have a DCM diagnosis. [Source 1]"

So how many reports were submitted? "Between January 1, 2014 and April 30, 2019, the FDA received 524 reports of involving 560 dogs and 14 cats diagnosed with DCM. The FDA additionally received many reports of non-DCM cardiac disease in dogs and cats during this timeframe. [Source 3]" The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimates that there are 77 million pet dogs in the United States as of 2018, a number that has likely increased since [Source 4]. 560 dogs may seem a lot until you put that number against the sheer volume of dogs within the United States- 0.000727272727% percent of dogs within the United States were represented in this study.... less than 1% of dogs in the country! How is that an accurate representation? Furthermore, the very nature of DCM is immensely complex with various factors to take into consideration. "Historically, DCM has been primarily linked to a genetic predisposition in certain breeds, but emerging science appears to indicate that non-hereditary forms of DCM occur in dogs as a complex medical condition that may be affected by the interplay of multiple factors such as genetics, underlying medical conditions, and diet. Aspects of diet that may interact with genetics and underlying medical conditions may include nutritional makeup of the ingredients and how dogs digest them, ingredient sourcing, processing, formulation, and/or feeding practices. [Source 5]"

When you take into account the above information (and sources provided for further research below), you can see how blindly re-sharing information is detrimental to consumers. When you take into account what dogs TRULY need in their diet, it's even more outlandish. Dogs are facultative carnivores, meaning that they thrive on a carnivorous diet but can do well on a non-carnivorous one. Our dogs don't need grains- nor do they need pulses and legumes. Most commercial dog foods on the market today are loaded with fillers and ingredients meant to keep manufacturing costs down. Knowing how to read a dog food nutrition label is imperative as a dog-owner or professional. Knowing that wet ingredients move down the ingredient list after processing will teach you that just because a brand lists chicken as it's number one ingredient means that the second, third, and maybe fourth ingredient listed (if dry ingredients) are the primary ingredients in the recipe. If dogs are meant to be carnivores, why are we feeding them diets where grains, meals, and by-products are the most prevalent ingredients? So many dog foods available have plant-based proteins as the primary protein sources for their recipes once everything is broken down- not animal-based proteins that dogs need. We need to educate ourselves better for the sake of our pets!

Do your own research and feed the best quality food that you can for what you can afford, and don't buy into fearmongering from corrupt and inconclusive studies.

-Brittany Dunbeck

Constellation Canine


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