DCM - Is it a real concern for your dog?

There’s been a lot of media coverage recently on the subject of diet related heart disease in dogs.  I wanted to add some clarification to the topic that will hopefully put a lot of your concerns at ease.

A little background...
In January 2018, staff at UC Davis Veterinary Hospital in California reported a dramatic spike in cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  In July of 2018, they further claimed to have evidence showing an association between DCM and grain-free diets; among other claims.  

“Upon investigation of all of the diets associated with both the taurine deficient and non-taurine deficient forms of DCM, a few key associations were apparent. Many dogs were being fed some variety of boutique (small manufacturer), exotic ingredient (non-traditional protein sources), or grain-free diets.”

Following this claim, the FDA stepped in and began its investigation.  The initial data UC Davis provided was surprising in that the “many” cases being referred totaled less than 300 dogs nationwide dating back to 2014.  There was nothing significant or definitive about their findings that would support their claims so its a mystery why the FDA would get involved unless they too were mislead into believing this was a much bigger issue. 

Now, a year later, that data shows that the numbers have only increased to 560 dogs. Considering there are some 77 million dogs in the United States, 560 dogs represent .0007% of the entire dog population in the US.  According to the recent FDA report, approximately 90% of those dogs ate “dry” grain free diets.  Homemade and raw foods barely made an appearance.  Most of the dogs affected were Golden Retrievers and most were eating dry lamb based foods.  There is no mention what percentage of dogs in general eat the same diet or even grain-free diets that are unaffected. 

Interestingly, in 2003, the same Veterinarians reportedly found taurine deficiency issues associated with DCM in Golden Retrievers fed lamb based diets (specially lamb & rice diets (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/12752830/).

They concluded in that study that:

     "Mean whole blood taurine concentrations were lower in dogs fed diets containing whole grain rice, rice bran or barley. The lowest whole blood concentrations were seen in dogs fed lamb meal and rice diets."

I’m no fan of commercial dog foods but when I saw that these few Veterinarians were blaming homemade or raw foods and now the FDA is pointing fingers at commercial dry foods to the point of naming brands, it makes me angry.  The facts and statistics simply do not warrant this response. 

The Veterinarians that are most vocal about this are affiliated with Purina and Wathum (Mars) and maybe there is some underlying motive to all of this.  Whatever the case is, these professional entities should present credible unbiased research to improve the health of our dogs but are instead using insignificant data to set off panic among dog parents.  Panic that can and will sadly result in knee-jerk reactions that cause harm to dogs.   I think it’s incredibly irresponsible reporting.

Do you have a Golden Retriever?

These types of stories would never gain steam if there weren’t some element of truth (even if limited to the .0007% of cases of DCM reported in this study).  Here’s where I think that truth is…. Within the .0007% of dogs affected where Golden Retrievers are most heavily represented, there’s a nutritional and/or genetic flaw in the way nutrients are assimilated in certain breeds.  This is not new information and published studies dating back to 1997-2005 support this.   

What we know is that taurine is not readily available in all meat types, or in heavily processed meat / meat-meals where heat will have destroyed it, or in diets where minimal amounts of meat are included.  Dogs that are fed taurine deficient diets rely on their ability to synthesize it but if there are genetic factors impairing this function, such is the case in many Golden Retrievers, taurine deficiency would be the result.  

This has nothing to do with the diet being grain-free or including legumes or potatoes... it has everything to do with available dietary taurine.  Make sure that your dogs get this in their diet every day. 

Apart from my frustration over fear mongering headlines, I do have a very special place in my heart for Golden’s and upon further consideration of this complicated process I reformulated all of our canine diets (including our kits) last Spring to include taurine and additional B vitamins to help with taurine synthesis.