Association Between Diet & DCM

12/24/22 UPDATE: We have seen better outcomes than normal for DCM cases in dogs that started out on grain-free diets and then, as part of treatment, were put on diets with grain. Though this is still not a replacement for quality studies, it adds great credence to the thought that diet plays a role in some cases of DCM. My advice to clients remains to feed dogs a well-balanced diet that includes grains.

I get a kick out of watching the “marketing” by pet food companies. Years of heavy marketing for grain-free foods ingrained (no pun intended) in the publics mind that grain is “unnatural” and therefore “bad.” That it is just filler. This was not based in fact but it was a great story: picture the ads with the wild wolf as an example of what our dogs “need.” The push against grain was so pervasive that it was hard to find foods that actually had grain in them. Now that shoppers are looking for grain, the boutique brands have found a way to appease both sides. They now add grains…but they never say “rice.” That is okay as long as the food has rice, oats, barley, or other grains and it does not have a great amount of legumes, like peas and lentils.

4/12/21: The FDA is investigating a potential link between grain-free diets and a heart disease called DCM. I looked for the research that started the FDA investigation and found nothing. With the limited information available, it seems that a cardiology group thought they were seeing more cases of DCM, noted most or all were eating grain-free foods and ran to the FDA instead of doing research for peer review. They did not review hospital records to see if they really were seeing an upswing in DCM cases or when such upswing began. They did not try to find out the percentage of dogs entering their hospital for any conditions that were eating grain-free foods (likely well over 90% in my estimation). And it looks like their sample size was under a dozen but with no published information, we only have the FDA reports to go by.

The FDA started their investigation by asking us to report cases of DCM in pets ON grain-free diets. They didn’t ask for reports of DCM in pets fed grains. Few if any veterinarians would report any cases of DCM to the FDA until asked to do so. As such, reports of DCM to the FDA would be close to zero prior to 2018 when this investigation began. Now the FDA has released the number of cases they have seen in the past three years and guess what? There is a sudden large increase to around 500 some cases in 2018, all of whom are eating grain-free foods. Think about that further—of all the people and veterinarians asked to send cases, they only had around 500.

The gift keeps giving: Now they are collecting data from healthy dogs NOT eating grain-free diets. Before trying to figure out how grain-free diets cause DCM, I suggest we do the basics to see IF grain-free diets cause DCM. From the current available data, it appears unlikely. That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeding grains. My advice to clients is to feed a well-balanced diet. Since there MIGHT be an association between grains and DCM, why not include grains?

Posted by
Lori Cobb, VMD

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