If you are a dog parent, you may have seen the news coverage recently on canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The FDA released a study claiming a link between grain free dog foods and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. Since many popular brands were listed, the study was immediately picked up by news stations, causing dog owners to panic over their pet’s nutrition. But, what is actually in the study, what do we know about the disease, and should you be worried? Let’s break it down.


What the FDA Study Says

The first thing that should be noted is that between January 1st, 2014 and April 30th, 2019, the FDA only had 515 reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy. This is out of approximately 80 million dogs living in households in the United States. While there has been an increase in reported cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy cases in the United States in the past year, the cause is unclear.


What the FDA study does remark on is that the diet of many of the dogs contains grain-free food, with even the FDA admitting that the vast majority of dogs will never develop DCM, as they are unsure of the actual cause, saying “Most dogs in the U.S. have been eating pet food without apparently developing DCM.” Low levels of the amino acid taurine may cause DCM, however all of the foods tested in the study met or exceeded recommended levels of taurine. While the breed with the most cases, the Golden Retriever, seems to have a genetic predisposition to DCM, some of the breeds listed have no known genetic risk. 


Is My Dog at Risk for Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

Generally speaking, most dogs are at an extremely low risk for dilated cardiomyopathy. The chances of a dog having cardiomyopathy are between 3 and 5 in 100,000. While DCM is one of the leading causes of heart failure in some breeds of dogs (such as Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Boxers and Irish Wolfhounds), in most dogs, especially small breeds, it is an exceedingly rare condition. If you notice any symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy, take your dog to the veterinarian as early intervention has the best chance of recovery if their dilated cardiomyopathy is caused by something treatable, such as low levels of taurine in their diet.


Symptoms of Canine DCM

Weakness - You may notice your dog significantly slowing down on walks. If this happens at an age where it seems to be unusual, take your dog to the vet to be checked for heart conditions.

Coughing - Coughing, especially with increased activity, can be a telltale sign of a heart condition. It may not sound like a normal cough; if your dog sounds like they are trying to clear their throat, take note.

Trouble breathing - You may notice your dog breathing harder than usual when physically active, excessive panting, or

They seem uncomfortable - Your dog may not want to lie down, or they seem uncomfortable most of the time, and unable to relax. Your dog may also seem depressed, or not themselves.

Fainting - Usually a symptom of DCM after the disease has progressed, some dogs may faint, or become suddenly extremely weak on a walk.


Is My Dog’s Food Causing Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

While there is an increase of reported cases in DCM, there is no scientific link between specific types of food and DCM, only a correlation; most of the dogs who were diagnosed with DCM in the past year were fed higher end and grain-free foods. However, most of the brands of dog food mentioned in the study are premium dog foods, and an early diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy requires regular in-depth veterinary examinations. It could be said that a positive correlation between more expensive food and an early diagnosis of DCM exists because pet owners who can afford pricier food can also afford to give their dog more extensive medical care. As of now, the only known dietary cause of dilated cardiomyopathy is low levels of taurine, and many dogs with a DCM diagnosis do not have a taurine deficiency; in addition, the foods tested in the study met or exceeded recommended levels of taurine.

 What is Taurine and where do I get it?

Taurine, the amino acid in question during this study is a required building block of protein that is found in large amounts in the heart. It is critical for proper cardiac function.

Animal products contain the highest levels of taurine and it is most highly concentrated in organ meats, muscle meats, eggs, sardines, raw unpasteurized goat milk and cow milk kefir. Feeding fresh raw foods containing muscle meats is always a great way to add taurine and also elevate your dogs health.


Should I Be Worried About DCM?

If your dog shows no warning signs of heart problems, the chances of them developing DCM is low, regardless of their diet. With over 6 million dogs diagnosed with cancer in the United States every year, Your dog has a much higher risk for developing cancer from low quality foods containing carcinogenic ingredients like corn contaminated aflatoxins than they do DCM.

There is no food or brand that is perfect for every dog. Diet Rotation with different brands and proteins will add variety to their diets, allows your dog to benefit from a variety of animal proteins and avoid nutritional deficiencies that could negatively affect your dog’s health.  If you are unable to feed a full raw diet, supplementing with raw and/or adding animal products with high taurine concentrations is a great way to increase the quality of their diet and reduce mealtime boredom of feeding the same food every day.

Finally, everyone should take their dog to the veterinarian regularly, if your dog shows no warning signs of heart problems, the chances of them developing DCM is low, regardless of diet. If your dog is a large breed, or a breed with a genetic predisposition to DCM, you may want to have their heart checked by a veterinarian cardiologist.