Grain-Free Diets, Taurine Levels and Heart Disease (DCM) in Dogs

July 3, 2019

Last week, the FDA issued a report about an increase in the number of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) cases in dogs. (The number of DCM cases in cats reported to the FDA is small, 9 cases reported in 5 years, so the FDA’s investigation is focused primarily on dogs.)  The report examined a variety of potential causes for this increase including brands of food, kinds of animal protein, the presence or non-presence of grains, legumes and potatoes, taurine levels and breed.  In the wake of the report, there have been a lot of news stories, blog posts and articles.  Some have accurately represented the FDA’s work.  Others less so. 

Stories like these worry anyone who owns a pet, but providing dog and cat owners with accurate, useful information about canine and feline nutrition is one of the most important parts of Mud Bay’s work.  Here are the key conclusions about DCM and nutrition that we’ve drawn from all of the evidence we’ve gathered from the FDA, our manufacturing partners and other sources.

DCM is extremely rare: The FDA report states that over a five-year period, about one dog in 160,000 was reported to have DCM.  Death from DCM was even rarer: about one dog in 750,000.  By contrast, of the 89,700,000 dogs in the US, roughly 1 in 15 will be diagnosed with cancer each year.

The 560 dogs that were diagnosed with DCM ate a wide variety of different foods: grain-free, with grain, vegan, vegetarian, and made by many different companies.  This variety has made it impossible for the FDA to be able to identify which kinds or brands of food are more likely or less likely to be linked to DCM.[1]  Many of the cases were linked to low taurine levels, but not all dogs were taurine deficient.[2]

The only consistent factor among the dogs that contracted DCM was that every dog had eaten the same diet for months or years.  This points directly to one of the core nutritional approaches that Mud Bay has recommended for more than twenty years:  variety.  One of the best ways to protect a dog from any possible nutritional deficiencies or other nutritional issues is to give your dog different formulas of food from different manufacturers that contain different proteins and carbohydrates.  

Based on the evidence available thus far, here are our recommendations for minimizing the likelihood of your dog contracting DCM:

  • Variety: Feed dogs foods from different manufacturers containing different proteins and carbohydrates (if you include them) and in different forms (kibble, wet, raw).
  • Whole foods: Include organ-meat treats, raw food, and whole food supplements.
  • You don’t need to switch: If your dog is thriving on their current diet, resist the temptation to switch brands unless the FDA in the future finds a definitive link between DCM and a particular brand of food.[3]  Rather than switching brands, use variety and rotational feeding to diversify the nutritional profile of your dog’s diet.

As scientists learn more about DCM, we’ll continue keeping those who care for dogs updated with useful, accurate information and recommendations.  And we warmly encourage you to visit a Mud Bay to talk with a Muddy about increasing the variety in your dog’s diet.

[1] “FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2019

[2] “FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2019

[3] “Questions & Answers: FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Investigation into a Possible Connection Between Diet and Canine Heart Disease,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2019