Report Updated July 2, 2020
and July 3, 2020
On June 27, 2019, the FDA published its third status report regarding a potential connection between grain-free diets and a type of heart disease in dogs known as dilated cardiomyopathy… or DCM.
Link to Grain-Free Dog Food
Still Not Conclusive — No Recalls
The FDA has still not discovered why certain dog foods may be associated with the development of DCM. In fact, the Agency now believes the connection between diet and DCM is a complex scientific issue involving multiple factors.
Results of the study remain inconclusive… and there have been no recalls.
The FDA writes…
“It’s important to note that the reports include dogs that have eaten grain-free and grain containing foods and also include vegetarian or vegan formulations. They also include all forms of diets: kibble, canned, raw and home-cooked.
“Therefore, we do not think these cases can be explained simply by whether or not they contain grains, or by brand or manufacturer.
“… the FDA has received reports about 560 dogs diagnosed with DCM suspected to be linked to diet. Tens of millions of dogs have been eating dog food without developing DCM.”
DCM is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle that results in weakened contractions and poor pumping ability…
Which can lead to an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure.
Although the root cause of DCM remains unknown…
And even though initially the condition appeared to be more common in certain breeds…
The FDA has received reports of DCM in a wide range of breeds, including many not genetically prone to the disease.
Link to Diet?
Since announcing its investigation in July 2018…
FDA researchers have observed that most of these DCM cases were associated with animals eating dry dog foods.
Dogs eating raw, semi-moist, and wet diets were also affected.
Researchers found that over 90 percent of the reported recipes were grain-free. And yet some dogs consumed diets that contained grain, too.
Brands named most frequently in these reports are depicted in the graphic. Could the presence of these brands simply be related to their exceptional popularity?
Click here for a more detailed account of all DCM cases reported to the FDA as of April 30, 2019.
The FDA offers the following observation…
“The prevalence of reports in dogs eating a grain-free diet might correlate also to market share: these products have become exceedingly popular over the last several years.”
Even though it’s not clear exactly what it is about these diets that may be connected to DCM in dogs, there are a number of possible causes.
Taurine deficiency is a well-documented, potential cause of some cases of DCM. Yet it’s not likely to be the only cause.
According to Dr. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist at Tufts University, “most dogs being diagnosed with DCM do not have low taurine levels”.
It’s not reasonable to assume a taurine deficiency is the definitive cause of DCM.
A Common Thread
According to the FDA, researchers have uncovered one dietary feature common to a large number of DCM cases…
“The common thread appears to be legumes, pulses (seeds of legumes), and/or potatoes as main ingredients in the food. This also includes protein, starch and fiber derivatives of these ingredients…
“Some reports… indicate that the pets were not eating any other foods for several months to years prior to exhibiting signs of DCM.
8 Things You Can Do Right Now
to Lower Your Dog’s Risk
Until the FDA completes its study and releases its final report…
The Dog Food Advisor believes it makes sense to apply science and logic to all your feeding decisions.
So, consider these practical tips…
- Since compared to meat, vegetable protein tends to be incomplete (deficient in certain essential amino acids), you may wish to favor brands that derive most of their protein from animal sources
- Don’t avoid any brand just because it contains peas, legumes or potatoes. In reasonable amounts, studies have not found these ingredients to be toxic
- Favor brands that don’t list pea protein or other plant protein concentrates among their first few ingredients
- Avoid brands that use ingredient splitting to hide the fact that their recipes are dominated by non-meat items… like corn, rice or legumes
- Confused about grain-free? Consider switching your dog to a quality food that contains grain
- Focus on the recipe. Not the brand. To satisfy consumer demand, companies sometimes replace the meat in certain products with cheaper, plant protein alternatives. Yet many brands still offer other recipes with superior, meat-rich designs
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify. Since no dog food can ever be perfect, consider using diet rotation to lower the risk of endlessly feeding your pet the same imperfect product
- Want more choices? Consider switching your dog’s current diet to one of the many found on our best dog foods lists
The Bottom Line
Final results are still not conclusive.
And there’s no way to know how long the FDA’s investigation will take. Yet the Agency is hopeful that as more data becomes known, its scientists will gain a better understanding of the possible connection between diet and DCM.
Until we know the answer…
And don’t be frightened by all the well-meaning yet misguided advice you’ll surely encounter on the Internet.
Or the faulty counsel offered by too many uninformed professionals.
Base Your Feeding Decisions
on Facts… and Science
For the safety and well-being of your pet, the process of choosing dog food must always include…
- An accurate analysis of the dog food label
- A careful evaluation of the company that designs and produces it
- A study of product reviews by real-life users posted at online retailers
In any case…
The Dog Food Advisor has never favored any recipe just because it’s grain free.
Nor should you.
Our ratings are heavily weighted in favor of our estimate of each recipe’s apparent meat content.
Ratings are automatically reduced anytime we find excessive amounts plant-based protein “boosters” (like peas, legumes or non-meat protein concentrates) too close to the top of any ingredients list.
Many of the very best dog foods on the market are grain free…
And they’re made by some of the most respected companies in the USA and Canada.
We’re confident the industry will quickly adapt its recipes to any decisive conclusions reached by the FDA’s future findings.
And of course, we’ll make any relevant adjustments to our content as needed to reflect these scientific findings (once they become available).
In the meantime…
Our Very Best Advice
Since there’s no such thing as a perfect dog food…
And because built-in flaws tend to be magnified when the same food is fed endlessly… day after day for a lifetime.
You may wish to consider diet rotation when feeding your pet.
Keep in mind…
We can update you the moment the FDA releases its findings.
July 3, 2020
It appears the FDA may have been premature in warning the public about the possible link between DCM and grain-free diets.
In a June 22, 2020, Petfood Industry article, entitled “DCM Study: no link to grain-free pet food, no closure”, editor-in-chief, Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, writes…
“The study published June 15 in the Journal of Animal Science and conducted by veterinarians, veterinary cardiologists and animal nutritionists at consultancy BSM Partners, was a literature review comprising more than 150 previous studies on canine nutrition and its relationship to DCM.
“The first paragraph of the authors’ conclusion is worth quoting in full:
“Recently, a correlation between diets with specific characteristics, such as, but not limited to, containing legumes, grain-free, novel protein sources and ingredients, and smaller manufactured brands, to DCM has come under scrutiny by academic researchers and FDA. The use of the acronym “BEG” and its association with DCM are without merit because there is no definitive evidence in the literature. At this time, information distributed to the veterinary community and the general public has been abbreviated synopses of case studies, with multiple variables and treatments, incomplete medical information and conflicting medical data and opinions from veterinary nutrition influencers. Also, in past literature, sampling bias, overrepresentation of subgroups and confounding variables in the data weaken this hypothesis. Additionally, based on current literature, the incidence of DCM in the overall dog population is estimated to be between 0.5% and 1.3% in the United States. However, the FDA case numbers (560 dogs) are well below the estimated prevalence. Therefore, it is impossible to draw any definitive conclusions, in these cases, linking specific diets or specific ingredients to DCM.”
“In summary, no scientific research provides proof of a link between DCM and specific types of pet food, or even the “BEG” (boutique, exotic protein and grain free) term invented by some veterinarians; the case studies, data and other information related to the DCM cases in the FDA investigation are not at all complete and, in some cases, even conflict; and previous studies related to DCM have research problems that “weaken this hypothesis” of a correlation between DCM and specific types of pet foods.”