2020 DCM in Dogs Update

FDA Dog Food Testing and New Research

Healthy Dogs |  August 4, 2020

The possible causes of nutritional DCM in dogs is still being explored by veterinarians, the pet food industry, and the FDA. For interested dog owners, here’s a round-up of the latest news and research around nutritional DCM in dogs and what different pet food manufacturers have done in 2020.

Two Studies Examining DCM in Dogs

Two peer-reviewed studies have been published around nutritional DCM in dogs. Peer reviewing is the gold-standard for research; it means a study has been approved by an editorial board of experts in that field before it is published in a scientific journal to reduce biases. Non-peer reviewed research is held to less strict standards. Peer-reviewed studies can still contain flaws and non-peer reviewed research can still hold valuable insights, but when veterinarians and scientists look at research, we tend to prioritize information that’s been peer-reviewed.

The first peer-reviewed study was published on May 15, 2020, and investigated the possible cause of nutritional DCM in golden retrievers. Golden retrievers are one of the dog breeds found to have a genetic link to DCM, and in the study, 24 DCM-positive golden retrievers had low taurine levels and most were eating a grain-free food prior to diagnosis. Thankfully, most dogs recovered fully with the addition of cardiac medications, taurine supplements, and a switch to a grain-inclusive food. However, there’s no way of knowing if the change in food had any impact in the improved health of these dogs, or if the cardiac medication and taurine supplement should get all the credit.

The second peer-reviewed paper was a published literature review that examined 150 different studies (both peer reviewed and non-peer reviewed) surrounding DCM. The study raised several questions about current nutritional DCM research, such as: Was the information collected by the FDA about dogs with DCM complete enough to draw any scientifically valid conclusions? Why did some DCM research include dogs with a genetic DCM cause? Why has DCM been tied to smaller dog food manufacturers when half of the foods listed in the FDA report were made by one of six of the largest dog food manufacturer diets in the United States?

More research is necessary to determine the answers to any of the questions posed in this literature review, but Dr. Sydney McCauley, the lead author of the study had this to say: “We wanted to gain the best understanding of this issue, so we examined the results of more than 150 studies, which taken together did not support a link between grain-free and legume-rich diets, and DCM. What the science does make clear is that DCM is largely an inherited disease.”

FDA Tested Dog Food to Look for a Possible Nutritional DCM Cause

The FDA has also been doing its own research around DCM in dogs. This government agency tested the dog foods listed in a previous FDA report discussing DCM. It found that the protein sources, minerals, carbohydrates and starches didn’t show a commonality that could contribute to DCM.  It also found that all the foods listed met the standards AAFCO has set for a dog’s nutritional needs. The FDA also looked for possible known toxins, but it found none. This research didn’t uncover a cause of DCM in dog foods, but it did affirm that the foods listed met the AAFCO nutritional standards set to safely feed your dog.

Pet Food Industry United to Find the Cause of DCM in Dogs

While researchers further investigate the causes of DCM, many people in the pet food industry are donating money to help understand the causes of nutritional DCM. Ingredient suppliers, pet food manufacturers, and many other companies are contributing to fund peer-reviewed research in this area. BSM Partners, a company that has formulated several diets carried by Mud Bay, formulates both grain-inclusive and grain-free foods. This company is working to raise money to fund three important foundational research projects concerning DCM in dogs that are already underway.

Meanwhile, many pet food manufacturers are further examining their pet food formulations and conducting their own research to make sure they’re creating the best possible foods for dogs. At Mud Bay, we’re in contact with many of the veterinary nutritionists who formulate foods, and while there have been no deficiencies found, many formulators are working to significantly increase levels of vital nutrients in dog foods as precautionary measure.

If you’re considering revisiting your dog’s diet, visit any Mud Bay for a wide selection of grain-free and grain-inclusive foods. We have a list of grain-inclusive foods for people who want to switch to a different food, as well as information about nutritional variety and various supplements that will improve the health of any dog. My nutritional advice remains the same: Variety, rotating between different foods, and prioritizing high quality, high protein diets is the best path to avoiding any type of nutritional deficiency in dogs.

Cat gazing at a panting black and white dog

Katy Patterson-Miller, DVM, CVFT is the Director of Dog and Cat Health and Nutrition for Mud Bay. Before joining Mud Bay in 2011 and focusing on small animal nutrition, Dr. Patterson-Miller enjoyed six years in emergency medicine and general practice. She is a graduate of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine with her clinical year spent at Louisiana State School of Veterinary Medicine.

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