Questions and Answers About DCM, Grain-Free Foods, and Taurine

Mud Bay's Vet Discusses Common Customer Questions

Healthy Dogs |  October 23, 2019

As Mud Bay’s staff veterinarian, I spend most of my time reviewing food formulas, researching dog and cat nutrition, and consulting with Muddies and colleagues. Like most of my peers, I’ve been reading a lot about DCM and talking with a lot of other veterinarians and researchers about the implications of the FDA investigation around DCM.

I’ve also talked to several Mud Bay customers who are concerned about what they hear on the news or online surrounding DCM and pet food. While I’m happy to talk directly to any one of our customers, I thought it would be helpful to answer the five most common questions I answer:

What’s DCM?

DCM is a type of heart disease that some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to develop. It results in an enlarged heart and is a serious medical condition that you should partner with your veterinarian to treat. Talk to your vet if your dog starts coughing, breathing heavily, or stops playing or exercising because those are possible symptoms of DCM.

How are diet and DCM linked? And should I switch my dog to a food with grain in it?

Dogs who don’t eat enough taurine-rich foods and therefore develop low taurine blood levels are at a higher risk of developing DCM. However, not all dogs who develop DCM have low blood taurine levels.

The FDA started an investigation to find out if diet can be directly tied to a rise in DCM. They’ve issued three updates on their investigation: July 12, 2018,  February 19, 2019 and June 27, 2019. In these reports, the FDA says some dogs who developed DCM were eating grain-free foods. However, the FDA hasn’t been able to find a scientific link that shows that any type of dog food causes DCM.

DCM remains a relatively rare health concern: only one dog out of 750,000 dogs in the United States died from DCM within a five-year period. By contrast, of the 89,700,000 dogs in the US, roughly 1 in 15 will be diagnosed with cancer each year.

The FDA says that dog owners shouldn’t switch away from grain-free foods if they meet your dog’s nutritional needs. If the FDA recommendation were to change, we would notify our customers immediately.

What do you recommend dog owners do until the FDA comes out with more information?

I’ve worked at Mud Bay since April 2011, and my recommendations remain the same: Add variety to your pet’s diet. Look for high-quality and low-processed proteins from meat-based sources. Mix food forms or add supplemental foods if you feed kibble so your pet can benefit from moisture-rich and less-processed food forms.

Humans thrive from eating a variety of high-quality, balanced foods, and our pets do, too. At this time, we don’t know if the foods listed in the FDA report contributed to the incidents of DCM. The FDA explicitly stated that they don’t recommend changing dog foods.

If you want to change your dog’s diet away from any food brand named in the FDA report, Mud Bay will support you in that choice. Feel free to bring back any uneaten food to any Mud Bay and we’ll offer you a refund and help you find another one (or a combination of several) of our over 500 formulas to feed your dog.

Why does Mud Bay still carry foods that were named in the FDA report?

Some dogs can eat any balanced dog food. But there are other dogs with food sensitivities and other digestive issues that try many different foods before they find a food that works for them. For many customers, the food brands named in the DCM FDA report make foods that have allowed their dogs to live healthy lives.

Mud Bay is a solution-based company who wants to offer food that will meet the needs of each dog that comes into our stores. For many customers, the food brands named by the FDA represent the only solution they’ve found that’s helped their dog stop vomiting, itching, having loose stool, or losing weight.

If the FDA released a report that showed scientific evidence that any type of food caused DCM, we would not sell that food. But currently, we believe it’s unfair to stop stocking foods that offer unique solutions for many dogs with common health concerns.

Where can I learn more about DCM?

There are a lot of reputable colleagues in the veterinary nutrition community who are discussing DCM. Here are four resources that explain the science behind the FDA report:

  • Frequently Asked Questions about Grain-free diets and Heart disease in Dogs: The Ontario Veterinary College published this handout by Dr. Rebecca Remillard. It’s one of the best FAQs I’ve found and tells dog owners what precautions they can take and whether switching dog foods is necessary.
  • DCM in Dogs: Taurine’s Role in the Canine Diet: Linda P. Case is the author of The Dog: Its Behavior, Nutrition, and Health and Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices. In this article, she asks and answers this question: “What do we currently know about the role of diet and taurine in the development of DCM in dogs – and how is it that “grain-free” foods have been recently targeted as a possible dietary cause?”
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Grain-Free Diets: Thoughts on the FDA Update: Justin Shmalberg is a board-certified specialist in the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN) and the Chief of Integrative Medicine Service at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. He explains: “There is no proven association between any dietary strategy or specific diet and DCM…[The FDA] have stated that the macronutrients, SCAAs, and taurine are similar between tested grain-free and grain-containing foods.”
  • ‘BEG’ pet food does not equal DCM: Author Ryan Yamka, Ph.D. is a fellow with the American College of Nutrition and board certified in companion animal nutrition by the American College of Animal Sciences and a fellow with the American College of Nutrition. He discusses possible causes of DCM but stresses that there’s more research to be done.


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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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