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New FDA Update Confirms Grain-Free Foods Alone Are Unlikely to Cause DCM

Prioritizing Nutritional Variety and Overall Health Is Still Important

Healthy Dogs |  December 9, 2020

For over two years, there has been significant concern surrounding a report from the FDA surrounding an increase of cases of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs that couldn’t be traced to a genetic cause. While the numbers were very small in comparison to the number of dogs, many dog owners were concerned about the possibility of grain-free or legume-inclusive foods causing DCM in their own dogs.

Last month, the FDA convened a scientific meeting to present research around DCM. Dr. Solomon, the MPH Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine, said that grain-free foods, including those with legumes, are not unsafe or dangerous in any way after extensive research into this area. The current FDA FAQ about DCM reflects that the FDA does not consider grain-free diets or diets containing legumes or pulses to cause or increase the likelihood of DCM. Instead, evidence indicates that non-hereditary DCM may be caused by one or more factors, such as obesity, digestive issues, other health conditions, activity level, breed, biology, and how ingredients in foods are processed.

What Does This New Information Mean for My Dog?

If your dog is currently thriving on their current food, there is no need to consider changing what they are eating. Whether it’s grain-free or grain-inclusive food you’ve chosen, the overall health of your dog as reported by their veterinarian and observed through body condition and skin and coat health should be the priority.

However, the overwhelming majority of non-hereditary cases of DCM reported to the FDA were in dogs who had eaten the same kibble for months or years. It is likely that a lack of variety in protein type, food form, and formula increased the risk of non-hereditary DCM. Eating the same kibble for months or years, however nutritious, increased the likelihood that these dogs developed this health condition.

Reducing the Risk of Non-hereditary DCM in Your Dog

Anytime an animal eats the same, highly processed food—no matter how nutritionally balanced—for years, the chances of small nutritional deficiencies increases. Rotating between foods and feeding several food forms at once reduces this risk. With this fact and current research in mind, we recommend you consider these three things to reduce the likelihood of DCM in your dog:

  • Prioritize Variety: Feed your dog foods that contain different proteins by rotating through a single manufacturer’s foods or by alternating between different manufacturers. Feeding your dog a combination of food forms, instead of just kibble, is also highly recommended.
  • Add Whole Foods: Organ-meat treats, whole food supplements, and raw foods can be excellent sources of minimally processed food that can boost the overall nutritional intake of your dog.
  • Consider Your Dog’s Health: Lots of dogs thrive on both grain-inclusive and grain-free foods. If your dog is thriving eating their current kibble, consider adding a variety through rotational feeding, whole foods, and different food forms to enhance what they’re eating, instead of just switching to a new kibble.

As researchers learn more about non-hereditary DCM in dogs, I will continue to keep you updated with the best scientifically supported information and recommendations for feeding your dog. We always recommend adding nutritional variety, as well as physical exercise and regular vet visits to address chronic health conditions, to care for your dog’s health, and to reduce the risk of developing any health concerns.

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