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The Latest News on DCM and Grain Free Dog Foods

Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a mostly genetic disease of the heart that results in a decreased ability of the heart to generate pressure to pump blood through the body.  As the disease progresses the heart chambers become enlarged, and signs of heart failure can develop.  

In July 2018, the American FDA first alerted pet owners to a POTENTIAL connection between dogs being fed grain-fee diets and DCM. This small statement caused a panic among pet owners (and dog food manufacturers!), many of whom had turned to grain-free diets due to allergies, sensitives, or the belief that they were healthier for their four-legged best friends. All of a sudden, they were doubting everything they had heard over the past decade about the benefits of grain-free food for dogs.

We noticed that the number of cases was low. In fact, it’s MUCH LESS THAN THE NUMBER OF DOGS SUFFERING FROM ALLERGIES DUE TO GRAINS! It was literally one in a million dogs that was contracting DCM from what was believed to be a non-hereditary source. (Before this, DCM was actually considered a primarily inherited disease).

Other issues with the connection included all the variables, between the dogs and also the foods they were fed. Each brand had a different formula.

In the end, on June 27, 2019, the American FDA posted their last update on the subject. They concluded: “Based on the data collected and analysed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.”

Now, a year later, Sydney R McCauley, Stephanie D Clark, Bradley W Quest, Renee M Streeter and Eva M Oxford published their conclusive research on the subject in the Journal of Animal Science, June 2020. The team looked at each variable separately, including genetics, hypothyroidism, myocarditis, chronic tachycardia and known dietary deficiencies. They looked at all the information from the past two years, including all the vet records for the dogs that supposedly had DCM from grain-free diets. This is what they found:

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 the FDA. The use of the acronym “BEG” (boutique manufacturers, exotic proteins, and grain-free diets) 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. (Journal of Animal Science, Volume 98, Issue 6, June 2020, skaa155)

Their work included reviewing over 150 studies on the causes of DCM. They could find no correlation between grain-free diets and DCM. They pointed out that the American FDA reports left out vital information, including a dog’s diet history (how long he had been on grain-free, as an example), age, overall health, etc., making impossible to draw conclusive correlations based off of it. The researchers concluded with this: “While determining the cause of recently reported cases of cardiac disease is of the utmost importance, based on this review of the current literature, there is no definitive relationship these implicated diet characteristics and DCM.”

While there is definitely room to learn more about DCM and what causes it, including if there are any dietary correlations, at this time there is no reason to suspect grain-free diets as a culprit, and as mentioned above, there are many more dogs with allergies and sensitivities to grain that make being on a grain-free diet paramount to their health and happiness. So, stay on your grain-free diet knowing you are giving your dog what is best for them to live a happy, healthy life.

Should there be any more research on the correlation between DCM and diets, we will continue to update you.

24 thoughts on “The Latest News on DCM and Grain Free Dog Foods

  1. jeanette says:

    Thanks for the article but what is DCM? It’s odd to do a whole article and never even say what it is.

    1. Robert says:

      Sorry Jeanette, its something i overlooked, i just presumed everyone knew what it was. DCM is a genetic disease of the heart muscle in dogs that results in weakened contractions and poor pumping ability. As the disease progresses the heart can fail.

    2. Ingrid says:

      FIRST LINE… “Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) “

      1. Robert says:

        Hi Ingrid, In Jeanette’s defense I added the definition of DCM after she asked the question. An over site on my behalf was that I presumed everyone knew what DCM was. So it was my bad.

  2. christine vanderhaak says:

    My issue has never been with the Legumes added to kibble, it’s the massive amounts of carbs/starch in these diets that cause me concern, whether they’re grain inclusive or grain free. Someone needs to come up with a low carb kibble. It’s definitely doable, as the US has a few on the market, but zero options here in Australia.

    1. Robert says:

      Hi Christine, our food is relatively low in carbs for a dry dog food. I know there are a few canned products with very low carbs if you want to go that way.

      1. christine vanderhaak says:

        Robert Can you let us know the carb content?

        1. Robert says:

          Yes sure, its about 20%.

  3. Garry Dawson says:

    Thanks Robert I thank you for stay loyal dog food there has been a great improvement in both dogs. I am giving them glucosamine royal jelly what is your opinion on this duky the jack Russell is not limping so much now both dogs have better coats smoother than before Cheers. Garry

    1. Robert says:

      Hi Garry, Wish i could have royal jelly and Glucosamine. If they work for you keep doing it. The best thing for a dog’s joints is to keep them lean and healthy. Feed less overall and add a few intermittent fast days into the week and watch them limp less.

  4. I did hear about this last year. I was worried and we even thought of going raw at one time. I do feel our dog has been great on Stay Loyal and the issues he had as a pup have gone away since. I read that the issues around this subject were peas and legumes. I wonder if there could be alternative as we do hear peas aren’t that good long term?
    I think we do the right thing by looking into foods for our pets as it’s so important and so far Stay Loyal is top of the dog food chain as all Australian ingredients etc and that’s very important.

    1. Robert says:

      Hi Jane, there was a lot thoughts that it was legumes like peas and beans but now its been put down to formulation as dogs that were diagnosed with DCM were put on different grain free formulas with legumes and the DCM went away.

  5. Tania Manning says:

    Hi guys I’m a dog groomer/trainer /breeder in Australia and for years wondered why some of my dogs got skin problems every now and then, some never and some constantly, since being a dog groomer now for 15 years I’ve also seen a lot of clients dogs with skin problems but also arthritis, Cushing s disease and years ago read your articles about grains and wolftucker about how dogs guts actually work, how wild dogs eat etc, and changed my dogs diets to see what happens, so as well as my cooked food I do for them they get grain free dry food, a bone day , and every now and then they still get vegemite on toast , but having eliminated grain from every day foods, my dogs have no skin problems at all. Now when my clients come in with dogs with ongoing skin problems etc , I suggest changing their dogs diet and those who have done so have seen huge improvements in their dogs and no more vet visits. I always suggest that they read your web pages and wolf Tucker and get an understanding as to how the dogs stomach is meant to work. Seeing happier dogs and owners is all a part of my job. We have also seen two little dogs over the past few years with the start of Cushing disease and have slowed the symptoms dramatically and no drugs from the vets. Anyway I had better get back to work, thanks for your newsletters, I am now asking all of my clients to join up for your monthly newsletters, thanks and take care

  6. Peter Barnes says:

    Thank you Rob. Quite reassuring. Much more research is obviously necessary before throwing the baby out with the bath water as they say.
    Kindest regards
    Peter Barnes Joey And Pippin ( Papillon’s)

  7. Sharon Cadman says:

    What is DCM please?

  8. Izzy says:

    Sorry, I gave no idea what DCM is.. you didn’t explain that.. so the article is meaningless to me.. 😔

    1. Robert says:

      I’m so sorry Izzy, i just presumed people knew what it is. DCM is considered a genetic disease of the heart muscle in dogs that results in weakened contractions and poor pumping ability. As the disease progresses the heart can fail.

  9. Diane Bone says:

    Thankyou for your very detailed information.
    I have no doubt that you are caring and vigilant with your product which is why I trust it.

  10. Lawrence Mitchell says:

    I wouldn’t dare change their diet without firstly obtaining their ok to do so,

  11. julie says:

    I wonder if they have they looked into DCM being caused by excessive exposure to aluminium in our food chain?? Aluminium competes with magnesium and is added purposely to many human foods, additives, colours, medications, vaccines as per Aust NZ food standards. Journal article in British journal of medicine 2018 available online titled “Subclinical magnesium, primary driver of cardiovascular disease” lists aluminium as causing magnesium deficiency causing amongst other issues heart arrhythmia, heart disease, cardiac arrest, anxiety, depression, psychosis, diabetes, renal failure and many more. Humans in my family get neurological tics, some behaviour change, anxiety when they are exposed to aluminium in our food staples…..in flour, baby formula, baking powder, baked goods, processed dairy like grated cheese, artificial colours, anti-caking agents. Aluminium can hyper-excite the nervous system (as can gluten and casein a protein in milk to those humans who are sensitive). Aluminium in research can also affect other minerals like zinc, silica, iron levels. In some circles, the here and now is called the age of aluminium due to its prevalence in our society and food chain. In an online paper entitled “Aluminium toxicosis” in the interdisciplinary journal of toxicology, fluoride in our water also increases aluminium accumulation in tissues and organs.

    Keep up the good work. My 2 dogs are doing VERY WELL on Stay loyal plus raw diet.

    1. Carol Iles says:

      Interesting! I remember my mum chucking out all her old aluminium saucepans and teapot because aluminium was blamed for dementia. She got it nonetheless. 🙁

  12. Karen Hall says:

    Thank you so much for this much needed information, as my vet told me two weeks ago to take my dogs off your biscuits for this exact reason.
    So I’m thrilled to have read this post and keep my fur babies on their much loved biscuits.

    Robert can you please develop a cat biscuit as well?????

    1. Robert says:

      Hi Karen, many people ask us to do a cat kibble but we are dog people so are still resisting. Eventually we will get a cat person on board and do cat food.

      1. Sacha says:

        Hi Robert,

        thank you for the informative article, I have been wondering about this myself for a while.

        My dogs love their stay loyal, and can you add me to the kitty kibble request list?

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