Below we summarize our interpretation of the recent FDA update on canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and the brands they have associated with the disease. We want to stress that the FDA’s update is not a completed scientific study with conclusive evidence as of yet, and we still await the final results of the study. We also believe that the supposed issue is not related to brands but to the ingredients involved in grain-free diets, and offer suggestions for those looking for new diet options for their pet.
If you are someone who feeds kibble to their dog, you have most likely been exposed to concerns related to the FDA’s statements regarding their investigation into recent cases of DCM—particularly the information they have released regarding specific kibble formulas and brands they are associating with the disease. We here at Humboldt Pet Supply have been following this case closely as it has developed over the past year and have been striving to best answer the questions of our concerned customers. The recent release by the FDA has prompted quite a surge of concerned kibble-feeders, so we’ve decided to address this multifaceted issue in order to try to make sense of recent events. While there is still a lot of uncertainty, we will focus on the facts actually available.
What We Know
While the information released by the FDA does include information that would be concerning to pet owners who feed their dogs kibble from the named brands, it is very important that we stress that the information the FDA has published does not constitute a complete and conclusive scientific report and they currently do not know what is causing these cases of DCM. What they FDA has published is the partial data they have collected up to this point, as they continue to investigate the DCM reports. While one can understand the FDA’s motivation to keep the public informed with the latest information regarding this investigation, publishing this half-complete data leaves pet owners with much doubt about the foods they feed their pets while not providing any definitive answers as to what is behind the issue and what to do about it.
One of the most common elements of the FDA’s publishings mentioned by our concerned customers is a particular graph that directly associates specific brands with DCM. While the data on this graph may be statistically factual, it by no means shows that any of the ingredients, formulas or brands named are the cause of DCM in the reported cases. It only shows that, in the reported cases they have examined, these brands were listed as being fed to the dogs. As stated above, the FDA does not know the cause of the recently reported DCM cases and is only presenting the data they have collected so far. Now, if you are a concerned kibble-feeder, you would read these graphs and assume that you just need to avoid whatever brands are listed, avoid the ingredients or characteristics of the reported diets, and note the top offending animal proteins and just switch to a different type, all without any sort of conclusive evidence saying what the relationship is between these factors or if any of them are indeed causing DCM.
This presentation of incomplete data really puts us pet owners in a tough position, because we want to ensure the health and safety of our dogs, but don’t have enough meaningful information to make a decision on what to do. The FDA recommends pet owners’ work with their veterinarians for advice on their animal’s specific needs before going out and changing their diet. But will vets just defer to this data published by the FDA? What actions can dog owners take to make sure their pet is getting its nutritional needs met?
What To Do
If you are concerned and have decided that you indeed want to switch pet foods, we are more than happy to offer some suggestions to help you and your pet transition to a new diet. While the lack of a definitive cause makes it more difficult to really know what the best course of action is, here at Humboldt Pet Supply, we strongly encourage owners to make sure that pets get their most important nutrient, protein, from varying high-quality, animal-based sources. As we will detail below, many of the associated factors in the FDA’s study, such as ingredients in the food, can be circumvented following this philosophy. It is also of note that while the FDA chose to list which brands were reported to be involved in DCM cases, the question is not about which brands to avoid, rather the ingredients that are commonly used these grain-free kibbles.
As of publishing this article, the DCM problem is implied to be mostly isolated to kibble diets, many of which rely on peas and lentils as binders or to supplement their protein content. The need for peas and lentils as binders is inherently a kibble-specific issue, as the ingredients need to be held together to produce their final shape. In most commercial pet foods, carbohydrates such as grains and starches are used as binders for kibble, while peas and lentils are used as substitutes in these grain-free lines. These binders ultimately end up comprising a large percentage of each kibble unit, leaving less room for protein. If you want to avoid the use of peas and lentils as a binder, and ensure your pet gets a higher percentage of nutrients, we recommend either switching to foods with higher percentages of meat-based proteins, such as wet foods or raw foods, or at least supplement a kibble-based diet with more high-quality, meat-based protein to ensure your pet is getting the nutrition they need.
The increase in high-quality animal protein in a pet’s diet is highly important because, unlike with wet foods and mostly-meat raw, kibble can often contain very little animal-based protein. In addition to the binder taking up a large percentage of the food, many kibble manufacturers use vegetable-based proteins as a cost-effective way to increase protein in their foods—proteins like peas and lentils, among others. Vegetable-based proteins, while still nutritious, are not utilized as effectively by our pets as their meat-based counterparts.
The second part of our food recommendation philosophy is to change up your pet’s diet regularly. Much like humans cannot maintain good health by eating the same thing everyday, our pets also need a cycle of varying nutrients in order to maximize their health. So in addition to having more of it, varying the type of animal-protein your pet eats periodically will make sure they are not lacking any important vitamins or amino acids or, on the flip-side, getting too much of one particular vitamin. Of course, every pet is different and their needs vary so there is no one “right” diet that fits every pet.
That being said, we will continue to follow this matter as it progresses. As pet owners who feed our own pets some of the same foods mentioned, we are closely following the developments as they happen and will always relay new information to our customers. We will always try to provide up-to-date, science-based facts regarding pet diets and are always willing to answer your questions regarding your animal’s specific needs in-store. If you are interested in reading the official statements from individual companies regarding DCM, we have printouts available in the dog food room at our store.