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Diet Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

Canine diet associated DCM has been in the forefront of the media and has many pet parents confused and concerned. We are sharing the latest information and how Vetdiet® formulation strategy has been providing heart healthy nutrients in our diets for years.

Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a heart disease in dogs that results in an enlarged heart that often progresses to congestive heart failure. As the heart and its chambers become dilated, the heart has more difficulty pumping, which results in a buildup of fluids in the abdomen and chest. The signs and symptoms of DCM include decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing, episodes of collapse, and can ultimately result in death if not treated soon enough. There is a strong genetic link to this disease as it primarily occurs in certain large and giant breeds.

Back in July of 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alerted pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of DCM in dogs eating certain pet foods containing legumes, peas, lentils, or potatoes as main ingredients. These reports were unusual since DCM was occurring in medium and small breed dogs that typically do not have a genetic predisposition to DCM. It is well established that there is a nutritional link to DCM as it can occur from a deficiency of taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that is found in meat. In dogs, taurine is not considered an essential nutrient as it can be created in the body from the dietary amino acids methionine and cysteine. If nutritional DCM is diagnosed in the earlier stages of the disease, treatment with supplemented taurine has been successful in reversing the effects.

In their July release, the FDA mentioned that the diets of the reported cases frequently listed potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other pulses and their protein, starch and fiber derivatives as main ingredients. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN) started to investigate this potential association urging pet owners and veterinary professionals to report cases of DCM in dogs suspected of having a link to diet.

The FDA released two updates on the issue, the latest on June 27th, 2019. In this update, the FDA accounted for 524 reports of DCM between January 1st, 2014 and April 30th, 2019; 498 of these cases were reported following the July publication. Of these cases, 91% were reported to eat a food labeled “grain-free” and approximately 9% ate diets containing grains, some of which were vegan or vegetarian. Protein sources in the reported diets varied widely with no one animal protein source being predominant. Many of the products contained peas and/or lentils while a smaller proportion contained potatoes. The latest FDA update also shows the most commonly reported pet food brands named in DCM report submitted to them.

At Vetdiet®, we have been closely following the latest findings from the FDA and those from university researchers. We realize that the DCM issue is confusing, as it is to nutritionists and veterinarians. We understand pet parents’ concerns regarding this issue and we want to be transparent about our products.

At Vetdiet®, we formulate our products to deliver the essential amino acids from the animal protein sources chicken, salmon, lamb, chicken meal, menhaden fish meal, lamb meal and dried egg product. We balance these amino acids with plant protein from pea protein and potato protein. To provide optimal nutritional balance, we add the amino acids lysine, methionine, taurine and L-carnitine at efficacious levels. These added amino acids have been central to our formulation strategy for many years.

Lysine is an essential amino acid. If it is not provided in adequate amounts in the diet, protein synthesis is limited to the rate at which lysine is available. In other words, even if a diet is high in overall protein, if the amino acids are not properly balanced, only a fraction of the total protein will be available for use. By adding lysine to the diet, we make sure that all the protein within our diets are made available. All our diets are also fortified with taurine as well as methionine at efficacious levels to promote healthy heart function in dogs, as we know a taurine deficiency can lead to heart disease. We also fortify our diets with L-carnitine, which is needed for normal heart function and if deficient in the diet can lead to DCM.

As part of our continued commitment to research, we are conducting a long-term University lead feeding trial comparing the biological effects of our amino acid formulation strategy on the heart health of large breed dogs. We plan to release the data once the study has been completed. We have a long-term partnership with the Mira foundation, which feeds our products to hundreds of dogs under the care of their in-house veterinarian, Dr. Paule Jacques who is a member of our Health and Nutrition Advisory Board. This allows us to constantly monitor the performance of our food.

To get the most up-to-date, accurate, and non-biased information on the DCM issue, the FDA’s website is the best resource. If you are worried about your dog having DCM, we encourage you to consult this handout from the University of California-Davis that outlines precautions you can take for your dog’s health.

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