In the last year, the FDA has issued alerts and reports regarding their investigation into the link between grain-free dog diets and a serious heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM. Most recently, the FDA has named 16 brands of grain-free dog food to avoid, with the caveat that pet owners should work directly with their veterinarians to determine the best approach to their own dog’s diets because the FDA is “still investigating.”
This news has plenty of dog parents concerned that the grain-free diet they switched to because of many years of reports touting its benefits could now make them sick. It’s natural and understandable to have an emotional reaction to the possibility of your dog suffering but don’t let the frenzied sharing of fear-mongering articles on social media push you to make a decision before getting all the facts.
First, while indeed a serious disease, DCM is also still extremely rare, even factoring in the recent (minor) bump in cases reported to the FDA. To put it in perspective, there are approximately 77 million dogs in the US, and the FDA study only included 560 dogs–0.0007 percent of the population.
Second, some of the dogs included in the FDA study were never officially diagnosed with DCM via an echocardiogram, so an already statistically small sample may be even further narrowed.
Third, 200 of the 560 dogs in the study were breeds that already have a genetic predisposition to DCM. Those typically include large breed dogs such as:
- Afghan Hound
- American Cocker Spaniel
- Doberman Pinscher
- English Bulldog
- English Cocker Spaniel
- Great Dane
- Irish Wolfhound
- Saint Bernard
- Scottish Deerhound
This doesn’t invalidate the possibility that diet played a role in the dogs’ condition, but it does dilute the statistical significance.
Fourth, the FDA admits a reporting bias in its study, as most reports of DCM came from breed-specific groups where more information about DCM had been shared. The sample was also not truly random as it should be for scientific validity.
Another interesting finding is that, while low levels of taurine had previously been identified as a probable cause of DCM, many of the dogs included in the study were found to have normal taurine levels in their blood. Yet another identified “cause” has become less certain even in this small sample.
What these facts and findings add up to, unfortunately, is still a lot of speculation about the many potential causes of DCM. So while we still can’t point to any surefire preventatives for disease, we can also avoid panicking thinking that our dog’s food is killing them.
Ironically, even though the FDA’s recent communication around the issue of DCM has been spotty at best, they also offer the best piece of advice, which is to talk to your veterinarian about your particular dog while they continue to investigate.