A DCM Survival Guide

This may be a bit long but I hope you’ll take the time to read it.  So you may have heard about DCM on the news. Are you now freaking out concerning what you are feeding your pets?  Take a deep breathe and let’s look at what the FDA said in their newly released report.

Once upon a time, DCM was thought to be purely genetic.  In the last few years there have been some findings that point to diet potentially being a link. But what is DCM?  Click here for Cornell University’s explanation of DCM. 

What VETS, the NEWS and FDA are saying

  • Out of over 500 known cases since 2014, almost all cases are linked to dry food also referred to as kibble.
  • The majority of the dry food that is being fed in these cases are grain free.
  • Exotic proteins like kangaroo, goat or venison, and lack of taurine have been cited as possible factors.
  • On Thursday, June 27th, 2019, the FDA released a report that cites specific brands that have been linked to the DCM cases. Click Here to see the report.
  • The same report shows that 93 were on a diet that contained a combination of peas and lentils, 89 included peas, 62 included lentils, 42 included potatoes/sweet potatoes.
  • The recommendations over the past year have been to get your pet checked for DCM, stay away from grain free dry kibble diets, and/or boutique and exotic diets.
  • The cause of diet-induced DCM is still unknown.  Also, no recalls have been made.

What is being largely OVERLOOKED

  • There were 29 cases that listed grain-based diets.
  • According to the findings of the FDA’s recent report, the top three protein sources reported are common rather than exotic. The number one protein being fed across all cases is chicken, followed by lamb as the second highest occurrence, and salmon as the third.  
  • Dry food or kibble, while it is widely accepted as a sole diet for domesticated pets, does not digest in harmony with your dog’s biological make up. There are alternatives to dry food altogether that are not being discussed. Click Here to watch an excellent video by veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker which outlines and explains in detail all of the possible choices for feeding your pet.
  • The majority of the cases were feeding a strict diet, without much variation. The lack of variation could potentially be a contributing factor that has not been examined.
  • The information and resources provided to the Veterinarian community is largely produced by biased sources.  A key resource on veterinary nutrition is the Pet Nutrition Alliance. Two of the founding educational sponsors are Hill’s Science Diet and Nestle Purina.
  • According to truthaboutpetfood.com founder, Susan Thixton, the FDA shared the report with Pet Nutrition Alliance (again founded by Hill’s Science Diet and Purina among others) well before sharing it with the public.
  • AAFCO, the regulatory organization that sets pet food and feed labeling guidelines, does not require Taurine be added to dog food to obtain the "complete and balanced" stamp of approval. This infers that if lack of Taurine is the culprit, switching to a "complete and balanced" grain-based diet will not protect your dog if you do not see Taurine listed on the label.
  • Ever since the first indication that grain free dry diets could be a potential cause of the DCM concern, many of the brands that have been named have been paying for third party research and taking intentional measures, such as adding in Taurine, to ensure their diets are as nutritionally sound as possible. Click here to see Zignature test results on their Turkey Formula.

From a scientific standpoint there were many things unaccounted for in the study that led to this media frenzy including the food history of the pet over its entire lifetime and other health issues it may have had.  I think it’s also worth noting that with less than 600 cases reported in the past 5 years and more than 77 million dogs in the U.S., the chances of your dog getting DCM is very slim.  While DCM is a horrible disease and it's heartbreaking that any dog has had to suffer because of it, I’m more concerned with dogs getting cancer. Last year alone over 6 million cases were reported but that's a topic for another day.

So now that you’re all caught up on the skinny version of this issue let’s look at some easy ways that you can confidently move forward.

If you are truly concerned you should take your pup to the vet to get checked.  I would recommend an independent vet for this. If you choose to go to a national veterinarian chain, it is worth being aware that Mars Petcare owns the top two chains (Banfield and VCA) in America.  Many VCA owned vet clinics don't have VCA in their name so be sure to ask!  Mars Petcare makes brands such as Royal Canin, Pedigree, Whiskas, Cesar, Nutro, Iams, and Eukanuba.  

Second and this is something I talk about all the time when people ask what they should feed their pet, Variety and Rotation.

The simplest way to improve your pets’ overall vitality, resilience to illness, and longevity is by offering variety. A variety of nutrients from a variety of sources is biologically what our pets are built for.  Dogs became “man’s best friend” as descendants of wolves. Wolves hunt in packs eating a variety of prey and scavenging. As they integrated into man’s best friend, they would eat whatever man would eat, leftover scraps from the camp and the dinner table.  While they did consume some grains from our scraps it didn't make up a major part of their diet.  They were not made to eat the same thing day after day, year after year.  I really love tacos but I'm not sure how long I'd love them and how healthy I'd be if I had to eat them for 3 meals a day everyday.  I personally don’t believe your pet can get all the nutrients they need just from one meal source.

Adopt a habit of choosing a minimum of three base diets and cycle through them. A base diet can be a trusted pre-made commercial diet or a homemade diet using a balanced recipe.  It can be kibble, cans, freeze-dried, dehydrated, frozen raw, frozen gently cooked, or prepared fresh.

If you know your dog has many sensitivities or allergies to foods, you can add variety in creative ways. For instance, if you believe your dog is only able to eat Turkey or Beef, and seems to have a reaction to other proteins, try varying your source of Turkey and Beef.  Get turkey liver and ground beef at your local butcher and cook up a fresh meal a few nights a week. Try freeze-dried turkey hearts as their treat instead of the turkey biscuits you've been buying. Also, you can add in a variety of fresh leafy greens, canned pumpkin, pureed squash, and many other non-allergy inducing fresh foods.  I personally like Green Juju and Primals Edible Elixirs for adding in fresh food.

Click Here for a quick video from Planet Paws on making a quick DIY, complete diet at home.

“Wait, it’s changing your pet’s diet to often bad for them?”

This is a complete myth!  Marketing firms have done a great job of convincing us that our pets only need the same food their entire life.  Many people are also worried about the possibility of upset tummies or diarrhea.  To avoid any stomach upsets, the key in introducing anything new in your pet’s diet slow and steady.  I recommend adding a 1 part of the new food with 3 parts of the familiar food for the first time. Do that for about two to four feedings and monitor your pet.  Check their stools. If there are changes such as extreme stool softening, continue to feed this ratio until the stools become firmer. Once the stools are regular, move forward with a 1 part new to 2 part familiar for two to four feedings. Continue increasing the ratio of the new food, decreasing the ratio of the familiar food and monitoring the stools until you are able to fully integrate over to the new food with no stool issues.  Do this any time you are introducing new foods and eventually you will be able to cycle between the different foods, switching back and forth, as often as you’d like. I started doing this will my dogs when they were very young. They can now eat pretty much anything without have upset tummies or diarrhea and without slowly transitioning.

If you find that the new food doesn’t really produce a happy pet with a happy stool, do not be alarmed and do not give up hope.  Every pet has unique needs and finding the proteins and other ingredients that jive well with your pet is a simple process of trial and error.  For soft stool I recommend keeping pumpkin or The Honest Kitchen's Perfect Form on hand to help firm it up.

Address Taurine and Heart Health

Ensure you are including fresh sources of Taurine, which is an amino acid responsible for heart function.  Fresh and minimally processed sources of Taurine, rather than synthetic sources, will be more readily absorbed by your dog’s body and you can have more control of its quality.  Some of the best sources of fresh taurine are the following

  • Sardines and Salmon
  • Organ meats such as giblets, liver, heart, kidneys
  • Dark meat
  • Clams and Mussels
  • Eggs (raw or cooked)
  • Goats Milk
  • Fish Stock

Add in any combination of the items on the list a couple times a week and you will be covering your pets need for taurine, not to mention they will thoroughly enjoy the deliciousness.

And remember, a healthy heart is one that gets regular exercise.  So take that pooch for a little longer of a walk!

Last but not least, Support the Gut

There is compelling research and evidence that the health of the microbiome, or colonies of beneficial bacteria throughout your dog’s gut and body, provides a fortress against illness. These little colonies of microbes that make up your dog’s microbiome will aid your dog from harmful bacteria that can attack the heart, in addition to other baddies like viruses, fungi, and harmful pathogens (leptospirosis or Lyme). They do this by secreting killer chemicals to the harmful bacteria.  And if the friendly bacteria colonies outnumber the baddies, the friendly ones will starve out the baddies in competition for nutrients. Click Here for more info from Dogs Naturally.

Ensure your pet has a flourishing array of gut flora and a healthy gut lining.  I recommend adding in probiotics daily or at least 3 times a week. Some excellent whole food sources to try are Answer's Fermented Goat's Milk or Cows Milk Kefir and Primal Goats Milk.

To support the gut lining add in bone broth two or three times a week as well.  There is evidence that consuming hard-to-digest foods and highly processed foods can cause tears in the gut lining, which opens a doorway for bad bacteria to get into the bloodstream and attack other organs. Click Here to learn more from the Whole Dog Journal. Bone broth helps to heal any little tears or holes in the gut that may have occurred and it has a slew of other health benefits, including joint support.

In closing, I want you to know you are doing great!  Use what is helpful, leave what isn't. Whatever you do, keep going.  Your pursuit of finding solutions is exactly what will keep your pet safe.  Stop by the store or give us a call if you’d like to talk more about your pet’s nutrition.  I’m happy to share what I feed my dogs including my version of “cereal”.

I started Mutts & Meows because I’m passionate about pets and their nutrition.  There is nothing in the store that I wouldn’t give my own pets and if fact they’ve tried everything!  I look at every item that comes in to see if it meets ours standards and if a brand’s quality slips and it no longer meets our standards, I don’t have an issue with no longer carrying them in the store.

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