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The FDA is continuing to investigate a possible link between grain-free diets and the development of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. But there is no reason to panic! Although the link has not been proven to be conclusive, there is enough potential risk to warrant taking some rational, precautionary steps.
Dr. Justin Shmalberg is a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist with a long list of credentials. He is a clinical associate professor at the University of Florida, cofounder of Integrative Veterinary Innovations, and Chief Nutrition Officer at Nom Nom. Dr. Shmalberg has fully digested the FDA reports on DCM and indicated some key takeaways to advise his clients, which we are happy to share with you.
What is DCM?
DCM is a condition characterized by poor contraction of the heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure, a potentially fatal condition. DCM is usually tied to a genetic predisposition but deficiency of the amino acid taurine is known to cause a potentially reversible form of atypical DCM.
In his detailed analysis of the FDA reports, Dr. Shmalberg underscored that there hasn’t yet been a proven link between diet and DCM. Further, if diet is the cause we do not know what part of the diet or diet-pet interaction is to blame.
Above all, Dr. Shmalberg recommends remaining calm as information becomes available. Bear in mind that the vast majority of pets are fed many of the diets indicated without any reported DCM. There simply is not sufficient information to make conclusions about specific ingredients, brands, or types of food. That being said, a big enough red flag has been raised to validate taking some precautionary steps to avoid potential heartbreak due to illness.
Cautionary Actions to Consider
1. Feed a higher protein diet
Dogs have requirements for protein and fat but not for carbohydrates. Feeding more protein generally provides more taurine precursors. A diet with more than 75 grams of protein per 1000 calories is a good place to start. This is especially true if your pet is overweight, doesn’t eat a lot of food, has a known heart condition, or is active. It is worth noting that in moderation, complex carbohydrates including peas and potatoes provide energy along with a host of phytonutrients and other benefits.
2. Consider a diet with additive taurine
Taurine is an amino acid distributed widely through the body of dogs, with a high concentration in certain tissues including the heart, brain, and eyes. Although the exact function of this amino acid is not entirely clear, it has been shown to lead to health problems when a canine body has a taurine deficiency.
The link between taurine deficiency and the development of DCM is a known correlation and one of the connections being studied by the FDA. Given the known connection and the fact that it is perfectly safe to do so, supplementing dog food with taurine is one precaution that can be taken.
3. Avoid diets that rely heavily on legumes to meet the protein content
Legumes are members of the pea family and include beans, peas, lentils, and more. If a legume is the first or second item listed in a dog food’s ingredients, or if there’s a number of different legumes listed and only one meat, that food may best be avoided.
Legumes are not all bad and can in fact be a beneficial component of a dog’s diet. As a means of precaution, however, look for foods that do not rely on legumes as a dominant ingredient.
4. Vary the diet
Just like humans, dogs benefit from eating a wide variety of foods. Nutritional variety helps to overcome any particular issues with a certain formulation. If you’re feeding kibble, other options can be explored in addition or independently. Offer canned foods, pasteurized foods, fresh foods, balanced home-prepared diets, etc.
5. Talk to pet food companies
If you have questions about the diet you are feeding your dog, it is perfectly reasonable to ask the pet food company. Do they work with nutritionists to formulate their recipes? Do they test the final product to ensure it meets the requirements? Both are preferable.
Do understand, however, that they may not have answers as it specifically relates to DCM. Simply put, no one has conclusive answers this time. There are a number of people working to study this, but it will take time before more concrete information is available.
Avoid Confusion and Feed Fresh
In light of the FDA reports and ongoing pet food contamination, recalls, and controversies, mistrust of the pet food industry is understandable. Increasingly, concerned pet parents are turning to fresh food diets for their pets for this very reason.
With Nom Nom you can confidently feed your dog fresh meals that have been expertly formulated by Dr. Justin Shmalberg. When you choose a food that’s freshly prepared in small batches, with minimal, restaurant-quality ingredients and no artificial fillers, you can see exactly what your pup is getting. And if you ever have questions, you can get in touch with the experts at Nom Nom who are happy to discuss the safety and efficacy of feeding fresh.
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