DCM = dilated cardiomyopathy
Cardio means heart, myo means muscle, patho means pathological (potentially fatal) disease, and dilated means enlarged. Put it all together and DCM means: enlarged heart creating pathological disease that may lead to premature death.
DCM is not typical heart failure. Typical heart failure is known as congestive heart failure (CHF) and occurs when one or more heart valves doesn’t work as well as it used to and there is backflow of blood into either the lungs or the liver. CHF is the disease most of us get in our old age if we have heart disease, regardless of whether we are human or canine. Treating CHF means providing quality of life for the patient.
Back to DCM – it’s not a new disease. Some breeds are genetically predisposed, like Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Newfoundlands, and Irish Wolfhounds. What is new is that enough Golden Retrievers have recently been found to develop DCM that led researchers to question what was going on. What was found was there is a link to diet. It is important to note that it’s not only Golden Retrievers being effected by this diet-related DCM, other breeds are effected as well. Regardless of breed, 85% of the dogs effected by diet-related DCM have eaten a grain free kibble product exclusively for more than a year.
While the evidence is exceedingly clear, grain free kibble diet sold at large outlets like box stores and grocery stores are the common denominator, much misinformation is being spread. This misinformation includes the following:
Dogs eating a raw diet are at higher risk (after all, raw diets are grain free)
Dogs eating diets that don’t say “AAFCO” and “complete and balanced” are at higher risk
Real food diets are deficient in taurine, the amino acid necessary to prevent DCM in diet related cases.
I repeat: the above list is misinformation!
Let’s do a little bit of myth busting: taurine is an amino acid (sub-particle of protein) that is used to build heart muscle. Dogs can make their own taurine from other amino acid building blocks, like methionine and cysteine; cats cannot, which is why taurine is an essential (necessary) amino acid for cats. Taurine comes from meat. Easy. Real food diets high in meat (including raw diets) have the necessary building blocks to prevent diet related DCM. Sadly, there will always be dogs genetically predisposed to DCM, but we can help the others.
So what should you feed?
If you are currently feeding a grain-free kibble, as a minimum, top dress the dog food with leftover meat from your food (meat, not the waste parts).
If you are feeding a “boutique” food, be sure you are following manufacturers directions so that you are providing sufficient nutrients (short-cutting may cause DCM in these cases). Boutique – “A business that serves a sophisticated or specialized clientele“.
Many of the so-called boutique foods are well-balanced diets using the best ingredients, whereas conventional kibble is made with ingredients we humans would never eat ourselves.
If you are feeding a real food or raw diet – perfect! The building blocks are there, no need to supplement.
If you’re, understandably, concerned about your dog’s heart health, ask your veterinarian to send a whole blood sample to UC Davis to measure taurine levels. You can also have an ECG or echocardiogram performed.
Real nutrition is the key to good health and longevity!