Feeding your dog in the age of the DCM scare

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a condition that prevents the heart from pumping properly.[1] It is more prevalent in some breeds, but there have been recent reports of increased rates of DCM in breeds prone to the condition when fed grain-free diets. While this should be investigated further, it is a loose correlation and has been blown out or proportion to the point of terrifying puppy parents that they are feeding their dogs a harmful diet. This condition has been falsely inflated by blog posts, poor or incomplete research, and some major companies taking advantage of the public panic.

So let’s take a quick look at what the danger is.

Rate of occurrence

Reports of about 300 cases of nutritionally mediated DCM (NM-DCM) have been received by FDA. This is horrible for those dogs and families affected, but it’s important to look at the bigger picture as well and realize that given that there are 90 million dogs in the United States alone, this is a very, very low rate of occurrence.

Contrast that with the estimate 60% rate of cancer in breeds like Golden Retrievers. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/why-do-so-many-golden-retrievers-get-cancer-massive-study-hopes-to-find-out/

Since NM-DCM is associated with grain free diets, let’s factor in that as well. Grain free diets are fed to about 37% of the dog population in the US, based on market share[2], so that would give us about 33 million dogs eating a grain-free diet. Again, FDA has reports of 300 confirmed cases. That gives us a rate of occurrence of 0.0009 percent.

Let’s take the worst-case devil’s advocate approach and assume NM-DCM is vastly under-reported by a huge factor, say of 100 times. Our hypothetical situation would mean that only 1 in 100 cases has been reported for a high profile condition and would give us the assumption that there are 30,000 cases instead of the reported 300. With 33 million dogs in the population eating grain free food, that would give us a hypothetical rate of occurrence of 0.09 percent.

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