We’ve already written a few posts about dog food & DCM in Great Danes, but haven’t yet compiled a list of helpful topics, links, and science on it. This article will be ongoing and updated often. If you are concerned about nutritional DCM, or if your Great Dane was diagnosed with DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy), this blog should serve as a resource for you.
If you would like to click open some of our most popular nutritional DCM resources, start here (they will open in a new tab for you). Many other links are posted in the blog text below as well.
Should I feed Grain-Free Dog Food?
Judy Morgan, the FDA, and Pseudoscience
What is Nutritional DCM?
Nutritional DCM, or “dog food DCM” is when a dog develops dilated cardiomyopathy (heart problems) because of unbalanced or poorly formulated nutrition.
This is a well known phenomenon. In the not so distant past, cats were turning up with dilated cardiomyopathy. Pet food manufacturers responded to this by researching the problem and learning that for cats, it was related to nutritional deficiencies.
Cat foods were adjusted and from that point forward, the problem went away. Here is an article from 1987 that covers this event: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1987-08-14-mn-805-story.html
Below I’m sharing some nutritional DCM facts, as well as scientific research and links. In the interest of keeping this article clean and free of bias, we will not be using any affiliate links in the text of the post.
Nutritional DCM Facts
Here are some facts about nutritional DCM Dilated Cardiomyopathy that you may not know.
Veterinary Cardiologists Saw the Problem First
It was around 2014 (nearly 10 years ago) that veterinary cardiologists started to notice an increase of dogs that had no genetic link to DCM turning up in their clinics with enlarged hearts.
As they compiled data on those dogs, they found an alarming correlation between the condition and diets from smaller dog food companies such as Fromm, Acana, Zignature, and Taste of the Wild (among others). Most of the affected dogs were on grain-free diets, though, not all of them.
A full timeline of events since then has been posted here: https://www.alltradesdvm.com/topics/diet-associated-dcm/dcm-timeline
Nutrition Plays a Role in Heart Health
Incorrect levels of certain nutrients, including poor bioavailability or the wrong balance of macros or amino acids can absolutely cause a slew of health problems in dogs. DCM is only one of those issues.
Pancreatitis, bladder stones, orthopedic growth problems, muscle wasting, and poor skin and coat health are associated with nutritional imbalances.
The truth is that poorly formulated pet diets of all kinds (kibble, fresh, canned, home cooked, or raw) can absolutely cause heart problems in dogs.
Nutritional DCM Affects All Breeds
Some dogs, including Great Danes, have a genetic link to DCM that can be reduced or even eliminated by OFA testing and ethical breeding practices.
Nutritional DCM, however, affects all breeds of dogs whether they are ethically bred or not.
For dogs with a genetic link, nutritional DCM is a double-whammy as they can suffer from one or both.
Further, a Great Dane from fully OFA heart-tested parents can still develop nutritional DCM.
In other words, nutritional DCM can affect all dogs, no matter what.
It’s Not Just Grain-Free
Grain free foods took a huge hit when veterinary community and specialists started researching the problem.
However, they’ve since learned three major things:
a. It’s not the “lack of grains” that is the problem
b. Grain free foods are most often loaded with peas, potatoes, chickpeas, and legumes which are the problem
c. Grain-free or not, legumes or not, the common factor is always that the food manufacturer does not have qualified staff formulating the food
Poorly formulated foods of all kinds, including those with grains, have been implicated in nutritional DCM in dogs.
Formulation Practices Matter
There are 1000’s of dog foods on the market.
Only a small handful of brands employ board certified veterinary nutritionists or people who have a Ph.D in animal nutrition. Only 5 brands total have full teams of well-qualified nutritionists.
Some brands have no legitimate nutritionists at all, and many are relying on other sources to formulate their foods.
It doesn’t matter how ‘fancy’ the label reads or what claims are made about how ‘healthy’, ‘premium’, ‘human grade’, and ‘holistic’ the food is, if it’s not formulated by somebody with legitimate credentials, it’s dangerous to feed.
Adding Taurine & Grains Doesn’t Fix the Problem
If a diet is formulated poorly and may cause a dogs heart to enlarge, adding taurine and grains is not going to safely fix the problem.
If you have to add taurine and grains to your dogs diet to ‘prevent DCM’, their diet is unbalanced in the first place and should not be fed.
Not only that, but adding rice, oats, or otherwise to your dog’s bowl only serves to further unbalance the diet and reduce the dogs ability to intake meat-based amino acids (which, incidentally, is what they actually need for heart health).
Nutritional DCM Can Be Reversed
In some cases, for dogs whose condition was caught before permanent damage was done to the heart, nutritional DCM can be reversed.
The solution to nutritional DCM Is to switch, immediately, to a diet that is properly formulated. Board-certified veterinary cardiologists recommend the following highly-researched, tested, and professionally formulated brands:
Hill’s Science Diet
Depending on the severity of the disease progression, supplementation (of taurine and/or l-carnitine) and the use of prescription medications or therapeutic diets (such as Royal Canin Cardiac) may also be warranted.
Time and time again this has been proven to help reverse nutritional DCM, when caught in time.
DCM is often a “Silent Killer”
One of the most difficult factors about nutritional DCM is that it is often a silent killer.
Many symptoms of nutritional DCM (such as low energy or muscle loss) are easily ignored, missed, or associated with other things (such as aging).
It is not uncommon to hear about Great Danes who appear otherwise healthy and normal to suddenly die, or to have a heart attack during anesthesia. These are dogs who often have shiny coats and good stools, two things that many people assume mean that the dog is the “picture of health”.
Unfortunately, most dogs who die like this go undiagnosed and their diet thus, doesn’t get the blame it deserved.
Research is Ongoing
You may have heard the the nutritional DCM thing was ‘debunked’ and that the FDA “proved it was fake”, however, none of this is actually true.
The FDA received a volume of reports from pet owners and veterinarians, indicating a potential issue. They have recently stated that they themselves cannot investigate every report, and have encouraged researchers instead to continue looking into it.
If new scientific information is produced, the FDA will share it with the public. Until then, they are still accepting reports and will refrain from further commentary.
Remember, it’s not about grain-free. It’s about formulation, so if you hear somebody say “The FDA said it’s not about grain-free”, that’s true, a lack of grains is not the problem. That statement is nothing more than a misunderstood over-simplification of the bigger picture.
DCM & Dog Food Research
It’s important to keep in mind that many sources of information on nutritional DCM are extremely biased. “Holistic” veterinarians don’t like this discussion because it directly implicates dog food diets that they promote as healthier (for example, grain-free diets from small dog food companies).
A great example of this can be seen here, by influencer Judy Morgan and her inflammatory take on the FDA statements about DCM research.
Contrary to popular belief, the FDA has not ‘debunked’ anything, and dedicated research into the mechanisms behind dilated cardiomyopathy are ongoing.
Like many blogs, Hello Danes is a profit-driven resource. However, we make it a point to share information and form opinions based on boarded professionals, veterinary research, and legitimate science; not anecdotes. We encourage you to click on the research articles we share and form your own opinion, too!
Dog Food & DCM Science & Links
All Trades DVM DCM Timeline – this is incredibly comprehensive and loaded with direct links to scientific studies on the topic:
The most recent study, showing yet again that pulse ingredients caused changes to the heart muscle:
The Diet-Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy DCM in Dogs group on Facebook is eye opening. They document confirmed cases of nutritional DCM, including the dogs age, breed, and foods that the dog had been eating at the time of their diagnosis.
Diet-Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Dogs
The DCM Dog Food website is run by a team of veterinary specialists and professionals. It has a wealth of information, FAQ’s, and research:
This UC DAVIS Study is seeking participants. If your dog has been eating a commercial diet (grain-free or grain inclusive) for the last 6 months, and does not have congenital heart disease, they may be eligible to participate:
UC DAVIS DCM Research Study Information
The Great Dane Club of America posted a 2002 research update into genetic (congenital) DCM in Great Danes. This is unrelated to nutritional DCM, however, has important information for Dane owners on what to look for:
Nutritional DCM in Great Danes
I did a quick search in the Diet-Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy group for ‘Great Dane’ and the results were heart wrenching.
These cases were all well documented and had been diagnosed and confirmed by veterinary cardiologists.
Many of them were reversed by switching to Purina Pro Plan Large Breed. For some, it was too late. In a quick search, the food I saw repeated most often as a culprit was Taste of the Wild.
That’s just one brand of many formulas that are popular among Great Dane owners.
If you want my personal opinion, you could not pay me to feed Taste of the Wild or any other label manufactured by its co-packing company, Diamond Pet Foods. This includes Diamond Naturals, Nutra Nuggets, Costco/Kirkland, and Solid Gold.
Even if many dogs seem fine on the grain-inclusive versions of these foods, this is a company who is perfectly willing to ignore DCM research and keep foods, such as Taste of the Wild (TOTW) grain-free on the shelves.
Honestly? The Great Dane community should be much more alarmed about this than they currently are.
I searched two brands at the Pet Nutrition Alliance. One of them was Purina (the company with the largest market share by miles, and no verified nutritional DCM cases), and one of them was Diamond Pet Foods (the makers of Taste of the Wild, who has a very small market share and many verified DCM cases).
Can you guess which is which on the infographic below?
Here are other popular brands in the Great Dane community that do not have qualified staff to formulate the diets:
Fromm Family Foods – formulated by a chemical engineer
Victor – Formulated by somebody with an M.S. in animal science (not nutrition) and a simple online “nutrition certification”
Holistic Select, Wellness Core, Eagle Pack – Information not available from any source, indicating that they do not have qualified people formulating the diets that they sell under different brand names, and do not wish that information to be public
Diamond: Diamond Naturals, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Nutra-Nuggets, Costco/Kirkland, Solid Gold – “Consults with an M.S. in Animal Nutrition”. This means that across multiple labels, nobody is on staff to formulate the diets, and their off-site consultant is only marginally qualified
Nutritional DCM & Our Recommendations for Great Dane Owners
We’ve dug into the links, science, and research so that you don’t have to.
Knowing that, here are the recommendations that we unapologetically make:
- Choose a dry food from a well-known brand that is committed to research and that has at least one AVCN Diplomate (Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist) on staff
- Feed a grain-inclusive diet
- Avoid kibbles that have a lot of peas, potatoes, lentils, or legumes in the first 10 ingredients
- Consider getting an echocardiogram for your dog if you’ve been feeding a grain-free or boutique food brand (some dogs will be just fine, but if they aren’t? Catching it early and switching diets is key)
- Report health issues that may be related to diet (including heart disease, illness, or otherwise) to the FDA. Their food reporting form can be found HERE: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/report-problem/how-report-pet-food-complaint
- If your dog is suffering from chronic loose stools, skin conditions, muscle wasting, low energy, or allergies, see your veterinarian, take their advice, and don’t be afraid to consider a therapeutic (“prescription” diet) or a consultation with a specialist (dermatology, cardiology, internal medicine, etc.)