Those of you heavily invested in dogs (as we are) have probably heard about the FDA and DCM as it relates to grain-free dog foods and boutique (BEG) diets causing heart disease.
This topic is a HOT one and we’re coming in with all the tea. What prompted this post?
Oh, just Dr. Judy Morgan (an influencer) posting that the whole “DCM thing is bull?” on social media, and having thousands of followers blindly follow her without any critical thinking.
Yeah, that. Let’s dig in.
Is Dr. Judy Morgan a Legitimate Veterinarian?
Dr. Judy Morgan is a licensed veterinarian in at least one state. It is unclear if she is practicing in a clinical setting. U.S. law prohibits her from diagnosing and treating disease via tele-health or online consultations in most cases, so she sticks to ‘nutritional consultations’.
She highlights her certifications of unknown origin in chiropractic care, acupuncture, and food therapy, which are all offered with a “holistic” mindset.
Dr. Morgan makes her money through affiliate links and speaking engagements, as well as by selling “holistic” supplements, food, recipes, books, and online nutrition courses.
This wouldn’t normally be an issue, except that she promotes herself as a nutrition expert and goes on to actively denounce the opinions, studies, research, and mentoring provided by veterinary professionals with much more advanced credentials in nutrition than she has.
Holistic Pet Care
What does the word “holistic” mean? “It is characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of an illness.”
Holistic pet care, an approach that evaluates the animals whole body health, absolutely has a place. Most people use many “holistic” and whole-foods approaches in their own home!
We address exhaustion by eating a healthier diet and nailing down the reasons for our anxiety that keeps us up at night. Or we might choose ibuprofen to tackle a severe headache, and chase it with lemon water to aid in digestive upset.
We give our dogs Olewo carrots to help with loose stools and fish oil to help with coat and skin health.
People have come to believe, through marketing, that something labelled as “holistic” is higher quality, better, healthier, and more natural. Where “holistic” fails is that it’s actually become associated with a lot of pseudoscience and misinformation.
Being more “natural” isn’t necessarily a good thing. Arsenic is perfectly natural, for example.
The “appeal to nature fallacy” is a great discussion on this very thing. (Read more about this topic HERE).
Unfortunately, “holistic” is an unregulated term. There is no legal definition and therefore, any food brand, veterinarian, practice, or supplement can claim to be “holistic”, no matter what. This term is being abused.
Pseudoscience & Cherry Picking
Here is where my beef with Dr. Judy Morgan really comes into play.
She cherry picks science, denounces evidence-based medicine and nutrition information, and re-frames official statements from the FDA.
We will read below how she’s interpreted and adjusted the most recent FDA update on Dilated Cardiomyopathy.
Of course, ALL of us want to profit (Hello Danes included). The difference here, however, is in the ethics. People can choose to promote concepts and ideas from one of two sources:
- Science and research from reputable sources, interpreted with a dose of skepticism and critical thinking
- Pseudoscience (defined as follows: “a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method.”
The honest truth here? Pseudoscience sells and it sells WELL.
How is Pseudoscience and the FDA Reports on DCM Connected?
To put this simply, Judy Morgan is a master at interpreting and presenting research, science, and official statements to suit her needs and the desires of her followers.
In December, 2022 the FDA released an updated statement on its page about dietary DCM in dogs.
The statement reads:
December 23, 2022:
“FDA does not intend to release further public updates until there is meaningful new scientific information to share. A count of reports of DCM in dogs submitted to FDA as of November 1, 2022, has been added to Questions & Answers: FDA’s Work on Potential Causes of Non-Hereditary DCM in Dogs. FDA has followed up on a subset of these reports, but is unable to investigate every report to verify or confirm the reported information. While adverse event numbers can be a potential signal of an issue with an FDA regulated product, by themselves, they do not supply sufficient data to establish a causal relationship with reported product(s). FDA continues to encourage research and collaboration by academia, veterinarians, and industry.“
Let’s dig in, shall we?
The scientific and critically curated summary of the FDA statement on DCM is as follows:
- The FDA was unable to thoroughly investigate every report (of which there were many) submitted to them
- Adverse event numbers such as the reports submitted above could signal a problem, however that factor alone isn’t enough to definitively create a correlation between grain-free foods and DCM
- The research related to this topic has been passed off to researchers to continue investigating (they are more qualified than the FDA)
- Finally, the FDA will withhold further public updates until additional scientific information is available (further updates may be incoming in the future)
The pseudoscientific summary of the same FDA statement (summarized by people such as Dr. Judy Morgan, seen below) is that the FDA called bullshit on the DCM/Grain-Free link, it doesn’t exist, it’s made up by “big dog food” to generate profits, and the discussion is over.
As you can see below, this kind of hot take on things SELLS. Words such as myth, corruption, sham, influence, suffered, and ploy are written into the language.
We’ve come full circle here, folks.
She even goes on to say that “millions of pets were switched to poor quality pet food brands because big pet food companies used their influence on the FDA to make more money!“, a statement that has absolutely no proof behind it.
(Have you heard about the wellness to Qanon pipeline? It actually fits into this discussion. If you want some more tea, dig in HERE)
DCM & Grain-Free Dog Food
Now, if you aren’t up-and-up on the whole grain-free heart disease thing, this entire conversation may be a little confusing to you. So here is a summary:
Around 2014, board certified veterinary cardiologists (heart doctors) noticed an alarming trend. Dogs with no genetic link to DCM were turning up with heart disease. Since that time, 100’s of more reports have been filed, with new ones coming every week.
When they looked into this, most of the dogs with this disease (confirmed) had been eating boutique grain-free foods (which at the time were trending alongside boutique and “holistic” food options that were marketed as higher quality).
In 2019 the FDA released a statement citing that a handful of brands were highly associated with this correlation. Those brands included foods by Fromm, Acana, Zignature, and 4Health among others.
Following the release of that statement, pulse & legume growers (whose profits largely came from dog food brands like the ones listed in the report) went to bat. Financial motivations from these farmers (note, not big dog food!) began to complicate things.
Despite this, multiple studies continued to show a correlation between nutrition and heart disease. However, the correlation, as it turns out, had little to do with a lack of grains or low taurine.
It actually appeared to be related to pulse ingredients (peas, potatoes, legumes, chickpeas) and their use in formulation as a whole.
In other words, it’s NOT grain-free that is the issue. Just as the FDA has said.
If a dog food brands uses a lot of peas, potatoes, beans, and chickpeas in their food, whether the food has grain or not, they often effectively replace a lot of actual meat (and certain amino acids, which are necessary for heart health) with plants.
Anybody who doesn’t think that’s a problem is fooling themselves.
Ignoring the Science
To date, multiple studies have shown that there is a link between poorly formulated foods and dogs developing heart disease. Veterinary Cardiologists also report positive outcomes for dogs with nutritional DCM, when they are switched to a properly formulated (and often grain-inclusive) diet.
The most recent study (December, 2022), indicated that every single one of 23 dogs who were fed non-traditional diets (foods with a lot of peas, potatoes, or legumes) had changes to their heart muscle.
Why are people like Dr. Judy Morgan ignoring the actual peer-reviewed research on this topic?
Why is she so focused on protecting smaller dog food brands (such as Acana, Fromm, or Taste of the Wild) when her main belief is that dogs should eat home cooked food?
Why does she hate Purina, Royal Canin, and Hill’s so much when if we look at actual evidence, millions (if not billions) of dogs are living long, healthy lives on those brands (and rarely if ever needing a vet to deal with chronic ongoing health problems that many “holistic” treatments are marketed to solve)?
Why does Dr. Morgan believe that Big Pet Food influenced or even paid the FDA to release information on this supposedly made up nutritional DCM issue so they could increase their already outstanding market share, when ‘small pet food’ has literally minuscule (barely noticeable) profits by comparison to begin with?
Does she really believe that Mars and Purina were ‘scared’ of the small upstart boutique and co-packed food brands?
Why does she say that the nutrition-DCM link isn’t real or consequential at all, despite 100’s of confirmed reports, while actively marketing that veterinary flea and tick preventatives are evil (an opinion she promotes based on only a small handful of dogs who had negative reactions).
Could it be, just possibly, that she holds these inconsistent opinions because she cherry-picks what sells?
Lastly, if she denies the evidence which shows that some kibbles may be damaging hearts, why does she have a heart health homemade diet recipe on her website?
Is she saying that damaged hearts can be healed by nutrition, but only her nutrition, despite nutritional DCM being ‘bullshit’ (in her words)?
Does she have evidence proving that her diets provide a positive clinical response for dogs with heart disease?
Is she indicating that food can heal but not harm, but only when believing so fits the discussion?
Dare I ask, is it all a sham where the holistic mindset only applies when they can leverage fear to sell things?
I don’t know about you, but I have a LOT of questions.
One Simple Answer
Dr. Judy Morgan operates by keeping people suspicious and full of anxiety about anything mainstream or evidence based. We see this at play in her inflammatory statement about DCM and the FDA, which clearly defies the actual research and intelligent interpretation of the topic.
It’s one thing to promote sea kelp (brown algae) for dental health (heck, my own veterinarian promotes this and we use it in our home). This is a legitimate “holistic” whole food remedy that has science behind it.
If only Dr. Morgan could stick to selling science-backed supplements (including sea kelp) and balanced home dog food recipes.
Tread cautiously with influencers who use inflammatory words in their content in lieu of in-depth discussion, peer-reviewed literature, and critical thinking.
More Information on DCM, Nutrition & Science-Backed Research
Are you with us? Would you like to get away from pseudoscience?
I will add to this list as more information becomes available:
Report Nutritional DCM to the FDA (yes, they are still accepting reports!)
Should I Feed My Dog Grain Free?
Only you can decide.
It makes no sense to feed dogs a diet that is comprised mostly of peas, potatoes, and legumes in lieu of meat.
Unfortunately, most grain-free foods are loaded with those ingredients. If they aren’t loaded, they are also often from companies who don’t employ qualified staff to formulate the diet.
We recommend feeding a large or giant breed dry diet from an established brand with a large market share such as Purina, Royal Canin, Hill’s, Iams, or Eukanuba and thoughtfully supplementing the diet with balanced fresh or raw, or balanced canned foods to reduce the risk of bloat.
Some extremely dedicated, educated owners who are working with veterinary nutritionists may also be interested in looking into fully raw or home-cooked diets.