Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy and DCM – What you really need to be worried about

⚠️ Apparently “grain free”, “boutique”, and “novel ingredient” diets (or any diets not manufactured by Mars, Nestle, or Colgate-Palmolive) may give your pet heart failure 💔

Yes, it may be true.

But what are the reasons it may be true?

In this article I’ll offer some insider background knowledge, discuss what the 500 or so “diet-related” Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) reports really say, and discuss what I see as the real problem – why millions of pets, including yours, may be suffering.

Lastly, I’ll offer my advice on how to prevent your pet from suffering a similar fate.

Do grain free diets caused heart problems?

Research?

It’s very easy and very common in the pet food industry to conduct a seemingly legitimate study which “links” some kind of cause to some kind of condition. A tenuous hypothesis can easily be publicised through media, viralised, and become widely believed as “fact”. If it’s on the Internet, it’s true, isn’t it?

We saw it last year with “raw chicken causes paralysis” by University in Melbourne, a sketchy hypothesis wrapped in a widely spun media release. In many aspects the DCM vs Grain Free study is the same.

It’s important to be sceptical with any “links” or “hypotheses” drawn from research, and be open minded as to what the research really says.

A little background…

Let’s talk about something without saying what it is. I’ll call it Element X.

Nutrition boffins determined many years ago Element X was something cats need to have in their diet in order to retain health. It was believed at the time dogs didn’t need it, and could produce it naturally.

As it wasn’t considered necessary for dogs, it wasn’t included in AAFCO standards as a requirement in dog food, so many manufacturers didn’t include it.

Let’s briefly consider AAFCO standards – they determine what we currently know and believe a pet requires in their diet. Over time those standards are adjusted as new information arises (such as when loads of pets get sick). Just to clarify further, those standards tell manufacturers what exactly needs to be added to a bag of grains or non-grains to sustain the health of a pet, with the assumption it will be the only food they’ll be fed.

Way before the DCM/grain free scare there was evidence that dogs, or at least some dogs, were becoming deficient in Element X when fed a commercial diet/kibble.

Some pet food manufacturers reacted to this information, perhaps even researched it further, and consequentially ensured their products contained a sufficient amount of Element X. What they didn’t do, however, was tell their competitors. Why would they?

It’s possible those manufacturers (and we’re talking about the major corporate manufacturers who produce a significant amount of grain food), saw this knowledge as a perfect way to damage the reputation of their competitors in one fowl swoop. Yes, this stuff happens in the pet food industry. You see, for those big powerful manufacturers, the biggest blow to their profits in recent years has been the rise and success of all the smaller competitors offering grain free alternatives, widely regarded in the social media world to be better 🤔

As a side note, their other big blow has been raw feeders, hence the “research” that raw chicken is DANGEROUS and HARMFUL and CAN CAUSE PARALYSIS 🤔🤔🤔

Sorry, I sidetracked a little, so lets get back to Element X…

Element X may or may not be the key factor in diet related DCM, but the reports show it plays a very significant part. Element X isn’t anything to do with grain or grain free, it’s to do with the far more essential, species appropriate stuff – ingredients sourced from animals.

If you were wondering what Element X could be, it’s taurine.

Taurine – From brains, retina, heart, and blood of prey

If you read the reports, or if you study previous research on DCM, you’ll note taurine appears a key factor. It’s an amino acid sourced from animals, particularly the brains, retina, heart, and blood.

Not many of the animals in the report were tested for taurine deficiency (possibly due to cost), but most tested pets were were found to be deficient. Some excessively.

Many of the pets diagnosed with DCM, whether tested or not, were medicated with taurine. The health of many of those pets, especially those in the early stages, improved.

Interestingly, only a very small percentage were found not to be deficient, but this has been widely overlooked and un-publicised. Why?

Pet food problems

I speak about this a lot, but for the record I see two major problems with how people feed their pets:

  1. People feed their pets the same thing, all the time, from birth to illness and death.
  2. Most of what people feed is a product, designed for profit, which if considered for a minuscule of a second, really isn’t species appropriate. This isn’t even a radical statement, we feed carnivorous animals (cats: factually carnivores, dogs: predominantly carnivores) excessive amounts of non-carnivorous food stuffs (wheat, corn, sorghum, rice, potato), all bundled up with ambiguous (often chemical) preservatives, antioxidants, colourings, palatants. Many of those are widely regarded to be cheap and/or unhealthy. Pet food, after all, is a very efficient way of turning food industry waste into profit.

I see many problems arise from the crazy belief we need to feed our pets the same shit, every single day. Deficiencies are one glaring problem, toxin build-up is another. As humans we eat dodgy stuff all the time, but it won’t really affect us. If we ate it continuously it would likely be a very different story. We have a varied diet, our pets don’t. Why?

Earlier I stated many of the pets in the DCM report tested deficient for taurine, or were treated with taurine. Nearly all the pets in the report were fed the same unvaried diet over a significant period of time (some for the entirety of their lifespan). I really can’t stress the inherent problems enough.

Whether a pet food is packed with grains or grain free alternatives, the real issue is the ingredients being substituted (for the sake of cost cutting). Grain protein instead of meat protein. Pea protein instead of meat protein. You can’t adequately substitute what an animal would essentially source from prey.

Almost all pet food products are deficient in meat ingredients, so it’s not really surprising when our pets have health issues which point to deficiencies in amino acids such as taurine. Even if you feed a lacklustre meat-deficient kibble supplemented with muscle meats, you’re still depriving your pet of many nutrients naturally sourced from parts of prey like blood, bones, and organs.

It’s also a problem with raw feeding. If you feed your pet chicken breast every day they can become deficient in many nutrients. Organs are vital. Whole prey is vital.

Is a salmon kibble rich in taurine? Is a premium chicken kibble rich in taurine if it’s only made from chicken breast? Is a chicken kibble actually chicken meat, or is it mostly chicken carcass? What does chicken carcass offer if not supplemented with cheaper versions of anything it lacks? These are all inherent issues with pet foods.

I’d like to round off this section with a brief mention of inhibitors. It’s something I consider another potential issue with unvaried feeding. A diet may provide essential nutrients, but it’s also possible other ingredients in the diet inhibit the absorption of those nutrients. A key example would be thiamine deficiency from pet foods containing sulphite preservatives (you can google that one). The reason I mention this, is because I don’t want to overlook taurine deficiency in grain free foods being a result of other ingredients in the foods inhibiting the absorption of taurine.

Why is the DCM study (mostly) a farce?

Firstly, the powers that be (FDA, Dr Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN) shouted from the rooftops – “Hey, we think grain free foods are causing heart failure!”.

It instantly went viral, resulting in social media panic. All those whose pets had suffered heart conditions on grain free diets were instantly outraged, and some of those filed a report saying “grain free harmed my pet”. Vets picked up on it too, and accordingly filed reports if they diagnosed a DCM case and asked the owner if they feed grain free (which many do these days).

What they really should’ve done was shout “Hey people whose pets have suffered heart problems, lets conduct an unbiased study to see if we can correlate with diet!”.

The reports were consequentially a very skewed and biased subset of pets who have suffered heart problems on (mostly) grain free diets.

There are other aspects of the reports grossly overlooked. It seemed apparent many of the reports were pets in their older years, and many appeared overweight. Is it only diet which is a factor, or lifestyle and exercise regimes?

How can I protect my pet from heart failure?

Drawing conclusions (or hypotheses) from the reports, some lessons to be learned are:

  • Don’t feed your pet the same thing all the time. Feed a variety. Perhaps feed them meats and organs alongside a kibble, perhaps avoid cheap kibbles formulated largely from carbohydrate grains or non-grain filler ingredients.
  • If you don’t know if your pet food is any good, it probably isn’t.
  • Our pets need a diet richer in ingredients sourced from prey, which sadly many pet food products don’t offer.
  • Keep them active and exercised (which goes without saying really).

And finally…

  • If a load of pets deprived of what they would naturally eat become deficient in some kind of nutrient naturally sourced from that diet (such as taurine), are subsequently medicated with that nutrient leading to their condition improving, then it’s very likely one of the key roots of the problem💡

If you’d like to add anything, or if I’ve missed anything. Please comment!

What does “Complete & Balanced” really mean?

What does Complete and Balanced really mean

It’s a term you only hear for pet food, so what makes pet food different from our food? Our food doesn’t need to be “Complete & Balanced”, does it?

It’s because of this -> People feed their pets the same thing every morning, every evening, day after day after week after year.

Why do we do that? -> Because we’ve been told to… by the pet food industry.

We know some stuff about pet nutrition but it’s far from perfect. We know a bit more this year than we did last year, and we know a lot more than we did a decade ago. We still know far less about pet nutrition than we do human nutrition, and our knowledge isn’t perfect on that either.

Every kilo of pet food must contain ALL THE NUTRITION your pet requires BASED ON WHAT THE PET FOOD INDUSTRY CURRENTLY BELIEVES IS REQUIRED. That’s a very significant challenge with several inherent issues. It’s not the only challenge either, as the bigger challenge for manufacturers is to meet all those requirements AND MAKE A PROFIT (the real reason most pet foods are full of grains, potato skins, ear tags, or whatever).

Many pets get sick from eating the same thing all the time, even if it is complete & balanced. Thiamine deficiency is a great example (vitamin B1). The boffins say “pets need thiamine in their diet”, so it becomes a requirement. Thiamine is added, but then other stuff (like sulphite preservatives/220) are included which inhibit thiamine absorption. Ugh, that’s a problem. Over time it can lead to your dog getting sick, or worse… dying. Yes, this kind of thing happens, but most of the time it’s attributed to “oh no, your dog’s got sick for some reason or other, but here’s some expensive medication and prescription food to make them better. Here’s the bill.”.

When stuff like this happens the complete & balanced requirements are adjusted. The solution should probably be “cut down on synthetic preservatives”, but usually boils down to “add more thiamine just to make sure”.

Toxins, intolerances, organ failure, arthritis, diabetes, and a whole host of other conditions could occur if the complete & balanced product doesn’t give your pet the nutrition they really need.

Taurine deficiency is another example, in dogs as well as cats, even when fed complete & balanced diets. Taurine is an essential amino acid which naturally occurs in meat, fish, and dairy. So how can taurine deficiency occur with complete and balanced diets? It’s because they rarely contain much meat, fish, or dairy. What should the solution to that be? I’d say “add more meat”, but the requirements would be “add taurine, even synthetic, to counteract the lack of meat”.

You’ll see a list of vitamins and minerals included in your pet food near the bottom of the ingredients list. Most of those would otherwise be sourced from animal meats and fats – real ingredients – but because pet food manufacturers keep that stuff to a minimum it means the vitamins and minerals must be added as supplements, probably synthetic, from the cheapest source (quite often China).

Can you imagine if we ate the same thing every single meal? It would need to contain absolutely all the nutrition we needed to be fit, healthy, have a strong immune system, fight viruses, have good skin, glossy hair, and live a long and healthy life. I don’t know about you, but that sounds a little bit radical…

Why Whiskas might be bad for your cat

Whiskas is probably very bad for your cat

Let’s talk about why cats get sick.

Actually, scrub that. Let’s talk about Whiskas.

Whiskas has been around since 1936 (rebranded to Whiskas in 1988) so I’m guessing you’ve all heard of it? Eight out of ten cats prefer it, apparently. It’s one of the many pet food products brought to us by Mars of legendary Mars Bar fame (as well as Pedigree, Advance, Royal Canin, Nutro, Eukanuba, Iams, Sheba, Cesar, and on and on).

Take a look at the two photos of a Whiskas dry food for kittens aged 2 to 12 months. There are many tell-tale signs which suggest the product may not be the best thing to give your pet during their most critical growth stage. To give you a clue, Wikipedia classifies a domestic cat as a “Hypercarnivore” which should have a diet of more than 70% meat.

Ok, have you studied the two photos? Did you get any of the following:

#issue1 The main ingredient is “Wholegrain Cereals”. For a CARNIVORE? How can that be good? It’s even more worrying when you consider it’s the majority of the product. They don’t even say what grains (we can assume wheat as the cheapest option), and that’s going to take a serious toll on the health of your cat. Thankfully down the line your vet can prescribe an expensive prescription formula to help them cope with whatever illness they’ve developed from being continuously pumped full of grains…

#issue2 Food colours. Given they’re not listed as “natural” we can assume they’re “artificial”. Most people in this day and age know artificial food colourings are bad, and it’s pretty pointless given a cat doesn’t really care about the colour of their food.

#issue3 We can assume the antioxidants aren’t natural either. If the likes of BHA and BHT mean anything to you then this would be something you’d find worrying. If you don’t know what they are, Google them. Who knows what chemicals they’ve used in Whiskas to keep it on the shelves for months on end.

#issue4 See the big text saying “Chicken & Tuna Flavours”? When it comes to labelling requirements that means there really won’t be much chicken or tuna in the product. Even when we see stuff like “With Chicken” it means a minimum of 5%, so this is very likely less than that. So in short, don’t be fooled into believing the product is Chicken & Tuna. It isn’t. Compare the ingredients of this product to other meat flavours and you’ll see they’re “same same but different”.

#issue5 There’s a nice graphic of a carrot, peas, and wheat on the front of the bag, along with the words “Protein Rich”. Despite this being marketing, the proteins from carrots, peas, and grains aren’t ideal proteins for a carnivore. They’re not as easily digested, and they’re not as complete. Even if carrots and peas sound healthy, they’re actually in very small amounts in powder form near the bottom of the ingredients list where they don’t really count. So what they’re really talking about is proteins from grains (which again aren’t ideal for cats).

#issue6 Also on the front of the packet are the words “Real Meat as a Source of Protein”. I’m glad they say “real” meat, as I’d be concerned if it was some kind of vegan derivative meat (no offense to vegans). They don’t say how much protein comes from real meat, so it doesn’t have to be much.

#issue7 We see they’ve added taurine, an essential amino acid for cats (and dogs) critical for vision, heart health, immune system, and more. Without taurine our cats would be screwed, but thankfully it naturally occurs in meat, fish, and dairy products. But hold on… if they’ve had to add it, what does that say about the meat and fish content in the product?

#issue8 If protein is 32% and fat is 11.5%, what percentage of the product is carbs? Carbs turn to sugars… and sugars can cause… a whole range of health problems.

Does it make you wonder if we’ve all been fooled by marketing? 🤷‍♂️

Would you feed your kitten a bag of wheat? Sounds like a daft idea, doesn’t it?

Anyway, back to the beginning – I wonder why so many cats get sick? Don’t you?

Why do vets recommend Hill’s and Royal Canin?

Why do vets recommend Hills Prescription and Royal Canin Prescription Diets

Why do pet review websites rate Hill’s and Royal Canin products poorly, but vets recommend them highly?

Read on, and I’ll enlighten you somewhat…

Prescription Diets Exposed

Take a look at the ingredients on any bag of Hills Prescription or Science Diet dry food. You’ll see they’re mostly grains – wheat, sorghum, corn, rice. You’ll find much more grain in these products than meat. Dogs are essentially carnivores, cats are obligate carnivores. They depend on the highly bio available essential amino acids in meat to retain optimal health.

Cats are classified as hypercarnivores, requiring at least 70% meat in their diet (according to Wikipedia). These foods can contain over 70% grain.

It’s not rocket science.

Feeding your pets excessive grains baked into a kibble is far from optimal, don’t you think?

So why on earth do vets recommend these products?

Here’s a reason -> VETS HAVE SEEN THESE PRODUCTS WORK!

Yep, that’s true. Many vets see an improvement in pet health when they are transitioned to Hill’s products. Pretty convincing evidence, wouldn’t you agree?

But it’s a glaring oversight.

Let me explain…

Most kibble is absolute rubbish. Junk food. Convenience products designed for profit. Sadly business is business, and if these manufacturers put your pets before profit they’ll never succeed. That’s the fundamental reason why most dog foods are unhealthy.

Unfortunately for our pets most people don’t realise how bad some of these products are, and they feed them continuously to the pets they love. Every. Single. Day.

Millions of dogs are fed poor quality kibble and consequentially their health suffers over time. Obesity, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, kidney disease, IBS, allergies, and so forth, can all be caused by bad diet. Hill’s have an answer for all these conditions marketed as an expensive “premium” or “prescription” diets. So do Royal Canin.

You see, if you feed your dog junk food and then replace it with something marginally better, you’ll likely see an improvement. It’s not miraculous, and it doesn’t mean the expensive premium/prescription diet is healthy or optimal. It’s just… (arguably) somewhat better.

In many cases a prescription food is tailored to reducing the symptoms of the specific condition. For example, a kidney diet has reduced phosphorous (and more often than not less meat). A weight loss diet will have lower fat (by reducing meat and increasing grains/legumes). They convince us they’re optimal when they’re not. A dog or cat suffering kidney problems shouldn’t be fed a dry food, period. An overweight dog is likely overweight because the previous diet was high in carbs and grains their bodies were unable to process. In cases such as this, reducing their meat intake definitely isn’t the optimal solution. A diet with lacklustre meat will likely lead to other health issues over time, even on expensive self-labelled “premium” diets. Most of the time the deteriorating health of our pets (especially pets with a health condition) is attributed to the worsening of the condition or just “old age”. Diet is so often overlooked as the cause of an initial health condition, and also the cause of subsequent health conditions while the pet is on the premium/prescription food.

It’s one of the reasons toothpaste and shampoo company Colgate-Palmolive (makers of Hill’s) and confectionery company Mars (makers of Royal Canin) make an absolute killing out of expensive premium and prescription diets regardless of whether they’re optimal or not.

So what’s the solution? There aren’t any other commercial “prescription” diets available as only the big manufacturers have the clout to produce and sell them. But what you can do is *think* and *research*.

If your pet has allergies, perhaps consider what the allergy actually is (grains, meat..?). If they’re obese perhaps try a product with more meat and less carbs. If they have a health condition, investigate what their dietary requirements really are, and even if you stick with the prescription food you can supplement it with healthy, nutritious, fresh ingredients.

I’m a cat, will my food prevent me from going blind? What do you mean, “No”?

Cats have basic nutritional needs to sustain a happy and healthy existence. This consists of vitamins, minerals, and also taurine which is fundamental to a cat’s health. A lack of the amino acid taurine can cause blindness, tooth decay, and other health issues for your lovable pussy.

You may be shocked to know many tins of cat food available in the supermarkets don’t meet these basic nutritional requirements.

How can this be legal I hear you say?

Simple – All a manufacturer has to do is add small print somewhere obscure on the packaging to say the food is for supplemental or occasional feeding only.

Who reads the small print?

Thousands and thousands of people feed their cats these foods every day without knowing they’re not meeting their cats minimum nutritional requirements.

Diabolical, isn’t it?

For many manufacturers the cost of making a cat food nutritionally complete amounts to a few cents, but when the cost of the tin is higher than the cost of the food it becomes very much about profits not your puss.

I went to my local Woolworths and Coles to prove the point and compile a name and shame.

Here you go:

Purina Fancy Feast Royale

Not a Complete and Balanced Diet - Purina Fancy Feast Royale
Not a Complete and Balanced Diet – Purina Fancy Feast Royale

You’d think a huge global pet food manufacturer would be more responsible, but this food is “Intended for Occassional and Supplemental Feeding Only”.

With a name like “Royale” you’d expect it to be tip top.

Nestle should be ashamed.

Dine Desire

Not a Complete and Balanced Diet - Dine Desire
Not a Complete and Balanced Diet – Dine Desire

Another popular brand of pet food, sold in the millions, but for “occasional and supplemental feeding only”.

I wonder if Eva Longoria, the face of Dine, know’s about this?

Mars should be ashamed.

Applaws

Not a Complete and Balanced Diet - Applaws
Not a Complete and Balanced Diet – Applaws

Yep, that’s right. Applaws are fairly respected here in Australia, and their dry foods and pouches are better than most, but their tins are “for occasional or supplemental feeding only”.

Coles

Not a Complete and Balanced Diet - Coles
Not a Complete and Balanced Diet – Coles

Well what would you expect from a supermarket home brand?

Purr

Not a Complete and Balanced Diet - Purr
Not a Complete and Balanced Diet – Purr

Another popular brand, Purr. This food is “Not nutritionally complete”, but you wouldn’t expect that from the fancy cat and fancy gold lettering on the front of the tin.