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DCM & Pet Food

A Letter from Owner & Founder of Unleashed, the Dog & Cat Store, Amy Phinney, on behalf of the Unleashed family

     Let’s talk about DCM. Here at Unleashed, we pride ourselves on doing research.  Many of our customers rely on us to do the research on everything pet related so that they don’t have to, and that is what we have been doing in regards to DCM and pet food.

     We have spent countless hours studying this issue so that we can sleep at night knowing that we are offering the best products for our own family and our extended Unleashed family (from our employees to each and every one of our customers). 

     This is what we do all the time, constantly monitoring every study and every change in the pet food industry. If anything ever changes or comes up that we are not comfortable with, we make a change in our offerings, including discontinuing products if necessary.

     We typically take a hands-on, personal approach, speaking with our customers in person and not making general statements online, which is what we have been doing in regards to DCM thus far. We love to meet with our customers, really listen to their questions, ask our own questions about their specific situations, and guide them in their search for what is best for their specific pet. Every pet and every household situation is different, and we like a tailored approach to health and happiness. We have been doing this for the past 12 years, and have been blessed to be a part of the lives of so many incredibly happy and healthy pets- more than we ever could have imagined. 

The recent headlines are scary, and we understand that many of our customers may be unsure of asking for help, or maybe don’t realize how much time we have spent researching this (and every pet food related subject, ever). It makes me sad to hear some of the recommendations being made that may not be in the best interest of the pets’ overall health and happiness, which is ultimately my main concern. So I want to highlight some key points from the FDA reports, talk about our recommendations, and be here to answer any questions you may have. 

I am not a veterinarian, and I do not claim to diagnose, treat, or cure any conditions. I am however, a pet food expert. I have studied, educated, consorted on, trained, and remained completely engaged in pet food for the past 15 years. I don’t claim to know everything, but I do know that what we feed our pets is very important, and I only want the best for my own pets, and every pet.

     As I sit down to write this (with my own pups curled up at my feet), I am looking at my over 30 pages of typed notes, and realize that not everyone wants to spend their whole day reading about the FDA’s DCM investigation, an issue that is currently estimated to affect less than 0.000007% of dogs (and reportedly fewer cats). So I will offer you the short version, the medium version, and the long version (TLO - “The Long One”), and you may choose your own adventure from here.

     Regardless of whether or not you choose to read on, I do strongly encourage you to come in to one of our store locations and speak, in person, in real life, to one of our amazing store managers or assistant managers, who are all highly trained in nutrition, pet food, and the role they play in DCM, as well as a whole host of more common ailments affecting our pets today. Nutrition consultations at Unleashed, the Dog & Cat Store, are always free.

Choose Your Adventure:

The Short Version

The Medium Version

The Long Version, aka The Long One, aka TLO

The “Short” One

     Veterinarians have been researching DCM for decades, finding genetic predispositions in certain breeds and looking at dietary links long before “grain-free” diets were available on the market. In 2018, studies were done looking for correlations between “grain-free” diets and DCM, and no conclusions were drawn. 

     Hearing about these studies, the FDA decided to launch its own investigation calling for pet owners and veterinarians to submit reports of cases of DCM in dogs, specifically those eating grain-free diets. Reports from all over the world came flooding in, and in June 2019, the FDA released the anonymous, self-reported cases to the public highlighting foods that were mentioned most in the reports (that are also the most popular grain-free brands).

     The reports contained dozens of brands, dozens of various protein and carbohydrate sources, including grain-free, non grain-free, vegetarian, vegan, and even prescription diets. 

     The reports, while an important piece of the investigation, are at present, a collection of inconclusive statements, missing key data points, lacking scientific method, lacking scientific testing, and include faulty data. 

     The FDA did not ask any pet food company to recall any pet food. The FDA states: “we are not advising dietary changes based solely on the information we have gathered so far.” 

     In addition, the FDA states: “we do not think these cases can be explained simply by whether or not they contain grains, or by brand or manufacturer.” DCM is a complex issue, and as a group of veterinarians central to studying and testing the DCM and diet theory states, “a cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven, and other factors may be equally or more important.” 

Where do we go from here?

     While we continue to monitor the ongoing investigation, we are currently making the same recommendations that we have seen help dogs and cats thrive for the past 12 years. Primarily, we encourage you to come see us so that we can discuss your pet’s individual needs as well as your family’s personal situations in person. No two pets are the same and we like to feed the pet in front of us. 

With all of that said, here is our general philosophy:

  1. ROTATION: We don’t rely on any one single formulation, protein source, carbohydrate source, brand, or even form of food for optimal health. Mix it up. Switch between brands, flavors, and forms as often as possible. Let us help you figure out the best mix for your pet. We even designed our frequent buyer program to be mix-&-match counting every flavor and brand towards your 13th bag FREE! 

  2. MEAT: Feed as much high quality, animal protein as possible. Choose foods with the most meat to put in your rotation as much as possible.

  3. RAW: Feed as much high-quality, complete & balanced, safety-tested raw diets as you can. Whether you go 100% raw, or just 10% raw, any amount will benefit your pet immensely.

  4. SUPPLEMENT: Even the best food is not perfect. Dry kibble is convenient, but the best dry foods are still inherently flawed. Add as much minimally processed, safety-tested raw supplemental foods as possible. There are lots of options including fresh raw milk, fermented raw milk, fermented fish stock, bone broths, and more that you can add daily or on occasion, that will greatly benefit your pet’s overall health (and they’ll love them too)!

  5. QUESTIONS: Ask us everything, and we’ll get you answers (even if we don’t know them ourselves)! We are always here for you, and we will always respect your research, and the decisions that you make for your pets.

  6. RETURN/DONATE: If at any time, the food you have, whether you purchased it from us or not, is not working for your pet, or you are not comfortable or happy with it for ANY reason, please bring it in. If you purchased it from us, we will give you a full credit or refund, and donate the food. If the food is not from us, we will still happily donate it. No matter what the food is, where it is from, or even if it is open, we will find a homeless animal that would love a meal.

     I hope you have enjoyed the “short” version and that it is helpful in your decision on how to best feed your pet. It is your decision and we encourage you to do your research, look to more than one source of information, and do what is best for your pet and your family. We will always respect the decisions you make and are here to support you and your pet no matter what. 

     For links, references, and additional details, check out the Medium Version, or The Long One. And as always, come see us!!


For locations and hours, visit our website: 

The "Short" One

The Medium Version


A brief background:

  • Veterinarians have been studying DCM and possible diet links for decades (dating back to before “grain-free” foods were on the market) and have studied various ingredients in searching for a link. For more on which ingredients past studies have shown may be linked, and links on which breeds have been shown to be genetically predisposed, please read TLO.  

  • In June 2018, a theory was presented that perhaps there was a link to “grain-free” foods. A local NCSU veterinary cardiologist presented on a study done at NCSU looking into DCM in dogs and their diet. The study found that of the dogs diagnosed with DCM at NCSU from 2015-2017, 22 were fed grain-free diets (GFD), and 27 dogs were fed non-grain-free diets (NGFD). The study found that “prevalence of congestive heart failure was not different between GFD and NGFD groups.”

  • In July 2018, after hearing about this theory, the FDA announced that they were “Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease.”  No scientific study had concluded any connection; it was a hypothesis to be studied. The FDA called for people and vets to submit reports of DCM diagnosed in any dog or cat, specifically those eating “grain-free” foods. After this call for reports went out, DCM reports to the FDA went from 1-3 per year, to 320 in 2018.  

  • In June 2019, the FDA released the reports received through their online portal as part of their “Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy.” This investigation into potential links was turned into scary headlines alluding to a conclusive, scientific study, rather than a theory under investigation, with anecdotal statements. 

The Reports ( 

     Reading through the 77 pages of self-reported cases was difficult and sad, but important to understanding the whole picture. Here are some takeaways from the reports (for more details on these and others, read The Long One):

    • Not all of the reported cases are diagnosed DCM

    • The reports contain dozens of brands, dozens of various protein and carb sources, including grain-free, non grain-free, vegetarian, vegan, and even prescription diets 

    • The most commonly named brands, are also the most commonly fed “grain-free” brands overall

    • Reports are from all over the world (anyone can submit; this is not a national database), meaning the instance of occurrence is even smaller than estimated (percentage based on pet dogs in US)

    • Some reports admit to potential double reporting (submitted by pet parent and vet)

    • Rarely is any medical history, such as obesity, diabetes, birth defects, or other current or previous conditions stated (the few cases that list medical history include lifelong administration of pharmaceuticals with known cardiac side effects) for examples, see TLO (The Long One).

    • Over half of the reported cases are from dog breeds that are scientifically known to be genetically predisposed to DCM

    • There are discrepancies in the food listed and its relation to DCM. For example, a case where a food is listed as currently feeding, but in the report description, the named food is one the owner switched the dog to after diagnosis, and the vet states the current (listed) food actually resolved the patient’s heart disease. 

    • These reports are from families with the means to have EKGs, X-rays, and see a veterinary cardiologist, which are also families with the means to feed a premium diet (missing key data points from dogs fed more mainstream diets).


     Reading through these reports was difficult and filled me with a deep sadness for each and every beloved pet and their families. While I feel that reporting on these cases is important, I don’t want to discount the pain and suffering these families have gone through. I am also extremely saddened to read that some of these pet parents are blaming themselves for something that is not proven to be their fault. 

     This is not a scientific study, but rather an open investigation with a collection of voluntary self-reported instances, and zero conclusions have been made. 

     As the FDA states, “DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.” I hope that someday these families get some answers and that in the meantime, they don’t allow the headlines to cause them to blame themselves, and add additional grief to an already painful situation. 


     Rather than paraphrase, here are some direct quotes from the FDA on this subject from their website ( :

  • “At this time, we are not advising dietary changes based solely on the information we have gathered so far.” 

  • We do not think these cases can be explained simply by whether or not they contain grains, or by brand or manufacturer.”

  • “It’s important to note that the reports include dogs that have eaten grain-free and grain containing foods and also include vegetarian or vegan formulations.”

  • “Tens of millions of dogs have been eating dog food without developing DCM.”

  • “The investigation has not yet identified a root cause for the reports of DCM.”

  • “Any reports of illness thought to be connected to food products are voluntary.”

Also regarding the FDA, pointed out by the Veterinary News Network on their site:

  •  “The agency has not asked the companies behind the implicated brands to recall them.”

     Here are some additional quotes from an article by a group of veterinarians central to the ongoing research and studies on potential diet-associated DCM published in the “Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association” here:

  • “A true association has not been proven to exist.”

  • “Possible diet-associated DCM represented 16% of all cases of DCM diagnosed by the respondents during this period.”

  • “Taurine deficiency should be considered as a possibility not just in dogs eating BEG, very-low-protein, or high-fiber diets, but also in dogs eating vegetarian, vegan, or home-prepared diets.”

  • “A cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven, and other factors may be equally or more important.

  • The apparent association may be spurious.” 

    • (Google dictionary definition of spurious: 1- “not being what it purports to be; false or fake. 2- “(of a line of reasoning) apparently but not actually valid.”

     Here are some quotes on the subject from W. Jean Dodds, DVM, a renowned research veterinarian practicing since 1964. Dr Dodds was a grantee of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH) and has over 150 research publications, two award-winning books, and 25 patents. Here she speaks on behalf of her organization, the first nonprofit national animal blood bank:

  • “We think the FDA is causing public panic and overt veterinary concern by not presenting definitive conclusions but implying risk by inference in listed certain pet food brands.”

  • ”We are not receiving the specifics.”

  • “The findings offer no scientific conclusion.”

  • “The FDA did not offer any conclusions, simply findings and rather vague suggestions.”

  • “The FDA clearly needs to continue to find out more information, but we urge that this agency only release conclusions and not premature commentary that can lead to confusion, panic, and decisions that are not best for the health of our pets.”

Where do we go from here?

     At Unleashed, the Dog & Cat Store, we do not take this concern lightly, and will continue to keep tabs on the investigation and ongoing research. In light of our findings, we will continue to recommend what we always have, focusing on the fact that there is no one-size-fits all answer for what to feed your pet. 

     There is no single protein, carbohydrate source, diet, or even brand that is perfect for every dog or every cat. Each animal is different, and each family is different. We respect not only the needs of each animal, but the means of each family. And at the end of the day, to borrow from a slogan used often in human babies, “Fed is Best.” No matter what you choose, we respect your decision and are happy that your pet has food, a roof over their head, and a loving companion. 

     Here is what we feel is most important in keeping our pets healthy and happy and living the longest possible lives that they can:

  1. ROTATION: Variety is the Spice of Life. Eating the exact same thing every single day is not optimal for any animal. Although the complete and balanced foods we carry all meet AAFCO requirements for nutrients, in addition to our strict standards, they are definitely not the same. Each vegetable offers a different nutrient profile. Each meat offers a different amino acid profile (like Taurine). For your pet’s optimal health, rotate between as many flavors, brands, and varieties as possible. Don’t rely on one formulation with one nutrient profile every single day for life. Mix it up! We even designed our frequent buyer program to be mix-&-match counting every flavor and brand towards your 13th bag FREE! For more on rotation, ask us, or read the TLO.

  2. MEAT: Feed the highest quality, highest meat content your budget allows. We believe in feeding your pet as much high quality animal protein as possible, as meat offers a complete amino acid profile for your pet. Rotate in foods with higher meat contents as often as you can. We only carry foods that have more meat than carbs, and we avoid foods whose main protein source is plant-based, but even the best diets are not all created equal and meat content varies. Ask us for help finding a good rotational mix that incorporates higher meat content that also works with your wallet. 

  3. RAW: Feed as much high-quality, complete & balanced, safety-tested raw diets as your budget allows. Whether you go 100% raw, or just 10%, any amount will benefit your pet immensely. We strongly believe in minimally processed foods. While we understand that kibble is convenient and generally less expensive, even the very best kibble is inherently flawed. Heat kills. While heat is necessary to make kibble (dry food), it does kill off essential nutrients and alter the digestibility and bioavailability of certain nutrients as well. We also understand that feeding 100% raw may not be in the budget, so we encourage you to feed 50% raw, 25%, 10%, or even use a raw topper or supplemental food (see #4) as often as possible. We have a variety of raw, minimally processed, high meat content complete and balanced diets as well as supplemental toppers and treats that we would love to show you (and give you samples of)!

  4. SUPPLEMENT: Add high-quality supplements & treats as often as possible. Adding any amount of high quality, animal protein, highly digestible supplements & treats to your pet’s diet will benefit their overall health and happiness. Supplements such as fermented or fresh raw milk, fermented fish stock, and bone broth are excellent sources of digestible, bioavailable nutrients such as taurine (which is proven to help in many DCM cases). Treats such as fermented raw cheese, raw meaty bones, and freeze-dried meat snacks, are a fun and pet-approved way to give your pet’s health an extra boost. We also add natural supplements for inflammation, joint health, immune health, and gut health for our senior pets (or those in need of these extras). For more on our personal pet’s diet and supplements, read TLO.   

  5. QUESTIONS: Ask us questions anytime about anything! We may not have all of the answers, but we have great resources and will do our best to find them (or refer you to someone that can). We live to help pets live the longest, healthiest, happiest lives possible, and will do everything we can to help yours. 

  6. RETURN: If at any time, the food you have, whether you purchased it from us or not, is not working for your pet, or you are not comfortable or happy with it for ANY reason, please bring it in. If you want to try something new, bring in your old bag. If you try something new and your dog doesn’t like it, bring it in. If you choose to rotate and find one that doesn’t go as well as others, bring it in. Our food is guaranteed 100% no matter what. Even if it’s open, bring it in. Not only will we give you credit/refund if purchased from us, we will also find a homeless animal that would love a meal.


     I hope that this “medium” explanation helps you in your decisions about your pet’s health. Remember, they are your decisions, and you are your pet’s best advocate. Do your own research, listen to more than one person, read more than one take on the issue. If you have questions, we are here for you.

     If you want to stay on your current food that is working for your individual pet, we’re here for you. If you want to begin rotational feeding or adding supplemental foods and treats, we are here for you. If you want to incorporate whole grain inclusive foods into the rotation, or switch to them entirely, we’re here for you.

     We offer a large variety of dry, canned, freeze-dried, air-dried, dehydrated, and complete and balanced, safety-tested, raw foods to accommodate a variety of pet needs. We offer foods with and without legumes, grains, potatoes, rice, peas, etc. to meet the needs of each individual, while still meeting our strict standards (including all diets must have more meat than carbs, and animal sources as main protein sources). 

     We work hard to balance the strictest standards of any store I’ve ever known with also having something for everyone, and for the past 12 years it has been a winning formula for both our own pets and the thousands of pets that we have been so honored to have helped reach their goal of optimal health and wellness. We also offer a variety of supplemental foods and treats, in addition to therapeutic supplements for a variety of pet needs.

     We want our own pets to live the longest, happiest, healthiest lives possible, and we want yours to too. We’re here for you. We’re here for your pet(s). 

Visit our website for details on all of our 8 locations, including contact information for the manager of each. 

The Medium Version
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