DCM & Pet Food Continued...
The Long Version, aka, the Long One
More from  Owner & Founder of Unleashed, the Dog & Cat Store, Amy Phinney, on behalf of the Unleashed family

 Congratulations! You have chosen to read the Long Version of my DCM & Pet Food summary.

     If you have not yet read my introduction, please read that first. It can be found here:  https://www.unleashedmutt.com/dcm-pet-food.

     If you have already read the introduction, welcome, and enjoy the research.

The Long One

 

Diet and DCM 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. 

    • Here’s some insight into the findings on breeds and potentially related ingredients from an article written by key veterinarians central to the research and study of potential diet associated DCM. 

    • Full article and references can be found here: https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/full/10.2460/javma.253.11.1390

      • “In 1995, veterinary cardiologists investigating the role of taurine deficiency in dogs with DCM suggested that certain breeds (eg, Golden Retrievers and American Cocker Spaniels) may be predisposed to taurine deficiency,2 and a study in Cocker Spaniels subsequently showed that supplementation with taurine and l-carnitine could partially or completely reverse the disease.4 Additional dog breeds potentially predisposed to taurine deficiency–associated DCM were identified, including Newfoundlands, English Setters, Saint Bernards, and Irish Wolfhounds.5–10 Later, certain types of diets, including lamb and rice, low-protein, and high-fiber diets were associated with taurine deficiency in some dogs.5,7,9,11–14 Research suggested that other ingredients (eg, beet pulp) may also increase the risk of taurine deficiency,15 although the exact role of these ingredients was still unclear. In addition, the apparent breed predispositions suggested that genetic factors, breed-specific metabolic abnormalities, or low metabolic rates may also have been playing a role.8,9,16”

 

    • Here is the complete section titled “What We Would Like To See,” from an article by a renowned research veterinarian that gives further detail into the history of research into diet and DCM that can be found in its entirety here: https://www.hemopet.org/fda-updates-dcm-heart-disease-dogs/?utm_source=Clients&utm_campaign=111a11c44e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_07_07_12_56&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2ab0e3771c-111a11c44e-214060325

      • “First, we would like the FDA to review previous studies into the connection between DCM and specific diets. We want the agency to enlist the help of the researchers who have conducted these studies.”

      • “Here are five:

        • Sean J. Delaney and his team found, “The lowest whole blood concentrations were seen in dogs fed lamb or lamb meal and rice diets. Plasma methionine and cysteine concentrations were lower in dogs fed diets with animal meals or turkey, and whole grain rice, rice bran or barley.”

        • Kwang Suk Ko and Andrea Fascetti, “Rather than rice, dietary beet pulp showed the most significant effect in lowering plasma and whole taurine concentrations, in part, by decreasing the protein digestibility (sulfur amino acid bioavailability), by enhancing fecal excretion of bile acids and possibly, by enhancing degradation of taurine by the gut microflora in dogs.”

        • Robert Backus, “The difference in taurine status between Newfoundlands and Beagles appears explained by differences in de novo taurine synthesis. On the bases of metabolic body weight and liver weight, the Newfoundlands had less than half of the taurine synthesis rates of Beagles.” All dogs were fed the same lamb and rice food.

        • Sherry Sanderson, “Results revealed that dogs fed protein-restricted diets can develop decreased taurine concentrations; therefore, protein-restricted diets should be supplemented with taurine. Dietary methionine and cystine concentrations at or above AAFCO recommended minimum requirements did not prevent decreased taurine concentrations. The possibility exists that AAFCO recommended minimum requirements are not adequate for dogs consuming protein-restricted diets. Our results also revealed that, similar to cats, dogs can develop DCM secondary to taurine deficiency, and taurine supplementation can result in substantial improvement in cardiac function.””

      • “Secondly, we believe taurine measurement reference ranges should be revisited, reevaluated and possibly revised. AAFCO may need to change its minimum requirements for methionine, cystine and possibly taurine as well.”

      • “Finally, we would like to see a more wholistic approach to the role of the interaction of foods in the gut, gut microbiome, and relevant genetic disposition(s).”

      • “Clearly, DCM is more complicated than meets the eye.”

 

    • There are many studies on taurine-deficiency and DCM, and this article, https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/food/dog_food/dcm-in-dogs-taurines-role-in-the-canine-diet/, includes a summary of a few of the hypotheses:

      • “Dietary Risk Factors for Reduced Taurine Status:

        • Low-protein diet (limited taurine precursors)

        • Heat-damaged or poor-quality protein sources

        • High dietary fiber (i.e., rice bran, beet pulp, cellulose)

        • Lamb and rice diets (speculated)

        • Plant-based protein sources (peas, lentils, legumes) (speculated)”

 

    • The aforementioned article gives additional details on taurine, and the history of taurine studies, and states, “taurine is found naturally in animal-based proteins but is not found in plant-based protein sources. Providing diets that include a sufficient level of high-quality animal proteins (that are not heat damaged) should ensure adequate taurine intake.” 

 

    •  This article also discusses the history of examining diet-related DCM, stating, 

      • “the recent spate of cases and media attention to taurine-deficiency DCM in dogs suggests that this is a very new problem in dogs. However, it is not new. A connection between diet and DCM in dogs was first described in a paper published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2001, years before grain-free dog foods had arrived on the pet food scene.”

      • “Over the past 15 years, reduced taurine status in dogs has been associated with feeding lamb meal and rice diets, soybean-based diets, rice bran, beet pulp, and high fiber diets.”

      • “To date, none of these factors have been conclusively proven or disproven.”

      • “However, the most recent study showed that three types of fiber source – rice bran, cellulose, and beet pulp – all caused reduced plasma taurine levels in dogs when included in a marginally low protein diet, with beet pulp causing the most pronounced decrease.”

      • “Complicated? You bet. This is why it is important to avoid making unsupported claims about certain foods and brands. Taurine-deficiency DCM has been around for a while in dogs and continues to need study before making definitive conclusions about one or more specific dietary causes.”

 

  • In June 2018, a theory was presented that perhaps there was a link to “grain-free” foods. A local NCSU veterinary cardiologist presented research 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 also found that “prevalence of congestive heart failure was not different between GFD and NGFD groups.” https://eventscribe.com/2018/ACVIM/fsPopup.asp?Mode=PresInfo&PresentationID=393940#

  • 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, like many before. The FDA called for pet owners 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 all 77 pages of self-reported cases (https://www.fda.gov/media/128303/download) was time-consuming (I read every case report), difficult, and sad, but important to understanding the whole picture. As a side note, I spent several years in survey and research data collection and statistical analysis prior to entering the pet industry. Here are some takeaways from the reports:

    • Not all of the reported cases are diagnosed DCM

      • In reading through the report, statements such as this are found, “Not true DCM.”

      • According to the release for veterinarians (found here: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/science-research/vet-lirn-update-investigation-dilated-cardiomyopathy ) medical reports were collected for a subset of the cases. Of the subset, 59% of dogs and 67% of cats “were DCM cases with heart changes characteristic of DCM on cardiac ultrasound.” Which would mean that 41% of dogs and 33% of cats in the subset were not.

      • In a table providing a summary of the taurine status and echocardiogram findings of the subset of the subset that had EKG’s and taurine testing reviewed further, 14 dogs are listed as “normal” hearts.

      • In the release, non-specific information is given about 19 necropsies reviewed by Vet-LIRN, some involved in the FDA report and some not. Clarity is not given about which ones were and which ones were not, or about what types of food they were fed, but the information that is shared includes that 16% of the necropsies reviewed did not have DCM. It is also reported that two had cancer, and one had “non-DCM chronic heart disease.” (Side note: all of these cases are devastating and really hard to read about, and I in no way intend to make light of these difficult situations, but they are important facts in regard to the validity of the data being presented and seeing the whole picture. My own pets have been getting extra hugs and extra treats throughout my research.)

 

    • 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.

      • However, the ongoing FDA research is solely focused on grain-free diets. For example, the aforementioned release for veterinarians states, “Vet-LIRN is also reviewing medical records and recheck echocardiograms for dog breeds predisposed to develop DCM and consuming grain-free diets.” It does not go on to mention any reviewing of medical records or EKG rechecks on dogs not eating grain-free or without genetic predispositions for comparison or further study.

      • Later in the same article, a section titled “Prospective Diagnostic Sample Testing,” discusses steps that Vet-LIRN is taking to continue the investigation. 

        • It states, “upon confirmation of a DCM diagnosis, CVCA will collect blood (whole blood and plasma), urine, feces, DNA swabs, and food, if the pet is not receiving any supplements (e.g. taurine, cystine, or methionine) and is still eating a diet labeled “grain-free.”” There is no mention of follow-up or testing in dogs eating non-grain-free diets for comparison or further study.

        • The article goes on to explain some additional testing that they will be doing.

          • “Separate from the ongoing collaboration with CVCA, Vet-LIRN has contracted with a network lab to collect blood (whole blood and plasma), urine, feces, and DNA from healthy dogs without a known breed predisposition to DCM for comparison. The dog must also be consuming a grain-containing primary diet that meets the following criteria: 

            • not be labelled “grain-free””

          • According to this, they will be studying dogs diagnosed with DCM and eating grain-free diets, and healthy dogs without a predisposition for DCM and eating non-grain-free diets, but will not be studying dogs with DCM eating non-grain-free diets, or healthy dogs eating grain-free diets.

      • Similarly other studies, such as the aforementioned study found here: https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/full/10.2460/javma.253.11.1390, states that, “If DCM is diagnosed in a dog that is eating a BEG [Boutique, Exotic, Grain-Free], vegetarian, vegan, or home-prepared diet, we recommend measuring plasma and whole blood taurine concentrations.” Again, there is no testing being recommended for dogs diagnosed with DCM eating standard, prescription, or other diets, for comparison or further study.

      • Meanwhile the aforementioned article states that in their study “not all diets were grain-free diets. Importantly, BEG [Boutique, Exotic, Grain-free] diets have increased in popularity in recent years, and many dogs with DCM unrelated to diet and many dogs without DCM are likely eating these diets.”

      • This study also found that “some dogs improved after a diet change from one grain-free diet to another.” This is also indicated in several of the case reports to the FDA.

      • The FDA also acknowledges, “The prevalence of reports in dogs eating a grain-free diet might correlate also to market share: these products have become exceedingly popular over the last several years.” (https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/questions-answers-fda-center-veterinary-medicines-investigation-possible-connection-between-diet-and)

      • The original theory of Boutique, Exotic, and Grain-Free foods is not represented by the reports

        • When grouped by manufacturer, major, non-boutique brands, including as Mars, General Mills, Smuckers, and Purina are in the top 9 manufacturers 

        • (https://truthaboutpetfood.com/fda-update-to-dcm-investigation-clarifies-a-few-things/)

        • Chicken is the most mentioned protein, followed by other non-exotic proteins

        • As previously mentioned, despite the call for and major emphasis on, grain-free foods, non-grain-free foods are also reported 

    • 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 their veterinarian)

      • Statements including this are found in the 77 page report: “Dog's diet previously submitted to FDA Note: this may be a duplicate submission.” 

    • Rarely is a full or even partial medical history, such as obesity, diabetes, birth defects, or other current or previous conditions stated

      • The medical histories, summaries, or mentions that are available include pre-existing conditions or histories of the following in one or more reports:

        • “Lupus”

        • “Seasonal allergies in the summer treated with Apoquel or steroids”

        • “A benign cutaneous mass”

        • “Urolithiasis”

        • “Lymphoma”

        • “IBD”

        • “Atopy issues”

        • “Abdominal mass”

        • “Overweight”

        • “GI issues”

        • “noted lytic lesion over the carpus concern for neoplasia”

        • “impacted anal gland that ruptured”

        • “Cyst”

        • “Renal disease”

        • “Hypothyroidism”

        • “Lipoma”

        • “Snakebite”

        • “diagnosed with diabetes and started on insulin”

        • “was heartworm positive in the past and was treated.”

        • “has a low thyroid but has been taking medicine for two years”

        • “has had a previous enucleation OS and has Glaucoma OD”

        • “has a history of bilateral achilles tendon repairs and dental disease”

        • “Currently heartworm positive”

        • Rarely, current prescriptions are listed, but cases where they are include: Rimadyl, Brethnine, Clavamox, Trazadone, Doxycycline, Gabapentin, Apoquel, Heartgard, Nexgard, and more

      • More than one case that does include medical history records 9+ year old dogs that are on PROIN for spay incontinence 

        • According to the package insert (https://prnpharmacal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/PROIN-Detail-Sheet-04316-FINAL-PRINT.pdf), “PROIN may cause hypertension.” 

        • The package insert also details the 6-month clinical study in which, as listed in Table 2, 34.6% of dogs had the adverse reaction- hypertension. 

        • In the “post approval experience,” a list of cardiovascular adverse reactions is listed as such, “tachycardia, hypertension, bradycardia, arrhythmias.” 

        • Furthermore, in the animal safety studies, “the most pronounced finding was a dose-dependent increase in blood pressure,” and “one dog in each of the 1X and 3X groups developed gallop heart sounds after treatment began.”

        • What is hypertension? According to https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/150109.php, “Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. It can lead to severe complications and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and death.”

      • Multiple cases also mention prednisone or other steroids, which is a common treatment for allergies (a common reason pet parents choose “grain-free” diets).

        • This package insert (https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2012/202020s000lbl.pdf)

        • lists the following warning and precautions:

          • “Elevated blood pressure”

          • “Common adverse reactions for corticosteroids include fluid retention, alteration in glucose tolerance, elevation in blood pressure, behavioral and mood changes, increased appetite and weight gain. (6)  

          • Cardiovascular: Bradycardia, cardiac arrest, cardiac arrhythmias, cardiac enlargement, circulatory collapse, congestive heart failure, fat embolism, hypertension, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in premature infants, myocardial rupture following recent myocardial infarction, pulmonary edema, syncope, tachycardia, thromboembolism, thrombophlebitis, vasculitis” 

        • This package insert (https://docs.boehringer-ingelheim.com/Prescribing%20Information/PIs/Roxane/Prednisone%20Reformulated/PredniSONEReform.pdf) lists the following warnings:

          • “Cardio-Renal Average and large doses of hydrocortisone or cortisone can cause elevation of blood pressure, salt and water retention, and increased excretion of potassium

          • The following adverse reactions have been reported with prednisone or other corticosteroids: Allergic Reactions anaphylactoid or hypersensitivity reactions, anaphylaxis, angioedema. Cardiovascular System bradycardia, cardiac arrest, cardiac arrhythmias, cardiac enlargement, circulatory collapse, congestive heart failure, ECG changes caused by potassium deficiency, edema, fat embolism, hypertension or aggravation of hypertension, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in premature infants, myocardial rupture following recent myocardial infarction (see WARNINGS: Cardio-Renal), necrotizing angiitis, pulmonary edema, syncope, tachycardia, thromboembolism, thrombophlebitis, vasculitis.” 

      • Multiple reports also refer to recent anesthesia due to spay/neuters and dentals. 

        • Regarding Spay/Neuters statements are made including 

          • For example, the following case: “In 05/2018, (b)(6) was taken to (b)(6) for pre-op tests to prepare for spaying, and test results, chest x-ray and electrocardiogram were negative for anomolies. On 07/05/2018,follow-up at (b)(6) disclosed low blood platelets and (b)(6) was diagnosed with Mitral Valve Dysplasia. (b)(6) was considered stable, so no medication was prescribed, and a follow-up electrocardiogram was recommended for 12/2018. On (b)(6) at 1:00 am, the Complainant heard the loud cough, monitored the dog and on (b)(6) brought (b)(6) to (b)(6)l, where (b)(6) administered a chest x-ray and tests confirmed Congestive Heart Failure.” 

          • Another case states, “not doing well after castration.”

        • Regarding dentals, statements are made including

          • “dog was diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy during a routine dental visit” 

          • And a prior medical history that includes, “had an event under anesthesia during a dental cleaning in October 2018. He went in to cardiac arrest and was revived.”

        • Anesthesia lists the following side effects found here: https://www.drugs.com/vet/propoflo-propofol.html & https://www.zoetisus.com/contact/pages/product_information/msds_pi/pi/propoflo_28.pdf

          • “Cardiovascular: hypotension, bradycardia, tachycardia, membrane cyanosis, arrhythmias”

        • Another anesthetic lists the following here: https://www.drugs.com/vet/zoletil-for-injection.html

          • “Adverse reactions reported have included...cardiac arrest, pulmonary edema...Either hypertension or hypotension may also occur...Death has been reported in dogs and cats following tiletamine HCl and zolazepam HCl administration.”

      • The FDA did collect additional health data from a subset of the cases and reports on them in their release for veterinarians, which can be found here: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/science-research/vet-lirn-update-investigation-dilated-cardiomyopathy

        • In this subset, the listed previously existing health conditions include

          • :“Dermatitis, otitis, or gastrointestinal disease” in 77 of the dogs in the subset

          •  “A history of hypothyroidism” in 18 of the dogs in the subset

          • “One or more tick-borne diseases (e.g. Lyme, Anaplasmosis)” in 17 of the dogs in the subset

        • In this report, where non-specific information is given about 19 necropsies that the Vet-LIRN has reviewed (some from the reported cases, and some from elsewhere), it is stated that two had cancer, not DCM, and one had “non-DCM chronic heart disease.”

    • Other detailed histories are also not given or investigated, such as what treats, scraps, rawhides, or other things the pet has been given on a regular basis.

      • The aforementioned article states, “it may possibly be a result of another dietary component (eg, treats, chews, or supplements) commonly fed to dogs eating these diets.”

    • Over half of the cases are in dogs that are scientifically known to be genetically predisposed to DCM

      • Articles such as this one, https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/full/10.2460/javma.253.11.1390, state that “Golden Retrievers have been reported, as a breed, to be susceptible to development of taurine deficiency–associated DCM,” and additional studies as previously mentioned have shown a genetic predisposition in Golden Retrievers, the main breed represented in the FDA report, regardless of diet.  

      • This article, https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/food/dog_food/dcm-in-dogs-taurines-role-in-the-canine-diet/, goes into detail about the studies into DCM and dog breeds, stating, “there is evidence – evidence that we have had for at least 15 years – that certain breeds of dogs, and possibly particular lines within breeds, exhibit a high prevalence of taurine-deficiency DCM”. 

      • The article goes on to state that, “studies suggest that certain dogs possess a genetic predisposition to taurine depletion and increased susceptibility to taurine-deficiency DCM and that this susceptibility may be related to the combined factors of breed, size, and metabolic rate.”

    • 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. 

      • “Patient was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and congestive heart failure (CHF) by myself (veterinary cardiologist) in May 2017. Whole blood taurine levels were submitted to UC Davis and were normal. Owner was feeding a grain free diet, but did not recall the brand. Owners changed diet to a different grain-free diet on their own. This patient's heart disease resolved after the diet was changed. I am submitting this case because DCM does not resolve and I suspect it was related to diet. Unfortunately, we don't know what diet it was. The current diet (and the diet he has been on since November 2017) is called ZiwiPeak Air dried lamb dog food.” The listed food on the report is the “Ziwi Peak Air Dried Lamb” that reportedly resolved the heart disease. 

        • (Side tangent: It’s nice to read the success stories, so I will share one more with you: “He was immediately switched to a raw diet with added fish oil and taurine supplements. The improvements were noticeable right away...At his most recent visit on January 25th 2018 our cardiologist noticed a significant reduction in the size of his heart and an increase in the output of his heart.”)

    • 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 as I read the reports, I felt a deep sadness for each and every beloved pet and their families, and gave my own pets some extra love. 

     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.” Furthermore, an article in the “Journal of Cardiology,” written by key veterinarians, begins with, “Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) can result from numerous etiologies including genetic mutations, infections, toxins, and nutritional imbalances.” 

(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1760273418300882). 

     These research veterinarians do not place all of the blame on the dog’s diet, grain-free or otherwise. 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. 

The FDA Q&A:

     Rather than paraphrase, here are some direct quotes from the FDA on this subject from their website (https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/questions-answers-fda-center-veterinary-medicines-investigation-possible-connection-between-diet-and) :

  • “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: https://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=53973&callshare=1&fbclid=IwAR2JXdlj1hdtyWk0o0df2sfXc-QA5T_MXe0bAYOJIVoiVziiHDQq-xgSdrw

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

    • Side note: 2019 has had several sets of recalls, all unrelated to DCM, and most more conclusively problematic.

      • Hill’s Prescription Diet and Hill’s Science Diet (owned by Colgate Palmolive):

        •  As reported by the Veterinary Information Network (https://news.vin.com/vinnews.aspx?articleId=53544), as of May 17, 2019, “the list includes 33 varieties of Hill’s Prescription Diet and Hill’s Science Diet.” The recall list that began in January for excessive Vitamin D levels, continued to grow until May, and the article states, “the company faces dozens of class action lawsuits. Court documents show that Hill’s is accused of negligence, fraud, false advertising and being slow to respond to the recall, among other allegations.”  The article further states that “the volume and breadth of the complaints against Hill's haven't been seen in the pet food arena since the melamine contamination of 2007, the worst tainted pet-food scandal in history.”

        • On May 20, 2019, “The FDA is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about the expanded recall of 86 total lots of 33 varieties (SKUs) of canned dog foods manufactured by Hill’s Pet Nutrition after receiving complaints that dogs eating the food experienced vitamin D toxicity.” In this alert, the FDA also states that, “testing leading up to the January recall and the March and May recall expansions found that samples of the dog food contained excessive, potentially toxic amounts of vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for dogs, but very high amounts can cause serious health problems like kidney failure or death.” They go on to state that, “pet owners should discontinue feeding their pets these recalled products.” 

        • The Hill’s recall includes Prescription Diets including c/d, i/d, z/d, j/d, k/d, w/d, z/d, g/d, r/d, Metabolic + Mobility, Derm Defense, and Digestive Care and Science Diet including 7+ Small & Toy, Puppy Chicken, Adult Chicken, Adult Turkey, Adult Light, Adult 7+ Chicken, Adult 7+ Beef, Adult 7+ Turkey, Adult 7+ Healthy Cuisine, Adult 7+ Youthful Vitality, Adult Chicken, Adult Beef, Adult Healthy Cuisine, and Adult Perfect Weight (Note: I did not list the entire name of the diets or specific SKUS as we do not carry any of these products. Please visit the FDA recall site for details: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/news-events/fda-alerts-pet-owners-and-veterinarians-about-potentially-toxic-levels-vitamin-d-33-varieties-hills) 

        • According to a July 10, 2019 update from VIN regarding the Hill’s recall (https://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=54144), “thousands of pet owners say they believe their dogs were sickened, some fatally, from eating Hill's diets,” and “at least 30 class action lawsuits are pending against the pet food manufacturer.”

        • Side note: some of the cases in the FDA DCM report name Science Diet, but not enough details are given to know if they are the recalled diets 

      • In March 2019, Nestle Purina recalled cans that “could contain rubber pieces.” (https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts/nestle-purina-petcare-company-voluntarily-recalls-limited-amount-muse-wet-cat-food-natural-chicken)

      • Multitude of recalls for products containing excessive levels of Vitamin D ranging from late 2018-early 2019

        • In February 2019, the FDA announced the recall of Sunshine Mills, Inc. products of Evolve® Puppy, Sportsman’s Pride® Large Breed Puppy and Triumph® Chicken and Rice Dog Food due to potentially elevated levels of Vitamin D, and stated, “consumers should stop feeding the products listed above.” 

        • In addition to these brands, other labels made by Sunshine Mills were also recalled, including private label foods for the Kroger Company, Lidl, “Natural Life Pet Products,” and others (visit the FDA recall site for more:https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts )

        • Nutrisca recalled one formula of Nutrisca® dry dog food

        • Other brands, not found in our area, were also recalled for excessive Vitamin D levels (again, for all recalls, visit the FDA site)

        • Side note: At least two of the reports to the FDA DCM investigation were feeding these recalled foods

        • Unleashed, the Dog & Cat Store does not carry any of the recalled foods

 

Additional testing and follow-up:

  • Per the FDA report: ““Before the July 2018 DCM Update, FDA/Vet-LIRN had tested multiple products for minerals and metals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, selenium, iodine) and amino acids including taurine, cysteine, and methionine. That product testing did not reveal any abnormalities.”

  • Per the FDA report: “The average percent protein, fat, total taurine, total cystine, total methionine, total methionine-cystine, and resistant starch content on a dry matter basis (in other words, after removing all moisture content) were similar for both grain-free labeled and grain-containing products.”

 

     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:  https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/full/10.2460/javma.253.11.1390:

  • “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: https://www.hemopet.org/fda-updates-dcm-heart-disease-dogs/?utm_source=Clients&utm_campaign=111a11c44e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_07_07_12_56&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2ab0e3771c-111a11c44e-214060325

  • “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. While there is no way to ever 100% protect our loved ones from all diseases and health conditions, including the biggest one, cancer, which is estimated to affect 6 million dogs and 6 million cats each year, we will definitely do our best to try. 

     There are many factors beyond our control, such as genetics and environmental toxins, but there are things that we can do, and while this particular investigation did not come to any conclusions, the silver lining is that it is getting people talking about what we have always talked about, and that is the importance of what we feed our pets. 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. 

     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. 

     Based on your situation, 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, 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. Don’t become too reliant on any one ingredient or “put all your eggs in one basket,” as any ingredient could come under investigation at any time, and it’s possible that there will never be definitive conclusions when it comes to not only DCM, but other diseases and conditions as well. I myself would not rely upon even the most seemingly perfect of foods to infallibly and indefinitely keep me at my optimal health all on it’s own, and I don’t rely on one pet food to do that for my pets either. Always have lots of options and a good variety in your pet’s 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, come see us!

  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, check out the “What We Feed” below.   

  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.

BONUS: Since you are reading, “The Long One,” here are a few more things for you to research that we do to help our pets live at their optimal health: 

  • Give your pet steam distilled, or at least filtered, water

  • Read all package inserts on all pharmaceuticals and take caution. When possible, seek alternative natural solutions without side effects or potential adverse reactions.

  • Research everything that you (or anyone) puts on or in your pet, from flea and tick treatments to shampoos, and everything in between. Again, seek alternative natural solutions whenever possible.

  • Examine your pet’s environment, indoors and out, and reduce environmental toxins as much as possible.

  • Look into acupuncture and massage for healing and prevention.

 

What We Feed to Our Pets:

     

Our Pets:

    We currently have 2 dogs and 2 cats. 

  • Benny: We adopted Benny as a puppy in 2004 from the Pasadena Humane Society. He is a 60 lb mutt who inspired Unleashed and is very healthy. We originally kept Benny on the food the shelter fed him (after checking with his vet that it was good.) But as he grew, so too did our knowledge of pet food. Benny has climbed the ladder of pet food until reaching the top shortly after we opened Unleashed. 

  • Lisa: We adopted Lisa as a puppy from All Breed Animal Rescue of the Carolinas (ABARC) in 2017. She is a 10 lb mutt, has always eaten the best diets, and is in perfect health.

  • Buttercup & Wesley: We adopted Buttercup & Wesley as kittens from the SPCA in 2010. Since leaving the shelter, they have always been on the best diets and are in perfect health. 

Our philosophy:

     I’d like to start by saying that our philosophy is to never carry any products that we would not give to our own pets. Every single product- food, treats, toys, supplements, etc.- in every Unleashed, the Dog & Cat Store is something that given the right circumstances, we would absolutely use for our own pets. 

     This is why we do not take the decision to carry any product lightly, and will absolutely discontinue any product at any time if we are no longer comfortable giving it to our pets (under the right circumstances.) 

     

What do we do? We follow the guidelines stated above of course!

  1. ROTATION: Our pets eat something different just about every day! We rotate between brands of food, flavors of food, supplemental toppers, treats, and chews in accordance with the rest of these guidelines...

  2. MEAT: We feed our pets anywhere from 80-95% animal protein; the large majority of their diet is 95% animal protein, but we do rotate in other varieties that are 80-95% animal protein as well. How do we get so much high quality animal protein?...  

  3. RAW: We feed our pets almost 100% raw (complete & balanced, safety-tested). We rotate between every raw product in our stores. We also keep high quality, high meat content canned foods, dehydrated foods, air-dried foods, and freeze-dried food for those times that we happen to run out, are traveling, or just want something a little different (they also make awesome treats!). 

  4. SUPPLEMENTS: 

    • Supplemental toppers: we use supplemental toppers for all of our pets daily, and rotate what we give, including fresh raw cow’s milk, fermented raw goat’s milk, kefir, fermented fish stock, multiple varieties of bone broth, and more.  

    • Targeted Supplements: We also use targeted supplements for each of our pets, that we also rotate. None of our pets require any medication or supplementation, but we like to do everything we can to help them live the longest, healthiest lives possible.  

      • Everybody: We occasionally give all of our pets various preventative supplements for booting their immune systems and maintaining their gut & joint health. We rotate between the many options in our store, and give them all something just about every day.

      • Cats: We also give our cats a hairball supplement approximately 0-3 times per week, rotating between Cocotherapy and Fidobiotics. 

      • Benny: Benny is our one pet that we give targeted supplements to every day. He doesn’t seem like he was born all the way back in 2004, and we would like to keep it that way. Benny has been in amazing health for his entire life. He has had just a few medical procedures, all self-inflicted, from swallowing something inappropriate, to breaking a tooth on a rock, to most recently herniating a disc in his neck most likely after going through a cat door to get to their food bowls (he’s 60 lbs, and he did do it- he’s very food motivated), and then getting his nail caught in his collar. This latest incident was really scary and landed him at the NCSU vet school for neck surgery in 2017. Post-op his supplement regiment got kicked into high gear, and his recovery went really well. Despite being fully recovered, he still has a hefty supplement routine (and monthly visits from the rehab vet for acupuncture and monthly massages) for mommy’s peace of mind.  His supplement routine includes Inflapotion, Wholistic Pet Canine Complete Joint Mobility, Turmeric the Magnificent, various fish oils, CBD oil, Bug-off natural defense, Joint Rescue, and a varied rotation of other supplements with antioxidants, mushrooms, probiotics/prebiotics/enzymes, coconut oil, and more in addition to the aforementioned supplemental toppers.

  5. QUESTIONS: We are constantly asking the food manufacturers, formulators, and veterinarians questions! 

  6. RETURN: Our pets love all of the options we give them, but if they ever didn’t, we would definitely bring it in to donate! 

 

     An additional note about what we feed: As mentioned, our pets eat almost 100% raw, but we don’t only sell raw. While we like to sell only the products that we use ourselves for our own pets, we know that 100% raw is not an option for every family. For this reason, we choose the dry foods that we would feed our dogs if circumstances presented themselves where raw and alternative diets were not an option. Occasionally a situation will arise, like if they visit us at work, where they will be given dry foods, and we are totally comfortable with every food that we have available in our stores. If we could not feed raw or alternative diets, the food on our shelves is what we would feed (with rotation, including rotating in higher meat contents, and adding supplemental toppers). 


     I hope that this long 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). 

Who are we? 

     Unleashed, LLC, aka Unleashed, the Dog & Cat Store is locally owned and operated by its original founder, Amy Phinney (that's me), and my husband, JP Phinney.  Over the years (est. 2007), Unleashed has grown leaps and bounds, but our mission has remained the same.

Our Mission: To provide the best a dog and cat can get, at affordable prices, so that every dog and cat can be as happy and healthy as ours. 

     To read more about our mission and what it means to us, check out https://www.unleashedmutt.com/our-products.

 

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

Additional Links- Official Statements from various pet food manufacturers, some named in the report & some not:

RALEIGH:

        2460 Wycliff Rd. 27607

        919-858-6460

       7414 Creedmoor Rd. 27613

       919-521-4963

       329 Blake St. 27601

       919-977-6529

       4325 Glenwood Ave. K2- Kiosk 27612

       919-521-0325

       Please note this is a mall kiosk: selection is limited & hours vary.

CARY:

        2066 Kildaire Farm Rd. 27518

        919-977-1329

        1105-H8808 Walnut St. 27511

        919-592-5277

        Special Note: This location is part of a Pet Adoption and Outreach Center! This location carries supplies for additional pets and follows mall hours.

WILMINGTON:

        1319 Military Cutoff Rd. 28405

        910-256-2128

        2 South Front St. 28401

        910-769-5511

Main Store Hours

Mon-Sat 10-8

Sun 10-6

Mall Locations Hours

Cary Towne Center: Mon-Sat 10-8, Sun 12-6

Crabtree Valley Mall: Mon-Sat 10-9, Sun 12-7

© 2007 by Unleashed, LLC