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DCM in Dogs: What You Should Know

DCM in Dogs: What You Should Know

As a pet parent, you work hard to give your pet the best life you can. We feel you. That was definitely the case for our founder Clayton, and his rescue labradoodle, Lou. 

Every morning, Lou woke up and bounded around with endless energy, ready to take on the world. Clayton wasn’t happy to just offer trips to the park and snuggles on the couch. He also wanted to give Lou the best food. So he did his research and chose a well-known, premium brand of kibble. 

Fast forward: Clayton and Lou are at the vet’s office, learning that Lou is showing the signs of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), or canine heart disease. Ultimately, Clayton lost Lou too soon. And learned some important information too late. 

Shortly after in 2019, the FDA released a report linking DCM with several well-known pet food brands. Clayton decided to turn his heartbreak from losing Lou into an effort to prevent that loss for other dog owners. Beyond creating King Lou to offer heart-healthy, human-grade treat options, we also want to increase awareness about DCM, and the link to diet and nutrition. 

DCM 101

When a dog (or a human) gets diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, it means their heart can’t pump blood as easily or well as it should. In DCM, it happens because the heart muscle becomes thinner in certain areas (usually, the left ventricle). Because the muscle wall is thinner, the pressure from the blood inside the heart can stretch it out. This makes the heart larger and makes pumping blood harder, ultimately leading to the DCM diagnosis. 

DCM is most common in large and medium-sized dogs, and male dogs develop it more often than female dogs. 

One of the biggest problems with DCM is that it isn’t obvious right away. The changes in the heart occur slowly over time. Regular checkups with your vet give you the best way to catch DCM early, when it’s easiest to treat. 

The symptoms of DCM

Beyond regular visits to your vet, you can watch for the signs of DCM at home. If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment to get your pup’s heart checked:

  • Coughing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble breathing
  • Rapid breathing when they’re asleep or laying around
  • Lots of moving around and changing positions during sleep
  • Weakness
  • Gagging
  • A distended stomach

A generally depressed attitude can also indicate DCM. Basically, if your dog seems like they’re getting tired faster, having breathing problems, or otherwise acting oddly, it probably makes sense to schedule a vet appointment. 

The earlier you catch DCM, the better chance your dog has of making it through. 

Canine heart disease and diet

Here’s the thing about DCM: it doesn’t develop totally by chance. Yes, some breeds have a disposition to this condition. But extensive research increasingly points to a connection between what your dog eats and their heart health. 

It makes sense, right? We know our diets impact our hearts. And it’s the same for our dogs. 

The disappointing news is that big pet food brands fill their foods with cheap, low-quality ingredients. And that has health impacts for the dogs that eat these brands. 

The FDA continues to look into the link between major pet food brands and DCM, and the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation is conducting its own study on the subject. What do we know now? Some specific brands have been connected to more cases of DCM, and grain-free and pea and/or lentil-based food seems to be the most problematic. Studies have also connected DCM with the low taurine levels found in many of the most popular brands (fortunately, our Beef Heart treats contain plenty of naturally occurring taurine to help make up for this issue)

We’ll learn more as these studies wrap up. In the meantime, though, you probably don’t want to just wait and cross your fingers. 

Your pet deserves better. Look for options with high-quality, whole food ingredients — like our King Lou Super Treats — to give your pooch the essential nutrients they need to thrive.

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