What You Need to Know About Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

November 15, 2021

A rising concern among pet parents is canine dilated cardiomyopathy. It’s one of the most frequent questions we get. Dilated cardiomyopathy – referred to as “DCM” – is heart disease that results in a decreased ability of the heart to pump effectively.

DCM is most common in certain purebred, large breed dogs – including Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Boxers and Doberman Pinschers – with a genetic predisposition to the disease. A non-genetic form of DCM also occurs, in any type of dog with no breed predisposition. This non-genetic DCM is typically seen in older dogs.

In 2018, the FDA sounded the alarm that there might be a connection between dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs and specific canine diets. For concerned pet parents, it’s important to note that the veterinary medicine community criticized the FDA’s statement for being way too broad without sufficient evidence. Today, there is still a lot that is unknown! But, that has left room for a possible association between dog food and development of non-genetic DCM.

Why the concern about pea protein?

Specifically, the FDA warned that certain grain-free diets could be the link to DCM. What’s more, companies often replace grain in dog food with ingredients such as pea protein and other legumes, such as lentils. This would implicate diets with higher amounts of pea protein and other legumes – in other words, vegan and vegetarian diets.

Because of this, dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs is a topic we take seriously at Bramble!

Throughout the formulation, production, and testing of our recipes, we rely on the advice and expertise of our board-certified veterinary nutritionists and animal nutritionist who formulate our recipes, as well as our veterinary medicine and animal health science advisors.

Obviously, the most important question is whether certain ingredients – like pea protein and lentils – and diets that are higher in legumes cause dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. According to our animal health and science advisors, who have conducted studies and research on this very issue, the answer is no! Then why all the fuss? Because it is possible that some companies source low-quality, feed-grade ingredients that are higher in fiber – such as pea protein – and then process those ingredients in a way that lowers nutrients – such as taurine and carnitine. If these companies do not test for these lost nutrients and then formulate the diets to make up for these losses, then dogs could be at risk of taurine deficiency and heart function abnormalities.

The important takeaway is this: it’s not the kind of diet or a certain category of ingredients that is possibly linked to DCM. Rather, it is likely the quality of certain ingredients and the processing done to those ingredients that put dogs at risk of heart disease, as well as other conditions!

Here’s how what we learned about DCM impacts what we’re doing at Bramble:

    1. We start by identifying nutrients that could be linked to dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. These include taurine and carnitine – nutrients with beneficial effects on heart function! Fiber is also extremely important – because inhibitors such as fiber can affect taurine deficiency! When Bramble’s diets are formulated, we make sure that we provide more than just the minimum required nutrients. Bramble is high in protein and contains all the nutrients dogs need to keep their taurine and carnitine levels within the healthy range.
    2. Next, we look at our ingredients to see where these nutrients are coming from and how we can ensure their digestibility and bioavailability. We use a low-fiber plant-based protein source, along with fresh, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, to provide a ready source of essential nutrients. We use a combination of proteins, including lentils and garbanzo beans, to provide a better amino acid profile. We also add additional nutrients directly to our recipes to ensure they are both present and available to dogs!
    3. We use a cooking process that is less likely to impair the absorption of these nutrients when our dogs eat Bramble. Our fresh ingredients are gently cooked – not over processed! This improves digestibility and maintains nutrient viability. We also take advantage of the natural antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables instead of adding artificial preservatives.
    4. Finally, we follow-up our cooking by regularly testing our food at an independent lab to ensure our recipes contain the nutrients and amino acids that are intended.

Bramble was founded by a dog mom who wanted to feed her own fur kids better in every way and provide them with the best quality of life. We understand firsthand the trust pet parents place in us! Dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs is a serious health condition, and we are confident that our dog food is healthy and nutritious. We take every precaution to ensure that our diets not only meet but exceed every nutritional requirement our companions have. We strive to make products that are the healthiest and tastiest for our dogs to enjoy for many, many years to come. You can get started by ordering here!

Diagnosis of DCM in Dogs

Cardiomyopathy is the degeneration of the heart muscle. As a result, the heart muscle becomes thinner, and the blood pressure inside the heart causes the thin muscle to stretch. This leads to an enlargement of the heart, which is why the disease is known as dilated cardiomyopathy.

Clinical signs of DCM include rapid breathing or increased effort when breathing, restlessness, coughing, fainting, decreased appetite and weight loss, and sudden death.

Ideally, annual checkups would spot an issue before clinical signs onset. But, if you’re concerned about your dog possibly having DCM, it’s important to see a cardiologist who can perform chest radiographs to see whether there is an enlargement of the heart, an electrocardiogram (ECG) to spot arrhythmias, and an echocardiogram to check the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently. These more sophisticated cardiology tests can better diagnose the severity – and corresponding treatment – of DCM.

Treatment of DCM

As with any condition, it can make a difference to catch DCM early in order to start treatment before dogs develop clinical signs of heart failure.

Dogs have been known to respond well to a fresh food diet and supplements. Since many dogs with DCM suffer arrhythmias, medication is often prescribed as treatment. If caught early and with appropriate treatment, dogs can resume a normal lifestyle.

In sum, dilated cardiomyopathy is a serious condition and that is why we have done our best to ensure Bramble is as heart healthy as can be. Read more on our Science page and always reach out to with any questions!

You can shop our recipes here!