DCM, what we do know and what is yet to be discovered

 Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is an enlargement of the left ventricle in the heart. The ventricle becomes weak and decreases the heart's ability to pump blood. DCM can cause heart failure and death.

  Humans and animals can develop DCM. 

  DCM can be inherited (genetic) and certain genes are more likely to cause the development of DCM. 

   In humans, the condition is most common in those of African American decent. It also occurs more frequently in men. Other medical conditions can bring on DCM. Other conditions include; diabetes, obesity, other heart conditions, alcoholism and high blood pressure. Genetics,Lifestyle choices and medication/ drug use can cause the other conditions listed.

  In dogs, the condition is common in golden retrievers, Dobermans, Dalmatians,Great Danes, and Cocker spaniels. In dogs There are very few studies determining other risk factors for DCM. 

(Information regarding DCM in humans is only provided to show that the cause of DCM is more thoroughly researched in humans than in animals.)

  DCM wasn't something that was widely discussed until just a few months ago. 

The chatter began when veterinarians began reporting cases of DCM in dogs. 

   These reports were received ( by the FDA) from January 2014 to April 2019. 524 reports of DCM involving both cats and dogs were received. An average of about 8 reports of DCM per month (within the entire USA ) were received by the FDA. 

   The FDA began investigating possible causes of the DCM cases in January 2018. 

   Many dogs diagnosed with DCM were consuming grain free diets. This makes perfect sense due to the growing  popularity of grain free diets over the last 10 years. It is also important to mention that the brands of foods listed on the FDA's chart of. "Dog food brands named most frequently in DCM cases reported to FDA"  are (or were) some of the most highly advertised foods in social media groups.

Just a few short months ago, if you asked on social media which food to feed your dog, the brands listed in the FDA's chart were guaranteed to be among the recommendations you'd receive. 

  The high recommendation rate of these brands is probably why they are ranking higher in this investigation than other brands. Even though the listed brands could  mean very little, it can help us examine potential DCM causes further by observing the ingredients of the listed foods and other foods reported during the FDA,s investigation.  

  93% contained peas or lentils.

  42% contained potatoes or sweet potatoes. 

Knowing this leads us to believe that peas and lentils may be the cause. If that is the case, why is DCM still occurring in dogs fed foods not containing peas or lentils? 

  We know that a deficiency in taurine may also cause DCM. There is now interest as to whether or not peas and legumes can "cancel out" taurine absorption in the body, even when additional taurine is added to the diet. 

  Another theory is that other ingredients in the foods are contributing to the cause of DCM. Or Perhaps the way these ingredients are manufactured is altering them in a way that contributes to DCM. 

  DCM seems to be less frequently diagnosed outside of the USA. This may only be a coincidence due to different veterinary and testing standards or it may have more significant meaning. We do know that Pet food manufacturing regulations can  vary greatly between countries. 

  A lifestyle factor may also be a contributor. What that lifestyle factor may be is unknown. It could be anything from  exercise,exposure to carcinogens, or even daily stress exposure ( and anything in between).

   The use of topical prescription flea preventatives as well as oral heart worm (and other parasite) preventatives have become widely popular among dog owners. We are administering to our dogs toxins once a month, to maintain a blood level of the toxin that will be harmful to the targeted parasites that enter the body. We know that long term exposure to these toxins can cause issues in many species, including humans. 

Each topical and oral pesticide marketed for pets comes with a lengthy sheet listing potential side effects. After many reports of side effects from overdoses and misuse,  the FDA got involved with more detailed  labeling of such products.  

Some topical pesticides are popular for use in pet hedgehogs. However, these products are not marketed for hedgehog use and no long term studies have been completed to determine exactly how safe they are to use. Owners must make  educated decisions when determining  if topical or oral pesticides may be beneficial to their pets. Consult a veterinarian regarding product use and any concerns you may have.  Be sure the benefits out weigh the risks. For example, heart worms can be deadly to a dog, so oral preventatives may be worth the risk of side effects..

  We simply do not yet know the full DCM picture. There are many possibilities that need formal study. 

 As hedgehog owners, we do not know if DCM occurs in hedgehogs the way it does in dogs. We do not know if taurine is utilized in the hedgehog the way it is in dogs or other animals. We also do not know how likely DCM is to be a genetic trait in hedgehogs. The above information may or may not be relevant to hedgehogs. 

   As owners we should take the above information seriously as it MAY EFFECT our animals. If there is even the slightest chance that DCM may occur in hedgehogs the same way it does in other animals, we need to act on trying to prevent it, or at least reduce our animal's risk factors. 

As hedgehog owners there are a few things we can do to potentially lower the risk of our pets developing DCM.

   As hedgehog owners we can feed a more natural diet. Heavy in insects, whole prey and meat. Kibble should not be the bulk of the diet. Limiting kibble will reduce your animal's risk of developing DCM if it is tied to an ingredient in the kibble. 

Reminder; Ingredients in grain free food may not effect a hedgehog's health in the way it does (or seems to effect) dogs. 

   You may choose to NOT go completely grain free in your hedgehog's kibble mix. A 50/50 mix of a grain free and grain containing kibble may be a good idea. 

 We know that hedgehogs have difficult digesting grains and that grains can cause issues in hedgehogs. This is why going 100% grain containing food isn't ideal. By offering a 50/50 mix we do not lean the risk heavily in any one direction.

   You can offer your animal taurine rich foods. Taurine rich foods include; shellfish, clams, dark meat turkey and dark meat chicken. Ground turkey or ground whole raw turkey is also a good taurine source.

  Omega 3's are known for benefiting the heart. You may want to offer your pet an animal sourced omega supplement. This may improve cardiovascular health. 

   Maintain a healthy weight. Wearing a little extra body fat while not becoming obese is very beneficial for most animals. 

   Avoid the administration of oral pesticides as much as possible. Oral pesticides are not commonly given to hedgehogs unless an internal parasite is present. An oral preventative once or twice a year is better than administrating one monthly (as in other species). Ask your veterinarian about this topic if you administer oral parasite treatments or preventatives with any regularity. 

   We want what's best for our hedgehogs and it is important to not panic when seeing DCM discussed online or on the news. Make the best choices you can for your pets until we have definitive answers to the points above. It is important to know that our thoughts and views regarding DCM, taurine, and peas will most likely change as more information regarding them is discovered and studies revealed.