When it comes to dilated cardiomyopathy, commonly referred to as DCM, most people think of it as a ‘large breed’ issue. Why? Because canine DCM is in the news a lot lately due to the FDA receiving over 500 reports of dogs developing this uncommon type of heart disease (source). Of the reports, large breed dogs, like Boxers, Dalmatians, Great Danes, and Newfoundlands, seem the be most affected. But what should Yorkie owners know about DCM? Is it really an issue for our tiny Yorkie babies?
What Is DCM?
The first thing to know about DCM is that not all dogs have presented with the same symptoms. Nor have they shown the same disease progression. However, generally speaking, there are some similarities. DCM weakens a dog’s heart muscle resulting in dilated chambers. This causes thinning of the heart’s walls and can lead to enlarged hearts. Prolonged illness can lead to arrhythmia, sickness, and congestive heart failure in the most severe cases. As with heart disease, exercise intolerance, coughing, and fatigue tend to be signs of dogs with DCM. One of the worst things about DCM is that it can happen to young dogs.
Current DCM News
The FDA reported that the DCM dogs were eating certain ‘grain-free’ pet foods. Specifically ones with a high amount of peas, lentils, and other legumes listed in the first 10 ingredients, and before vitamins and minerals. However, current research (veterinarians from the FDA, Tufts University, UC Davis, and the University of Florida) revealed that canine DCM isn’t fully due to diet. Findings reveal that there may be two groups of dogs with diet-associated DCM (source):
- Taurine deficiency
- Yet unknown, dietary factors
What Should Yorkie Owners Know About DCM?
What we can’t do is fall into a false sense of safety due to our precious dog’s teacup size. While not widely reported, there have been small dogs, including Yorkies, in the recent DCM cases (source). Obviously, until we know more information on the recent canine DCM reports, Yorkie owners should be aware of what they are feeding their dogs.
DCM Mutation Impact
There is a reported mutation associated with increased risk for DCM located in the PDK4 gene. This gene can encode a protein of the mitochondrion, the ‘engine’ of a cell,’ causing malfunction and death. Therefore, in plain and general language, the PDK4 gene is associated with DCM. Yorkies have been found to have the mutated PDK4 gene. However, carrying the PDK4 gene doesn’t guarantee that a dog will, with 100% accuracy, develop full-blown DCM. Clearly, more research needs to take place. As a precaution, it may be prudent to have our Yorkies genetically tested as a carrier of the PDK4 gene – this can empower us with helpful information to help guard our dogs against DCM.
Here Are Some Things You Can Do To Protect Your Yorkie
While DCM research continues, it definitely can help to take steps to keep your Yorkie healthy. Most dogs, to date, that have developed DCM were fed dry dog food over long periods of time (years). However, a study found that by adding fresh vegetables to kibble, dogs were healthier and much less likely to develop certain illnesses:
- Green leafy vegetables resulted in a 90% reduced risk
- Yellow and orange vegetables reduced the risk by 70%
Other Steps To Take:
- Feed a diet of high-quality animal protein. Dogs can make their own taurine, a key player in the DCM issue, from this ingredient.
- Provide dehydrated beef heart treats, naturally high in taurine and carnitine, to your dog.
- Minimize the amount of lamb and dietary fiber in your Yorkies’ diet, as these have caused concerns for many veterinarians based on the reported DCM cases.
- Make sure that legumes and potatoes are not in the top 10 ingredients of your Yorkie’s food, and appear on the label after vitamins.
- Study the cases reported to the FDA, specifically as they relate to Yorkies (Yorkshires in the compilation report).
- Supplement with sardines (skin-on, bone-in, packed in salt-free water) for omega-3, a nutrient that is lacking in dog dry food. These fish are high in vitamins B12, D, and E, and trace minerals.
- Other supplements to consider and discuss with your veterinarian include CoQ10 and L-carnitine.
- CoQ10 is an antioxidant supplement used to support the cardiovascular system.
- L-carnitine is a required amino acid for heart muscles to contract.
Animal Proteins Naturally High In Taurine
If you make or add fresh items to your Yorkie’s food, consider adding some of these animal proteins as they are naturally high in taurine:
- Chicken (dark meat)
- Chicken Hearts and Liver
- Clams (fresh)
- Turkey (dark meat)
Prioritizing Our Yorkie’s Health
As a fellow Yorkie owner, I know that you always prioritize the health of your dog. That’s why I wanted to bring you DCM information specific to Yorkies – breed-based information that can help keep everything in perspective. It’s important to understand that the vast majority of dogs who were fed the brands named in the FDA’s reports did not develop DCM. And only a few of the 500+ cases reported were Yorkies.
Brands and Number of Cases:
- Acana: 67
- Zignature: 64
- Taste of the Wild: 53
- 4Health: 32
- Earthborn Holistic: 32
- Blue Buffalo: 31
- Nature’s Domain: 29
- Fromm: 24
- Merrick: 16
- California Natural: 15
- Natural Balance: 15
- Orijen: 12
- Nature’s Variety: 11
- NutriSource: 10
- Nutro: 10
- Rachael Ray Nutrish: 10
Still, even though diet-related DCM risk is higher with certain breeds (e.g. American Cocker Spaniel, English Setter, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, and Saint Bernard), I think it’s important that you have all of the information possible to help keep your precious Yorkie safe and healthy. This is particularly true if your pup carries the PDK4 gene.