Who is the FDA?
FDA stands for Food & Drug Administration. They are an agency based in America, who investigate and advise on food and drug policies. A bit like the FBI, but for food.
What did their report say in relation to dogs and their diets?
In July 2018, the FDA issued a brief stating that they were investigating recently reported cases of a type of heart disease known as dilated cardiomyopathy, or, more simply, DCM. The brief noted that some dogs who had this disease may have been fed certain types of diets. Most recently (June 2019), they said that they are “continuing to investigate and gather more information in an effort to identify whether there is a specific dietary link to development of DCM.”
No UK or European link or investigation has been made or is underway at the minute.
It’s worth noting at this point that the latest FDA report is not a peer-reviewed scientific study. Instead, it’s a collection of data from a relatively small number of dogs in the U.S. In fact, they have clearly said “It’s important to note that the FDA doesn’t yet know how certain diets may be associated with DCM in some dogs”.
What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)?
DCM is a disease of the heart muscle where the heart chambers become enlarged (dilated) and one or more valves may leak. The cause of DCM is unclear in most cases, but certain breeds have it when they are born. Large dog breeds like Doberman, Irish Wolfhound, Great Dane, Newfoundland, Golden Retriever are most often affected. Having said that, it also happens to smaller breeds such as Cocker Spaniels. A DCM-like heart muscle dysfunction can develop off the back of an infection - but this is generally rare enough.
Some nutritional deficiencies can affect the heart’s normal function too. These nutrients specifically include the proteins Cysteine, Methionine and Taurine.
A bit about these proteins
Dogs have essential and non-essential amino acid (protein) requirements. Taurine is a non-essential nutrient for dogs, meaning their bodies synthesise it from essential amino acids in food - cysteine and methionine. When diets contain sufficient amounts of ingredients containing these nutrients, their bodies do the rest. Taurine, cysteine and methionine are naturally highest in meat muscle, heart, liver and Brewer’s yeast - all of which are found in Butternut Box recipes.
In our recipes, the main ingredient is 60% high quality fresh meat. We regularly test our meals for Taurine, Cysteine, and Methionine levels at an independent lab and although there aren’t currently any minimum levels of taurine required, Cysteine and Methionine levels in our food are well above the minimums outlined by NRC, AAFCO and FEDIAF guidelines. Just for reference, FEDIAF protein/amino acid requirements are significantly higher than those required by AAFCO and NRC, so we feel really confident and secure with our results.
Legumes are a broad category of food that includes pulses (peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas). Diets containing legumes have been noted in the FDA report. Again, remembering that this report is not based on any scientific research, just data with no conclusions just yet.
Our meals contain a combination of approximately 10-15% cooked lentils, peas or green beans. These ingredients are a rich source of protein, B vitamins, phytonutrients and fibre. And there is currently no scientific evidence in any species, including humans, linking DCM to legumes.
We mention our cooking process because it’s different to others on the market. Our meals are gently cooked at 90C which means our proteins are a bit more protected than those in foods cooked at higher temperatures. This is also a key point to make because any brands mentioned in the FDA report were all dry food manufacturers - and all cooked at higher temperatures than 90C.
Our team of academics and professionals in the space
Kev and I started Butternut because we wanted to help fix the problems that we had found as dog owners buying the dog food that was available on the market. But we have never pretended to have a PhD in nutrition. That’s why every ingredient, every recipe and our entire process has been signed off by some of the most experienced academics and experts in nutrition - who all do have a PhD in this stuff. We take the responsibility of feeding four-legged family members very seriously.
Our team is driven by peer-reviewed science and evidence, not speculation or association. And when they analysed the FDA report investigating DCM and the possible association with grain-free dog foods, their conclusion is that Butternut Box's high quality ingredients; Taurine, Cysteine and Methionine content lab results; and gentle cooking process, all mean that there is currently no scientific reason to believe any risk between our meals and DCM.
Butternut Box and the FDA report - going forward
Butternut Box takes our commitment to provide the highest quality, complete and balanced nutrition for every dog we feed seriously. Even if this FDA report hadn’t come out, we are always welcoming new information that can help us keep this commitment.
- Butternut Box’s board-certified veterinary nutritionist is working with the Scientific Advisory Board of FEDIAF (a committee of veterinary and animal science nutrition experts) to review research data.
- We are talking directly to the Chairman of the SAB on this matter to stay close to their ongoing discussion.
- We are actively working internally and with other industry peers, (especially in the US) to continue our own research and learn more about DCM. We use certified independent laboratories for all of our quality control analysis.
- We continuously conduct analyses of the nutritional composition of our meals, including proteins and amino acids. These are regularly repeated.
- We have conducted studies on the digestibility of protein within our meals. Compared to other super-premium dry dog foods, Butternut Box meals are extremely digestible. This allows ideal protein (taurine, cysteine and methionine) bioavailability and absorption.
- We are kicking off measuring Taurine levels in dogs eating Butternut Box. This will be carried out on our own dogs and customer volunteers.
- We are measuring the Maillard Reaction (or lack thereof) in Butternut Box's cooking process to show that this is not occurring and does not present any risk. The Maillard Reaction should only occur in meals that are cooked at higher temperatures than we do.
June 2020 Update
There has been new research that has complied more than 150 studies and it has concluded that there is no conclusive link between grain-free diets and dogs suffering from DCM. The article, which was received by the Journal of Animal Sciences January 30 and accepted May 4, can be accessed through the Journal of Animal Sciences website.
A Glossary of Abbreviations
FDA - Food and Drug Agency (US based only). They investigate and advise on food and drug policies.
FEDIAF - this one is the official European Pet Food Industry. They interpret research, legislation and publish nutritional guidelines.
AAFCO - Association of American Feed Control Officials. The American equivalent to FEDIAF. They have their own set of pet nutritional guidelines.
NRC - The National Research Council is the working arm of the United States National Academies, which produces reports that shape amongst others, nutritional guidelines.