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FirstMate Pet Foods Nutritionally Complete Diets – Understanding Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

September 26, 2018

Recent reports from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have suggested a link between grain-free diets and incidents of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  More specifically, the FDA is investigating whether grain-free diets with legumes, pulses, or potatoes are correlated with recent cases of dilated cardiomyopathy.  These statements have caused some concern among dog owners about feeding their dog(s) a grain-free diet.

Our diets at FirstMate are nutritionally sound because our first objective is to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs and cats.  Secondary modifications to meet the current trends in the market are not allowed to override the primary objective of good nutrition.

It is important to note that FirstMate grain-free diets have been fed to dogs for over 20 years with no reported incidents of dilated cardiomyopathy.

Research is ongoing to try to isolate the cause(s) underlying these incidents of DCM.  While DCM is known to be associated with a taurine deficiency, the relationship between low taurine and DCM is not clear.  Not all dogs with low taurine have DCM, not all dogs with DCM have low taurine, and not all dogs with low levels of taurine and DCM are on grain-free diets.

Although the emotional and financial impact on families with dogs that have developed DCM can be devastating, the number of dogs with DCM is very low, often breed specific, and often has a genetic basis.  Dr. Aldrich, a Kansas State University pet nutritionist, stated that:

“Given the relatively small number of dogs affected so far, the issue probably does not warrant major changes to current business practices, monu­mental shifts in formulas, or a rush away from peas and potatoes. While a thorough review of existing nutri­tional platforms and some measure of validation is probably in order, panic should be avoided.”

Despite the inconclusive evidence that taurine deficiency is the problem, pet owners can be confident that FirstMate and KASIKS are providing appropriate levels of taurine for healthy dogs.  Taurine occurs naturally at high levels in fish and is also present in other meats.  It is virtually absent in non-meat ingredients, such as legumes, even though some of these non-meat ingredients may be high in protein.  If the amount of non-meat sources of protein is high in a pet food formulation, there is a chance that the dog may not be getting the appropriate amount of taurine. Dogs can also use the amino acids cysteine and methionine to make sufficient taurine to meet their physiological requirements. FirstMate and KASIKS diets are formulated with sufficient quantities of cysteine, methionine and taurine.

Our FirstMate Grain-Free dog food has over 70% of the protein derived from a meat source, and our KASIKS formulas have over 60% of the protein derived from a meat source, thereby suppling adequate levels of these essential amino acids.  We also add taurine to some formulas that include meat known to be low in taurine (such as lamb) so that all of our diets have a minimum of 0.1% taurine.

Wendy Vandersteen, Phd, MSc, BSc
Director of Research and Development
FirstMate Pet Foods

Dr. Brad Hicks, DVM
Executive Vice President
FirstMate Pet Foods

9 responses to “FirstMate Pet Foods Nutritionally Complete Diets – Understanding Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs”

  1. Dr. Nancy Higgitt says:

    I raise Irish Setter Dogs and am concerned about DCM. I am considering switching my food to First Mate. As a PhD and retired university professor I am always interested in background research. I have spoken twice with Henry from your First Mate Company. He speaks highly of both Dr. Hicks and Dr. Vandersteen. I am pleased to see people with advanced degrees on staff. However in exploring the backgrounds of these two it is apparent that the bulk of their work is with fish.
    My imagination is stretched somewhat to understand the link between fish and dogs. Will you assist by explaining this please so that I might feel that your formulations are informed and exemplary for dogs not fish. Despite my PhD, I would hesitate to claim expertise beyond my specific research field. I like what I see of your formulations but my comfort level is stressed on this matter.

    • FirstMate says:

      Dear Dr. Higgitt:

      Thank you for your interest in FirstMate products.

      As Henry has mentioned, the two senior technical personal who manage formulation and safety of FirstMate products are Dr. Brad Hicks and Dr. Wendy Vandersteen. Dr. Hicks is a veterinarian with additional training in nutrition and 18 years of experience with formulating pet foods and 30 years of experience working on fish nutrition, pathology and husbandry. Dr. Hicks has focused his applied nutrition skills on pet food and fish food and because of historical interests, has been able to remain active in fish nutrition research.

      Dr. Vandersteen is a molecular geneticist. Dr. Vandersteen has joined our team recently because she has the skill set we require to keep pace with the latest developments in frontline nutrition. The leading edge of nutrition research is moving rapidly toward using molecular techniques such as proteinomics and nutrigenomics to investigate the interphase between genetics and nutrients and to improve our understanding of the functioning of the microbiome and how the microbiome interacts with the body. Dr. Vandersteen has the knowledge and the experience to help us understand these leading edge developments in nutrition.
      The science of nutrition is based on our understanding of biochemistry and physiology. These disciplines are part of the curriculum for both veterinary science and genetics. Dr. Hicks and Dr. Vandersteen have been well schooled in these fundamental disciplines.

      In addition to Drs. Hicks and Vandersteen, the team of people working at FirstMate to provide pets with excellent and safe nutrition include people highly skilled in ensuring that the manufacturing processes employed preserve the nutritional value of the ingredients and ensures that the food is safe. Through our breeder, rescue, long-term customers and our own pets, many generations of dogs and cats have thrived on FirstMate foods.

      The team at FirstMate is skilled and dedicated, providing pets with an excellent nutrition option.

      We hope that this information helps to provide additional confidence in the expertise and years of experience within our company.

      Most Sincerely.
      FirstMate Pet Foods

  2. Dr. Nancy Higgitt says:

    Further to the discussion of DCM in dogs, while causation is not known at this time there appears to be a correlation between consuming products that include legumes, potatoes and such and low taurine levels or DCM. One hypothesis is that the legumes etc are somehow blocking either the uptake of taurine and/or the production of taurine. It appears that substituting legumes etc for grains as the
    starchy glue that holds the kibble together might be suspect. I am pleased that you have a line of legume absent and grain included food and that is what I am considering feeding my dogs.

  3. Sandi says:

    In reading your article, I find it interesting to see that you include taurine, but 0.1% seems awful low. Is that 0.1% per lb. or per bag. Would that be a 4 lb. bag, 8 lb. 15lb. 30 lb.? It doesn’t seem to give much information. Also why do companies stuff their foods with things like peas, potatoes and such fillers. Why not carrots. and fruits…blueberries , strawberries, or bananas?

    • FirstMate says:

      Hello Sandi,

      Thank you for reading our article and for your follow up questions. As a privately owned and operated manufacturer we take a great deal of pride in the quality, safety and performance of our products, and enjoy assisting fellow pet owners on making informed decisions about the quality of food they are feeding their cats and/or dogs.

      With respect to taurine, there is no requirement for taurine in dog food diets if there is an adequate supply of the amino acids methionine and cysteine, which dogs use to produce their own taurine. Cats have a requirement of 0.2% taurine in their diets as they are incapable of producing their own taurine. Our dog kibble contains a minimum of 0.1% taurine. The percentage of taurine does not depend on the volume; it is 0.1% no matter the size of bag.

      FirstMate formulates 100% nutritionally complete diets using only one protein and one carbohydrate source.  This simple approach to nutrition presents an increased level of product digestibility while reducing bodily stress and the likelihood of an allergic or negative reaction.

      Carbohydrates are a good source of energy, and can have protein-sparing effects.  That is, if adequate carbohydrates are supplied by the diet, protein will be spared from being used for energy and can instead be used for tissue repair and growth.  Furthermore, carbohydrates also supply carbon skeletons for the formation of amino acids by the body. 

      May of our formulas do contain blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, coconut and kale. However, in some instances we’ve kept our diets extremely limited which may make them more appropriate for dogs with food sensitivities.

      We hope this helps to address your questions.


      Wendy Vandersteen, PhD
      Director of Research and Development

  4. Dr. Nancy Higgitt says:

    I am wondering how you determine the bioavailability of your food. The “big three” food companies have a large staff of both veterinarians and nutritionists with PhDs, they conduct ongoing and detailed testing of dogs kept in a laboratory setting for that express purpose and they publish their research in recognized peer reviewed journals. How can I be certain that First Mate is at least as diligent?

    • FirstMate says:

      Hello Dr. Higgitt,

      Thank you for reaching out to us to better understand how you can trust that our foods meet the nutritional requirements of cats and dogs.

      As we have indicated previously, we do not conduct testing on laboratory animals. We do evaluate our diets by working with a network of breeders, animal rescue groups, and our own pets. These long-term relationships have allowed us to see the functionality of our diets across multiple generations and with pets that have a myriad of health issues. Our diets are formulated to meet AAFCO requirements, and we regularly test our nutritional profiles to ensure guidelines are met. Ongoing nutrient evaluation of our products employs a combination of in-house and third party laboratories to ensure consistent accuracy of our nutritional profiles. To address your other question submitted through our online form, our in-house testing is done multiple times per batch to confirm proximate analysis of the formulation. We also regularly send samples to third party laboratories for salmonella, enterobacteriacea, total coliform, E.Coli, clostridium perfringens, and pesticides. We routinely test for heavy metals to ensure we are within government tolerances. We will also test for mycotoxins including vomitoxin and aflatoxin and will run more detailed analyses for nutrient content as needed.

      Our foods are formulated based on scientific evidence that has been developed over many years of academic research. We do not use least cost formulations and we do not use marginal ingredients. Our diets are successful because we use top quality ingredients and we base our formulations on proven nutritional principles.

      Our facilities are privately owned and we adhere to high standards in our pet and fish food manufacturing. Our facilities are organically certified, and meet CFIA, EU, USDA, BAPHIQ and HACCP certification.

      FirstMate has successfully provided pet nutrition for over 20 years.

      Wendy Vandersteen, PhD
      Director of Research and Development

  5. Dr. Nancy Higgitt says:

    I note with interest and concern that your new line of dog treats is heavy on potatoes. The FDA has indicated that potatoes may be implicated in the current DCM issue and they advise avoiding them. What is your position on this and why?

    • FirstMate says:

      Hello Dr. Higgitt,

      Thank you for contacting us regarding your concerns about our use of potato in our new line of dog treats. Yes, these treats do include potato as the carbohydrate, but the formula is not “heavy” in potato. These treats are very high in meat protein, and the meat makes up the main ingredient and the primary source of protein.

      One of the possible reasons for the link between DCM and use of high levels of ingredients such as legumes or potatoes is that too much protein may be provided by plants, instead of meat. Meat protein provides the appropriate amino acids required by dogs to produce required levels of taurine to prevent the development of DCM. All of our products are formulated with adequate meat inclusions to meet the taurine and taurine precursor requirements thus preventing the development of DCM.

      These are treats and as such are meant to be provided supplemental to a dog’s regular food. They are not intended to provide complete and balanced nutrition on their own.


      Wendy Vandersteen, PhD
      Director of Research and Development

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