Listen Here: EP#38 – DCM w/ Dr. Ryan Yamka & Nicci Cammack   

Duration: 55:15 mins  

Tazz Latifi: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Petropolist podcast. I am here with… I'm going to say one time only, or Ryan's going to kill me, Dr. Ryan Yamka and Nicci Cammack. Nicci's back. We are going to be talking about DCM, and hopefully Dr. Ryan Yamka. I'm sorry, I'm going to shut up. Hopefully, this'll be one of the last times you talk about this because there's...  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Yeah. Unfortunately, I don't think it's going away anytime soon. You still got people running around with wrong information today which is unfortunate. You know, even veterinarians I know that go take their dogs to a veterinarian that they ask. Okay. Question 'A', question 'B' and questioned “C' is, do you feed a grain-free diet? And it's like, "Well, you just said my dog was healthy. My dog is fine. Why are you worried about that?" And unfortunately in this day and age, people work with snippets instead of reading the whole articles or the research papers or understanding what a lot of those things mean. And it, you know, just like consumers are looking for that because we all have attention spans of bats with the internet being on there, but same with the veterinarian. And you overlay that with what they're doing every day. They don't have time to really do that deeper dive. And in theory, they're relying on the "experts". And you know, in this case, a bunch of followed blindly without really understanding or knowing what was being done or said and implications.  

And unfortunately, not only a disaster from a pet food industry standpoint, but a disaster from a retailer standpoint, a consumer standpoint, and a veterinarian standpoint it just literally soured relationships and sacrifice of the dog and the consumer because the consumer is not going to know who to believe three teller to that. And what I've been doing is going out there and simply giving a high level story. Obviously, I have articles written on pet food industry, websites, which is open access those articles, so anybody can get there to give them that next level of detail of what was missed and what the data really is and more importantly, isn't. It's not going away anytime soon because there's still people going down that path and that mantra.  

Tazz Latifi: Really? That's a shame.  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: It's sad.  

Tazz Latifi: When I first even heard about DCM, it was summer of 2018. I was in Colorado with Kohl Harrington working on a little CBD project. And he had a blowout argument with Rodney Habib over something that Dr. Karen Becker had put out about legumes and DCM and blaming brands, which she didn't do. So it was this, you know, this odd vocal match. And I sat back, I was in the car listening to all this, and I sat back and I listen, I'm like, "God, I'm sure there's more to this than just what one says versus the other." So I was silent, and for me it was entertainment and amusement, and I actually shut it down after that. I stopped paying any attention to DCM and what was happening until a customer came in about, I think it was September, October and said, "My vet told me that I have to switch everything to grain-free... to ingrain diets rather, and do you have Purina one?"  

And I was like, that kind of doesn't make sense when you look at the reality of how the body metabolizes, I said, all right, now I'm going to go read about it. And then all this stuff, so it took me a little while; I was very behind. So, there's all these articles now we're trying to make sense of them. And from, I guess it was the summer of 2018 to the fall of 2018, Dr. Lisa Freeman article kept popping up. So, is that how it started? Can you just give me a little overview of how it started and what the reality was? Because I wasn't sure if that was... it was just a blog post. It wasn't anything beyond that. I was very half-assed about everything. I didn't get serious about it all because there was no proof that I could find, so I let it go.  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: And there still isn't, right. And that's the reality of it. Where it really started in theory, some cardiologists started seeing a rise in DCM, in particular, they're doing that golden retriever longevity study out of California, and they were seeing it within that group. But the question always comes down to, okay, well, what’s the genetics and all that stuff, because golden retrievers are prone to it. I mean, a lot of large breeds are and small breeds if you actually look at the data. And so from that standpoint, it started out with a blog, as I always say, and then it manifested itself into a JAVMA article with the American veterinary medical association. And a lot of people, unfortunately, veterinarians in particular took that as a scientifically peer reviewed article where it's not. It's actually, if you look in the top corner, it says "commentary whatever," which is their way of calling it an op-ed.  

So, it's no than me writing a blog, right. It's my opinion. It might be right, it might be wrong or it could be up for interpretation. But if you actually go to that 2018 article it's anecdotal nuances, there's no data. And when you reference your own blog to support your argument, it's definitely not scientific paper. And there was no data there. It was literally all anecdotal. And right around that same time, UC Davis published the part of the golden study, where they were trying to blame Grain Free foods for this for DCM. But what people miss, because they focused on the abstract is that there was actually a bunch of good points in there. One being, they weren't controlling very well how touring samples were being pulled, which they degrade very quickly, if not kept in refrigeration.  

They were looking at two different versions of it, so if I recall it was plasma and whole blood so you're not going to get the same answers. But more importantly, they did a kitchen sink approach where they did cardiac medicine for the heart; they did taurine carnitine supplementation and switched diets. So really, you don't know what was the benefit there, but if you actually read it on one of the pages, which a lot of people glaze over and don't want to read it because it does get tedious in there; more of those dogs actually moved to another grain-free food. And so, it wasn't "Hey, now you are on grain or whatever, and it went away" for others, went to grain-free foods, and that's the reality of it. So if you look at the conclusion, they draw out all those issues with taurine and then all that stuff, how they should have had a standard operating procedure across everything. But more importantly, they acknowledged that it back then, that it was multifaceted, genetic, metabolic and, you know, in essence… food.  

And if you watch how it's progressed over time with the September update, that's exactly what the FDA said. And in fact, in their summary, they even took it a step further because what you're seeing is different types of infections with these animals too, like Chagas disease and Lyme disease. So, if you look at human medicine, as well as dog, you'll see when you have different inflammatory states or diseases or whatever, you're going to be more prone to negative stuff, right. And the other thing is too, is when you have obese animals, are you still fulfilling their touring requirements? And we all know that 60%, depending on the day, if you look at it, 60% to 70% are obese or overweight. And so from that standpoint, it raises more questions.  

And they also did acknowledge that obesity was at play. But I think the more important thing that a lot of people forget about, and to me, this is important is Dr. Sanderson out of University of Georgia back in 2006 did a review on DCM. Again, 2006, right, 15 years ago. And with that, she said that the overall dog population is expected to have 0.5 to 1.1% will have DCM, overall dog population. Well, if you put it in terms back then, where it's 75 million dogs in 2006, you're talking the running around population for dogs is anywhere from 375,000 that have DCM to 825,000. And obviously, now it would bump itself up because the larger populations would be 450 range to 990 range, thousand. So, if you have that running around just based off of old data, it's like, okay, well, you're blaming grain-free now, but you only had 500 cases.  

Tazz Latifi: Just before grain-free was even popular in 2006.  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Correct. Back then, you would have seen it mainly in prescription diets, back when IVD was still around before you know, that they got gobbled up by Royal Canin and others. But if you actually look at, you know, how long grain-free has been out, you think Natural Balance and those guys that they've been feeding for decades without issues, and more importantly, you don't see it anywhere else in the world.  

Tazz Latifi: We don't see it anywhere else in the world. What is... can you clarify that?  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Yeah. So the way it went about in the US where it was anecdotal information, and I would argue, it's still anecdotal because there's been no cause and effect, so it's always been an association. And more importantly, it was hypothesized. It was theoretical, which is how it should have been presented. Instead, the media grabbed a hold of it and said Grain Free is killing dogs.  

Tazz Latifi: It was so black and white. It was ridiculous.  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: And even with the 16 brands graphs, they presented it wrong as well. I use Blue Buffalo as an example, because I worked for them and I knew their portfolio very well for back in the day. If you look at their bar graph and the data that's actually behind it, about 20% of them were actually grain inclusive diets. And so, that bar grabbed everybody says, "Hey, it's Grain Free and these people have this medications." It's not, it actually includes grain foods. And then the other things that people don't realize is when you get past those 16 brands, you see Hills, you see Purina and you see Iams, you see all of them being in there. In fact, one of the vegetarian suspect foods was actually a Royal Canin product. 

Tazz Latifi: I just want to let the listeners know, if you guys want to see these graphs, please... Nicci, North Point has a video where Ryan presents this with all the graphs. I'll put the link on the show notes, so everyone can go and see the details because this is going to be an overview. And if you want to really get in deep, Ryan will take you through it on the video Nicci has on her or North Point site. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Freed up coffee to stay awake. That's all 

Tazz Latifi: It's a really great video. I mean, I absolutely loved it. I wouldn't go anywhere else other than to that YouTube video. I thought it just took me from the beginning to where we are now and what we can do. And you spoke about the vets, you spoke about the consumers, you just pinpointed all the aspects that we really need to know. Grain Free wasn't around as much in 2006. And then you're saying part of that, those 16 diets; if you go beyond that, it was veterinary products. How did this spiral so out of control? 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Well, the joke I always use, right, is if you look at the medical world, right, if it's the doctor was the expert and it was whoever, and now it's, you know, Kim on Facebook. And so, the problem band is, you had people that ran with data. And the reality of it is, is it whether people want to admit it or not; dog food is, I'd like to say it's a scientific discussion, but it's not, it's emotional. Because right, people don't want to hear that they're feeding their dogs the wrong food. They want to think they're doing the best that they can, regardless of diet and your beliefs, and whether it's raw, organic, non-GMO, freeze dried, air dry, kibble, whatever, right. And so, when you bring in that emotional debate and panic, all of a sudden, you just like, you know, your kid getting hurt, you go into hysteria and everything but you know from a first aid standpoint goes out the window because it's your kid, right? 

Well, that's what happened in this situation and being that that 16 brands graph really hit the press, make you wonder who was behind the PR campaign, but it was literally covered everywhere. And it wasn't covered as, "Hey, the FDA is investigating and looking for more animals and data." they should have been looking for all DCM, because I think that's the other part of the problem. If you actually look at the grain foods that actually came in, as well as grain free, 90% of it is kibble. And I would argue the other side of it is on average, the fiber content for both categories is high. And when I say fiber, I'm talking total dietary fiber. So, the consumer wouldn't be privy to that number because you typically see crude fiber, right. 

Tazz Latifi: Does that deplete the... I don't know if I'm saying this, right, deplete the absorption of the taurine? Is that a concern?  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: There's a couple of things going on. You would reduce digestibility of the taurine that's in the food. A lot of those products are going to be low meat anyway, so that's the only place you get taurine unless it's synthetic, it doesn't come from any the plants. But also, when you start bumping up fiber content, it's been well-documented at both dogs and cats. Not only do you disturb the recycling of taurine from your bile acids, so obviously, fiber helps push it out, but you also feed bacteria that go bonkers on the taurine as well. And so, not only are you pushing the recycling out, it's also, you know, the bacteria are helping prevent the recycling as well. And so as a rule of thumb, what I usually tell people is, when you're looking at foods, ask about total dietary fiber. If total dietary fiber exceeds 10 to 12%, make sure they're adding taurine at a level of a thousand PPMS or higher and or carnitine at a hundred, and that should take it into account. 

Tazz Latifi: Well, as a consumer, if you want to get a product that has a... and you don't know until after you buy it and you contact the manufacturer and you get a fiber content above 10 or 12%, you should go and get some taurine supplement and... 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Yeah, you should look at most... 

Inter Most people don't want to do that. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: You can simply look at added taurine as a synthetic at that point, so it'll be in the ingredients there. Typically when they add it, they're shooting for a thousand or 1500 or even higher, depending on the food, especially with large breed formulas. If somebody's trying to sell you a large breed formula, excuse me, and it doesn't have taurine in it; I wouldn't buy it. I mean, that's just the reality of it 

Tazz Latifi: Where does cat play into this? This was purely dog. They only looked at dog. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Well, they did look at cat. There was a few in the early stages that received the FOIA or Freedom of Information Act stuff on DCM from Dan Sulaw. They originally had some cats, but it never manifested into anything. So it was, I want to say it was a handful of cats, like five, and it’s kind of just fell away. Most cat foods typically have taurine in it. 

Tazz Latifi: It's added to the food just to cover the basis. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Yeah. So, if I remember, I might be reversing them, but AAFCO has a requirement of a thousand PPMs for dry food and 2000 per canned food. And dogs, since it's technically not essential unless there's a disease state or genetic predisposition, they don't have that requirement. And so in theory, you're your body should be making enough of it. 

Tazz Latifi: So with the way our vets have viewed this, and if in theory taurine is not necessary, or food companies... because pet food manufacturers, all of a sudden inundated the market with Grain in foods. Every brand, all of a sudden came out with...  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: The grains are good now. 

Tazz Latifi: And the ancient grains, and you wrote an article about this ancient grains, and it cracked me up. I'm sorry, I laugh at a lot of things you write. I'm like, "Oh my God, this is real," you know, and I reach out to Nicci, I'm like, "I can't believe it" and she explains it all to me. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Actually, the articles that you read are actually filtered somewhat. 

Tazz Latifi: Left the unfiltered. I like being unfiltered.  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: If it goes out the way I submitted it, there'd probably be some eggs and stuff thrown at my house if there hasn't been already. 

Tazz Latifi: Well, Nicci can talk about this. I mean, all of a sudden, we have an inundation of Grain in foods from the brands that we're carrying in our businesses. Nicci, how do you, I mean, what questions do you ask because your background is also science and nutrition, and I know you and Ryan worked together on a lot of things. So, where do you jump in when you look at these companies running to retailers and saying DCM Grain in, and then we have our distributors having these talks at their events, and you sit back and like, what is really going on? You know, we really don't know what's going on, and they're throwing a shitload of products down our throat and we still don't have fact. So Nikki, can you talk about that? Did I even ask you a question? Can you talk about that? 

Nicci Cammack: Yeah, so there were so many things that were frustrating when this broke. You know, obviously you had the media storm and it really was fueled, and I think Ryan will agree with me, by a lack of critical thinking. I don't know if it was just straight lack of critical thinking and or a combination of lack of critical thinking skills on a lot of people's level. So, that was frustrating. So, I mean, we certainly took a step back. You know, I dove into the FDA reports and the data, and the journals, and, you know, tried to kind of put pieces together myself. And this was well before I had met Ryan. And essentially, I'd come to a lot of the same conclusions. Like, where's the data? There's no data to support this. And, you know, obviously, you start to uncover a lot of knowledge gaps along the way. 

And within a couple of months we started seeing all of these brands come out with ancient grains or line extensions with even just traditional grains. And I started immediately asking questions saying, "Well, who formulated this? And did you test this in any way? Did you do...?" And if you go back, I actually left them all up. If you go back and read some of my original articles back from June, July, August, I was talking about testing whether are these companies even doing an AAFCO trial? Did they do digestability? Did they do a nutrient analysis? You know, have they done their homework? And of course, the answer was no. And I started getting called a lot of different names by manufacturer reps, as well as some distributors, because I wasn't bringing this in and I was being pretty vocal about it. 

So I mean, that was certainly disheartening because, you know, you would turn around and go to some of these trade shows and see fellow retailers bringing in large amounts of these newer foods that just came to market, or, you know, clearing their shelves of grain free items and replacing it with these new foods. And I didn't do any of that. My team and I didn't do any of that. We actually held the line in terms of keeping the traditional grain inclusive foods that we did have. We weren't and are still not solely grain free, but we held the line in terms of growing our grain-free as well as keeping study our grain foods. But what really exploded and this really... I guess the benefit or the outcome is really owed to my team. 

We took the time to sit back and talk to everybody who came in with the sheet from the vet with those 16 brands or concerns about grain free food; our raw exploded. That's really what ended up benefiting, I guess, from this. And a lot of people... it opened up the conversation to say, listen; taurine is not about grain free or grain inclusive. It comes from meat. You're worried about Taurine, you're worried about anything along those lines, well, feed more meat. And it was just really interesting to see that play out in our store because it was very, very different from a lot of other places. 

Tazz Latifi: I'm so surprised that the distributors who are big carriers of raw diets or a minimally processed cooked diets, didn't push that versus the Grain in. They really just jumped onto the new and hot ancient grains. And Ryan, I wanted to ask you about legumes here. There's a lot of diets that are loaded with legumes. Where are the differentiating points diets that are grain free but legume rich, versus grain in, versus grain free? And does it really matter where DCM is concerned as long as the additional taurine and carnitine are at it? 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Yeah, so at the end of the day it's not going to matter, right. It all comes down to digestibility and how that food is brought together. And again, talking to the FDA data, even though they only asked for grain free in their announcement and a lot of people say, no, they asked for everything. Well, no, they didn't. And if you read the emails based off of the Freedom of Information Act, the FDA even refers to it as the "Grain Free Article" so it was a grain-free call, right. 

Tazz Latifi: Aren't we supposed to be looking at everything though?  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: You should be. And that's where I get back to the February, 2019, they had a very quiet update. And to me as a nutritionist, that was the most important one because it said, "Hey, the taurine levels, carnitine levels are the same in these grain versus grain free foods that got reported in. But more importantly, the total dietary fiber numbers were pretty darn close to." And so from that standpoint, it begs the question of, okay, if it's anything and you're saying it's nutrition; it's a digestibility issue because you're seeing it in grain free and grain in. What you're not seeing it in, and when you look at the report, I want to say like 88% of it was kibble. And if you start overlaying that with Nielsen data in the world to kibble for argument's sake, I think it's still like 60% grain in and 40% grain free. 

But once you get into those alternative formats, grain-free is pretty much everywhere, raw freeze, dried; air dried. And so, if legumes were a problem, it should be a problem across every category, not just one. And if you look at that one, what's really going on there, right? They've got to add a lot of carbs and fiber is coming along with it so they can maintain the structure of that kibble, but more importantly, so they could suck in all the fat and pal enhancer into that kibble. And that's why you need that much carbohydrate in there to form it and to add the palatine.  

And so, if the way they've been looking at it, and I jokingly call it "They're not nutritionists, they're really food scientists or ingredient scientists," because everybody wants to focus on an ingredient. You're never going to get to an answer by looking at the symptoms; you've got to truly find the root cause. And I think what they're seeing now and what the FDA admitted, "Hey, we screwed up on how we named this because people just took off and ran with it. And, you know, in essence created the boogeyman at a grain free foods" which I would argue, you know, similar concept to melamine stuff, right, no corn wheat soy, right? It was a very visceral and emotional reaction to consumers.  

And unfortunately, the scientists, which veterinarians are scientists, didn't do all their homework and they didn't read the articles, they didn't read the data; they just took somebody's word from it. And unfortunately, what we're seeing, or at least I've seen it in multiple stores and talking to other consumers is, when they go to those other brands that are recommended, they're having skin and coat issues, they're having GI issues, and then they're "I'm going back to whatever the grain free food was before".  

When I presented at the veterinary meeting expo about this time last year and showed them the data, even the people in the audience didn't realize how many times you had to peel that onion to get to the core of the data, just because they were reading what's in the Veterinary Internal Network or Bing, or what AVMA puts out, and all that stuff. And part of it was tongue in cheek, and I had the funny time asking it; I asked everybody in audience, how many people said you should only feed with WASAVA brands when you saw that come out? And everybody did. And I said, show of hands, how many people got burned because of the vitamin D recall just shortly after that? They all showed their hands. 

And I was like, so what happened there? And so from that standpoint, the data was never there. In my mind, it's not a lagoon question or a grain question, or even an ancient grain question. It's you know, the line I use "In God we trust all that bring data," right? It's what is the digestibility of that food and what's the nutrient profile food? And so, if you go on to Our Foods website for noble, we have that all on our website. And so, it's there for people to have to print out. And it has to be, especially in the wake of DCM, because if you think about it, if one of those 16 brands would actually stood up and said, "Here's my data. Here's digestibility, here's my analyzed taurine carnitine levels." It really would've gotten shut down very quickly. But because a lot of companies don't do that prior to going to market, they just went silent. 

Tazz Latifi: Why don't we do that? I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Nicci.  

Nicci Cammack: And they continue to be very silent, and they continue to not bring data for their already existing products and their new products. Even the things that are coming out now and the line extensions that are coming out now, they're still not doing that. And I think as a retailer, the thing that was so frustrating was that we were the ones left fighting that battle. We were the ones that were facing with the consumer. The veterinarians weren't even spending as much time as were with the consumer. And for those brands to sit back and then expect us to bring in those lines when they did nothing to help, and still have unvalidated products out in the marketplace; that to me is like the most [unclear 30:00] thing that could be done. And I mean, we've started... when this happened, we started thinning outlines and we continue to do that and we continue to cut lines. And I think other retailers really need to consider doing the same because it's not going to change until we stand up. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: And just think about this for a second. So when a company... lots of times companies will say the information is proprietary when it comes to nutrient analysis and digestibility, it's not. Because I can take their food, I can send it to third party facilities and get the answers myself all for under $10,000. Now, how many millions of millions of millions of dollars are these companies making per year? And then the other one that kills me is, you'll hear a lot of people say they don't do digestibility because animal welfare reasons. And I'm like, you clean up after your dog every day, so you're doing digestibility, everybody's doing digestibility trials every day, whether they realize it or not, right, you feed the dog, you collect the poop. Except this time, you would send the bulk to the lab to analyze it. And so, they can do it in home, they could do it with third party facilities. There's lots of ways to do it, but people... 

Tazz Latifi: A lot of these pet product manufacturers have their own pets; use your own dog and use the food you're making and run the trials based on your pets output of wonderful feces. So we're kind of running in circles here and being we're on this merry-go-round with the manufacturers. Where does the consumer and us as retailers, Nicci, where do we go to get the facts and be able to make the proper choices on what brands we put in and how we... because we're the ones that the consumer goes to looking for answers? 

Nicci Cammack: Well, retailers and consumers at least in my experience or from my viewpoint, the majority of them are looking for a simple, clean, easy answer, and there is none. It's really a matter of doing your homework. You have to put pen to paper, you have to spend some time reading, researching, getting to understand a lot of the different variables that are at play. Ryan and I talk about this all the time. You know, it's only a matter of time before the next thing pops up. I think recently a really good example is Midwestern Pet. You know, they kind of shocked the Indie industry recently with what the largest aflatoxin recall in history. 

Tazz Latifi: Is this the largest recall? 

Nicci Cammack: Larger than diamond. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Yeah, so based off of current reported deaths and illnesses, yes.  

Nicci Cammack: So, you know, that is a result of them simply not following their own quality control procedures. They had them in place, but they weren't following them. So, you know, if we're not holding these companies accountable that's, what's going to continue to happen. You know, everybody was burned with melamine then w we were burned... I mean, there's a million things we were burned with. You know, Avengers with the pentobarbital, all the vitamin D and DCM. And we could prevent all of these things. I know you and I have talked about this a million times; all of these things could have been prevented. But we're all kind of happy in the little four corners of our stores or our homes, and we're thinking that, "Oh, well, X, Y, Z company is doing their homework because they said they are." And we're not asking them for proof. We're not asking them for data. And we keep running into these issues. And in a way, I almost don't blame the veterinary industry for not trusting our side. How could they? When you think about it, right, we keep kind of cutting off our nose to spite our face, and it's not doing anyone any favors. 

Tazz Latifi: But the veterinary industry is just as involved in this as the rest of us. They didn't look at data put out by... they kind of rode the coattails and believed the JAVMA article, knowing that it wasn't peer reviewed. And can I just ask one thing, Ryan, has there been any peer reviewed studies on DCM? 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: There's two that are really... two that are out there. One was the Kaplan study, which I mentioned that said it's multifaceted and the four out of the however many dogs switched to grain free. But again, they raised it as a question in that paper where a lot of people have interpreted it differently as a cause and effect paper, which it was more a hypothetical. And then more recently, the same group tried to do a taurine status one on, you know, there's nonsense of traditional versus non-traditional foods. And it's in the process of getting pulled because of not list conflicts of interest, picking treatments based off of income of the company and stuff like that. It's just a poorly designed study. Outside of that, nobody has done a true cause and effect. Even the FDA with the small subset group they followed in, again, kitchen sink approach of meds, supplements, and switch and food. 

They even came back and said, it's a multifaceted issue. And they said, you know, sex is an issue which usually is males, age is an issue, obesity is an issue, other diseases like Lyme disease is an issue, GI obviously, right? And the GI one is not surprising because if you actually look at human medicine that people have like chromes disease or whatever, they usually get a secondary in essence, DCM tied to carnitine deficiency. So, if you're looking at how the grain free industry was really built or talked about, hey, better stools, avoiding certain ingredients with probably types of food intolerances. But a lot of people probably did instead of going to the vet and saying, I have GI issues and go on therapeutic food, they probably just went to a grain free food and people didn't realize that, you know, there was something else going on there with their animals. But it's a mess. Unfortunately, a lot of people say there's data out there and there is no data. It started with a weak association and a hypothesis, and somebody turned it into fact and there's no facts tied to it. 

Nicci Cammack: Well, and I think another big miss is, you know, a lot of people and retailers, consumers and veterinarians know this, but retailers or consumers are largely unaware that there are a variety of types of cardiomyopathy including dilated cardiomyopathy. And I think it's really interesting when you go and you dive into a lot of that data. A lot of their initial submitted cases were thrown out because they were not DCM. And then, even the pool that they have of DCM cases is a lot of them are not confirmed. The only way to truly confirm DCM is with a biopsy, especially if it's nutritionally a mediated DCM, so that leaves so many variables at play. If you go into human data and you look at different types of cardiomyopathy all the way from children, all the way up to the elderly, you'll actually find that a majority of them are genetic related. 

Whether that's a true genetic type DCM or whether there's a genetic error, if you will, that will result in an increased need for a certain nutrient, or that decreases digestibility or cardiac function, or... there's so many different things, right. And we have limited data on humans. We have almost no data for that in regards to canines. So, it becomes really, really interesting when you look at and consider that a lot of what, as Ryan said, this is based off of this is hypothesis at best.  

Tazz Latifi: When your staff was speaking to customers, Nicci, were they led by the veterinary community to think that grain in was the way to go? 

Nicci Cammack: Yeah. So two things, right. Either they were told to switch to those WASAVA brands or my favorite was, oh, just add some oatmeal or rice or corn or a pasta or whatever it was to the grain free food. Yes, and I mean, I've pictures of papers from veterinary centers around our store, instructing pet owners to do that. So yeah, they were absolutely pushed for sure. 

Tazz Latifi: So if they were to add, they take these WASAVA brands or they do a grain-free food and there they are to add rice or pasta or oatmeal to the food; can't that be disruptive for the animal? 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: It's actually worse. If you think about it, taurine comes from two places and two places only, right. It comes from meat and meat byproducts, or it comes from synthetic supplemented taurine. If you look at any plant species, there's no taurine in there. So if you think about it, they're telling you to add a cup of rice or a cup of oatmeal or whatever; you're further actually diluted the taurine amount in that food, and the precursors to make taurine. So, it's really poor advice, and I don't know another way to say it because it really is. And it just shows you the lack of knowledge where, you know, when I went through grad school, everybody says, "Well, what was the one thing that that you learned" when I'd meet other grad students. And I said, "My advisor taught me early in my life to say, you don't know." When you don't know something, go do the research, come back and know it. But if you don't know, and you start giving out advice, you start digging a hole for yourself and sooner or later, people keep on asking this question and the hole gets deeper and deeper and deeper. And instead of them doing their homework and saying, Hey, you know what, add meat or go to a high protein food or add supplemental taurine or whatever, they're saying add rice. Well, to me, that should discredit your veterinarian as being a nutritionist right then and there. 

Tazz Latifi: The consumer relies more on the vets than anybody else. And then the animal gets sick, but they come to Nicci first, or they come to my store first and they ask us questions because they related to the food and not the add-on that the vet recommended. And Nicci, her background is nutrition, so it's a whole other world. How do you address those folks? I mean, you're saying that they came in with add pasta to your pet's diet. What was your response? Oh God, it's so embarrassing. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: You can't make it up; you literally can't.  

Nicci Cammack: Or a piece of bread to go with it. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: I heard white bread, add white bread to it. 

Tazz Latifi: Put a piece of baloney on that, sorry. 

Nicci Cammack: No, I mean, I still to this day will say listen, there is no science to support that, there was no data to support that.  

Tazz Latifi: They're coming from the vet Nicci, there is science. I mean, that is taken as gospel. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: There is some vets that are better out there that have actually looked past it and they're educating, and more importantly, educating new veterinary students about it. In particular, Joe Barges did a presentation last year. Obviously, professor at University of Georgia, very well-respected, never had the hooks in him for many of the companies, so he can speak to what the data is. And his summary, I think said it best was it's an FDA and a pet food industry problem, not a food problem, right? Meaning, if you're not doing your homework and validate and putting foods in the marketplace that you don't know anything about, and mind you, people will formulate, and they're not checking at the end of extrusion and whatever what's left in that food. I mean, that's the reality. So, when we did a survey out of the top 10 independent grains, nine of them didn't have nutrient analysis on their food, and same thing for digestibility, right? 

So they're putting foods out there not knowing anything, and they're testing on your dog, Nicci's dog, whoever's dog that's eating those products. And so, that's what he meant by that. And then obviously, the FDA debacle is literally what it was, is what he's referring to on that part, because as he said it best is, if you thought there was nutritionally related DCM going on out there, you should have worked for all foods, not focused on grain free. And I totally believe that, because at the very least you could have had a control group, right. And it started looking at that things differently, or what you might've found out is, Hey, you know what, in all these foods, taurine is only a thousand parts per million, and it needs to be 2000. You know, there's lots of other ways it could have been handled versus how they did handle it. 

And what happened was keep in mind the numbers I threw at you earlier, right? Today's population is DCM in general, has the ability to be up to pretty close to 1 million animals, right, dogs in the US. And if they only found 500, well, where are those other, you know, dying 999,500. So it tells you that they recognize it's out there, it's an issue, but until they started looking for it, that's when they started finding it. And still, the numbers don't come anywhere near what was proposed by Dr. Sanderson in her review from 2006. You would really be seeing it, and I would argue if they're checking all the animals like they should be; we probably would be doing a better job of breeding certain dogs. And the reality of it is that if you look at the breeds that are on the list for the FDA that came in taking mutts aside, depending on who reviews or looks at the data; it's anywhere from 60 to 75% of those dogs actually have no predispositions or have documented predispositions in the scientific peer review journals. 

And so from that standpoint it, the data's it's not there. It's not to say DCM, isn't a bad, gnarly disease. It is and it should be looked at and addressed accordingly. But to oversimplify it and say a food is doing this, it's just not the right thing to do. And unfortunately, I've been in the industry enough that people go based off what you fed them versus the dead raccoon they... the backyard, or squirrel or grass, or your other dogs poop. And you know, all the other stuff that are just in the back, they only relate to, "Hey, I studied this".  

And when you... and just to further give us an example is when I was back to my Hills days, we did in-home focus groups where you actually go into people's houses, you see how they feed the animals, where they store the stuff and everything like that. 

So it's obviously, you're in there and you're there to observe because obviously people are passionate about what they're doing. And the one house I'll never forget, they fed science diet, huge believer in science diet "I will only feed science diet. Here's the reason why." You open the cupboard, they had 20 different brands treats, anywhere from Beggin’ Strips to Greenies and all the other stuff. You're like, "Whoa, Whoa, what's that?" And they, they forget, "Hey, I give him a piece of cheese every day when I eat lunch, or I give him an Oreo cookie when I eat Oreos or chips, when I eat it." All that stuff goes away when you talk to them about feeding.  

And so, it's really hard to figure out what are the other environmental factors going on in that play there, right? And obviously, because they have that engagement with food every day, lots of times they want to attribute it to food. Your dog has GI upset today; most people go, "it's the food". And then you go, "But your dog's been eating that same food for a year and a half. And by the way, it's the same lot code that you've been eating for the last month and a half." And then they're like, "Oh," so it's just the... it's a knee jerk reaction for a lot of people because they think that is the only input going into that animal. And the reality of it is lots of times you have other issues going on. 

Tazz Latifi: So, if the pet owner wants to prevent any possibility of their animal ever getting sick. So when something like this whole DCM debacle comes up, immediately they jump on the bandwagon. We can also talk about one out of every 1.65 dogs getting cancer. We don't look at that every day. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Or side effects of drugs, or over vaccinating, and the list goes on and on. 

Tazz Latifi: It does, and really digestibility of food, so we don't talk about that. So when you have retailers and consumers coming together, and we're under the umbrella of the opinions of vets who are so overburdened with their day to day, and they are looking at just the headlines, a lot of them, which is what happened here it seems. Where do you go? I own a retail store. I work with consumers, I'm a pet owner. I'm just frigging sick of this shit. What do I believe? 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: Data. 

Tazz Latifi: But you know, I need it now; I need it fast. And most pet stores are not you and are not me. 

Nicci Cammack: It's a paradigm shift. I mean, I firmly believe that if you are going to be a pet retailer, you need to be doing some homework. It's not as simple as just putting pretty bags on your shelf. I read an article the other day about stocking your store and how you need to be paying attention to packaging, like how it looks, not the label, not the nutrition, but how that packaging looks. You might know an article I'm talking about. And I was like; this is why we have those issues, right? You have retailers stocking their shelves based on how pretty the rainbow of cans looks. And if you're a consumer... 

Tazz Latifi: You can do that still with knowing the labels, you can still do that. 

Nicci Cammack: It shouldn't be your number one. I think if you're a consumer, I have the same answer. You know, you're not going to find that simple answer. You have to be ready to roll up your sleeves and do some homework. And if you're not, then you need to be aware that there's some significant risk. And you know, even if you do find what you think is the perfect food, you still need to be vigilant. I would, again, would bring up Midwestern, you know, so many people... it was a very emotional thing with Earth Born or Midwestern; any of their brands, because they had never had a recall. They had advertised and really made people believe in their quality control and their sourcing. They played into that emotion, and look what happened. 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: That's a consent death. You never want to say you never have a recall because you're going to get one, so you're not supposed to mention that word at all. It's bad words. Whether you're advertising that you never had one, or you did have one, it's a bad word, so yeah.  

Tazz Latifi: That kicks you in the ass eventually.  

Dr. Ryan Yamka: It always does because I mean, the reality of is that you got to make sure, right. Food safety is a cultural thing. It isn't a send it out and analyze thing, right. And when I say that is, you know, it could be as simple as an employee not washing his hands then he goes back to the line when it goes to the bathroom and it's cross-contamination, even though you're doing all the proper things. And so, when you start touting stuff, like we'd never had one and then stuff like that, you're begging for it because somewhere along the line, somebody is going to screw up because you think you're doing such damn good job; it's going to be bigger than what you expect, because you weren't being vigilant all that time where you thought you were.  

And keep in mind you know, this corn crop, we knew that we had issues because in October of last year, right, talking what three or four months ago, sunshine mills had a bunch of recalls tied to corn and aflatoxin. And one of the things I point out to people is a website called Neogen. They put out a yearly crop report because they actually analyze; they tell you the hotspots. And it comes down to literally, is there a drought, is it wet? That year did they cut the corn at the proper time? Did they dry it out properly? Had they stored it in the silo, had they store at the pet food facility, and those are all opportunities for that stuff to grow. So, it's very important to maintain that, and that's with any grain, right? 

Tazz Latifi: Is it a part of the quality control process that should be in place with the pet food companies that are using these ingredients? 

Dr. Ryan Yamka: It should be. If I was a betting person, I would expect probably six to seven months from now, you'll see an FDA warning letters saying that they weren't following their own procedures, similar to what we saw with Hill's his warning letter, where they tried to blame the supplier. And at the end of the day is FDA said you weren't following your own procedures. And so if you were, you would've caught it. And that's the reality. If Hills were following their own SOP, they would've caught it. If I was a betting person, they were probably running so much products that they might not have been testing the truck thoroughly because of that backlog of the cupboard hoarding, right. And everybody was on allocation for certain brands and things of that nature. And when typically, if you're a good company, what they'll do is when that truck load of corn comes in, before they unload it to go into their silos or bins or whatever they're doing, they'll have that driver sit there and they'll test multiple spots in that truck going down deep in core and everything, and test for aflatoxins because they'll look for hotspots and they won't unload that truck until they say, "Hey, the data's good".  

And so when you see something like that and the State of Missouri comes out and says the levels were really high. Think about it. That corn is probably a third of that product so you diluted it out, right? That's what it was. So if it's really high, the food, how high was it in the corn? 

Nicci Cammack: To put it into context Tazz, and we say it could have been prevented; it could have been prevented in so many ways. Like Ryan said, when they're receiving a shipment of an ingredient, they should have checks and tests in place to prevent bad product from coming into their facility. And when we talk about that's inbound testing; when we talk about outbound testing, they should be testing that final product for contaminants, but also analyticals in terms of the nutrient content of that food. And so, there's at least two checks that were bypassed most likely in that scenario. And so, when people roll their eyes when they hear or see me saying those things, well, that's the reason, like this is a perfect example. And really as a retailer and a consumer, if you're doing your homework, you shouldn't get burned by things like that.