Our pets are members of the family and we all want to provide them with the best possible care. One of the biggest decisions pet owners must face in caring for their pets is choosing the appropriate diet. It can be daunting to navigate the world of pet foods, especially when recalls and reports of food contamination are popping up in the news more frequently these days.
You may have seen or heard the recent reports that grain-free or certain specialty diets may lead to heart disease in dogs. It is important to look at the facts behind these reports to understand how this may affect your pet and future diet decisions.
The initial report was published by the UC Davis Veterinary Hospital. It describes a possible increase in the incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy (a heart condition) in dogs that eat certain unique diets. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is typically an inherited condition and is more common in certain breeds, such as the Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, and Boxer. Veterinary cardiologists began noticing an increased number of dogs outside of these breeds (specifically Golden Retrievers) diagnosed with DCM, and began searching for an underlying cause. Initial findings indicated that many of the affected dogs were eating either grain-free food that contains carbohydrates from peas, lentils, or potatoes, “boutique” dog foods from small manufacturers, or foods that contain an exotic protein source. The findings were concerning enough that the FDA announced a possible link between heart disease and these types of diet.
Another common finding in some of these dogs is that they had low levels of taurine in their blood, an amino acid that dogs consume in their diet and also manufacture within the body. Dogs that have low taurine levels often have a more reversible form of DCM, and considerable improvement can be seen in the heart function when taurine is supplemented in these dogs.
Therefore, research is currently being conducted to see if dogs eating these less common diets are not absorbing taurine appropriately due to:
- A lack of traditional grains within the diet,
- Something in those other carbohydrate sources that prevents proper absorption of taurine, or
- These diets being formulated with inappropriate levels of taurine in the food
To confuse matters further, there are also dogs developing DCM that have normal levels of taurine in their blood. Some of these dogs have had their heart disease reversed by supplementing with taurine while others have not responded to taurine supplementation.
At this time, it is safe to say that we do not yet know all of the facts related to these diets and their link to heart disease. Fortunately, a research team made up of veterinary cardiologists and nutritionists across the United States has been put together to collect data on dogs diagnosed with DCM to see if this possible link to specific diets can be proven.
Since we do not yet have all of the facts, there are not yet any specific recommendations about changing your dog’s diet. The current recommendations from the FDA include:
- Speak with your veterinarian if you have a concern about the diet that you are They will work with you to make any changes that should be made or supervise the continued use of the current diet.
- Observe your dog for any clinical signs that could indicate heart disease, such as shortness of breath, coughing, weakness or collapse. If there are any concerns, your veterinarian may recommend chest radiographs (x-rays) or an echocardiogram (heart ultrasound).
- If your dog is diagnosed with DCM, have your veterinarian test taurine levels and report the findings to the FDA. Your veterinarian may refer you to a cardiologist for further evaluation, and your dog may need to receive taurine supplementation. A diet change may also be suggested at that time if there is a concern that it could be a contributing factor.
Our goal is to work with you to help make the best decisions for your pet. If you have any questions about the diet that you are feeding, signs of heart disease, or have other concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us.