You may have heard the recent news from the FDA, warning pet owners and veterinarians about reports linking a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs being fed grain free diets.
Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, is when the heart muscle becomes enlarged, making it harder to pump blood properly. Symptoms of DCM include decreased energy, coughing, difficulty breathing, and episodes of collapse. Certain dog breeds – especially large ones like Great Danes, Newfoundlands, and Saint Bernards – are known to be genetically predisposed to it, but what makes this more worrisome is that it is being seen in breeds not typically known for it.
No specific brand was mentioned in the warning from the FDA. The diets being fed frequently listed potatoes or multiple legumes – peas, lentils, and other pulses – early in the ingredient list, indicating they are main ingredients. It is not known how these ingredients are linked to these cases of DCM. Legumes and potatoes are considered a better starch to have in dog food over the alternatives of wheat, soy, corn, and rice. Low glycemic foods are fundamental in daily carnivore diets.
This warning stems from reports of DCM in 8 dogs, all breeds not known for this heart condition. In four of the atypical DMC cases, the dog’s blood work showed low whole blood levels of Taurine. In four other cases, the dogs had normal blood levels of Taurine. It is too early, and there is too little information, to know much of a role it played in these dog’s health.
What is taurine?
Taurine is an amino acid important for the metabolism of fats and is necessary for heart health. It is found naturally in raw meats and organs. It has no tolerance for heat, and is absent in cooked foods unless added back in after the cooking process. Since taurine is not normally considered an essential nutrient for dogs, it is rarely listed on the nutrition panels (although a few of the brands we carry do add it as a supplement.) Early reports indicate that the dogs ate these foods consistently for time periods ranging from months to years.
Is there anything for you to worry about?
We do not think so. Millions of dogs are fed grain free diets with no ill effects. We actually see excellent results with grain free foods, as they lower obesity, prevent diabetes, reduce allergies, and improve skin conditions.
We, as a store, do not defend any one diet. We realize that each customer and each dog is unique and has different nutritional needs. We feel one of the best ways to ensure your pet is getting proper nutrition is with rotational feeding. New recipes, even different companies, each time help cover any gaps that there might be in your pet’s diet. Using a variety of canned, dry, and raw frozen gives your dog the most rounded diet possible. And while the American Veterinary Medical Association may not like raw diets, many holistic vets do, and we feel it is one of the most natural things to feed your dog (and this warning just confirms for us the health benefits of raw diets.) For another take on raw and grain free diets, check out holistic vet Dr Karen Becker’s video on How to Choose a Good Dog Food.
This is just preliminary information, and there is a lot more research that needs to be done before any conclusive link between grain free diets and heart disease can be confirmed. The FDA continues to work with veterinary cardiologists and nutritionists to better understand this issue. They often issue warnings like this out of an abundance of caution. If you have any concerns about your dog, their diet, or their overall health, please contact your veterinarian. The FDA does encourage anyone to report cases of DCM to the Safety Reporting Portal.
Wilmette Pet has always tried to be educated on the best diets available. Pet nutrition is still an ongoing learning process, and we’ll be here to bring you the latest news and information.