Read this: you might save your dog's life.

Many things could be discussed on this topic. However, in this brief article I wish to discuss recent findings related to certain diets and heart health.

Over the last few years, veterinarians noted a marked increase in cardiomyopathy in dogs. In the past this disease was limited almost entirely to large breed dogs and was considered a genetic anomaly. However, in the last few years, the disease has been occurring in all breeds and sizes of dogs, including mixed breed dogs.  

The disease causes the heart muscle to become thickened, losing its elasticity, resulting in poor contractility, which leads to poor function and heart failure. It is almost always fatal. In a search to discover the uptick in diagnosed cases, scientists discovered a correlation between the disease and certain diet components. Originally, they thought there was a taurine deficiency related to feed-stuffs being imported from Asian countries. Further studies showed this theory to be incorrect. More recent studies showed a possible cause/effect correlation in dogs fed diets high in certain legumes, or potatoes, and in the newest pet food craze, “grain free” diets. It should be noted that this theory is based on statistics, and the actual physiological cause is still unknown. However, many researchers suspect that something in these feeds could be breaking down or binding taurine resulting in a secondary deficiency.

So, why all the fuss about taurine? Taurine is an amino acid, a building block of protein. In the 70s many house cats were developing cardiomyopathy of unknown origin. Research revealed taurine deficiency as the cause. Their foods were deficient in this amino acid and the results were devastating. 40 years later the similarity in dogs is obvious. 

So, we wait for the discovery of this problem, but in the meantime we cannot ignore what we already know: there seems to be a correlation with foods that are legume or potato based and foods that are grain free.

What does the dog owner do?

First, learn to read dog food ingredient labels. Does the protein come from, legumes (beans, lentils, peas)?  Are the carbohydrate sources potatoes?  Stay away from these guys. Sound confusing? It does to me. So, let’s simplify the process and maybe save some money too.

Because of the lack of certainty in the actual cause, veterinary dietitians are recommending to avoid those high priced, grain-free diets and diets with potatoes. And, to be safe, they’re also recommending to avoid all the “designer” specialty diets. These diets are really marketing ploys, humanizing the product to attract you to them, and they usually cost more. They recommend staying with the well known brands that have been formulated for decades. But don’t go overboard on saving. Do not reach for the cheapest diet available. Go in this direction and you may have a whole array of other problems: loose stool, un-thrifty puppies, poor hair coat, etc. 

We have three brands we are comfortable in recommending: Royal Canin, Science Diet, and Purina. But even these brands are into the “designer diets,” so stay with the basics and read the labels. Other really good diets are out there, but there are just too many for us to track. 

I’ve been feeding my dog grain free for years!  What do I do? 

If your dog is healthy, the simplest thing to do is to change the diet. If you don’t want to change the diet, then I suggest having us run taurine levels on his or her  blood and consider an echo-cardiogram. If taurine levels are low or there is evidence of myocardial damage, change the diet and supplement taurine. If you cannot afford or do not want to do the testing, and you still don’t want to change the diet, then give us a call to discuss taurine supplementation.

Final Thoughts

We consider raw or frozen all-meat diets to be designers. We also consider home prepared diets as designers (by you). Way too many other problems can arise, such as abnormal calcium levels, food contamination/poisoning, etc. We do not consider prescription diets as designer. They are formulated and scripted for disease treatment and/or prevention.

As always, if you have any questions regarding your pets health, diets, supplements… anything! Give us a call and set up an appointment. We are here to help you help your pet live its best life.

Further Reading:

FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine 

The American Kennel Club

Tuft's University, Clinical Nutrition Service

The American Veterinary Medical Association

Download our handout, from Lifetime Pet Center of New Richmond

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