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Grain Free Diets and Canine Heart Disease

Author: Robert J. Weiner, VMD, ABVP

The Food and Drug Administration recently released a statement that associates canine DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy) with feeding certain brands of grain free dog food. Here is a link to that statement:

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a primary disease of heart muscle. The heart chamber walls become thin and the muscle loses its ability to contract with the usual vigor. The chambers dilate and forward flow of blood is impeded leading eventually to congestive heart failure. In many cases these patients have rhythm disturbances that also decrease cardiac output and can result in sudden death before failure occurs. Disease is generally advanced by the time clinical signs develop. Diagnosis is confirmed by physical examination, chest radiography, electrocardiography and echocardiography. Medications are used to control the arrhythmias, resolve failure and support the heart muscle. The prognosis is poor and survival after diagnosis is measured in weeks to months. In feline DCM there is an established link between dietary deficiency of an amino acid called taurine (an essential amino acid for cats) and this disease. Cat food is supplemented with taurine and this formerly common disease of cats has become rare. A link between taurine and DCM in dogs has not been established. Dogs make taurine and do not require this in their diets. Dogs with DCM who have been tested generally have normal blood taurine levels. Taurine supplementation has not improved their conditions as is the case with diet related feline DCM.

DCM historically has been a disease of large breeds, most commonly Doberman Pinchers and Great Danes. It is occasionally seen in smaller breeds, specifically Cocker Spaniels. It is almost never seen in other small dogs or retrievers. The FDA report focuses on several reports of DCM in atypical breeds (Golden and Labrador Retrievers are over represented) fed grain free diets of certain brands (listed in the report). This report describes an association between DCM and grain free diets. It does not prove cause and effect anymore than childbirth is caused by a coincidental full moon. It is unknown for certain what, if any, role the diets play and what other factors, like genetics play in these cases. A cautious approach would be to select a diet from a company that actually performs feeding trials on their diets and has a long track record. For more information on this topic see the links below:

This link is to the clinical nutrition service of the veterinary college at Tufts University.

This is “The Savvy Dog Owners Guide: Nutrition on the Internet.

The Pet Food alliance.
Dog owners are advised to consult their veterinarian when choosing a diet for their dog. Veterinarians are the trained experts in pet nutrition.

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