Last summer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a release to the public regarding a possible link between grain-free dog foods and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This was immediately followed by much frenzy and panic among many North American dog owners.
Unfortunately, this has led to a litany of misinformation on the internet, as doggy bloggers everywhere immediately demonized all grain-free dog foods and the companies who make them.
To make the situation even worse, I have even had clients from all over Canada show me lists - given to them by their veterinarian - of grain-free dog food brands to avoid, in order to prevent DCM. No wonder there is so much confusion around this subject.
Let’s strip away the hysterics and focus on the facts. Here is what we know up to this point.
What is DCM?
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a type of heart disease that causes the heart muscles to weaken over time, compromising the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body. This leads to fluid accumulation in the lungs, and can lead to congestive heart failure.
There are many dog breeds with a genetic predisposition to DCM, including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, St. Bernards, Cocker Spaniels, English Setters, and Great Danes.
Symptoms of DCM include: decreased energy, lethargy, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chronic loss of appetite, and persistent cough. There are medications available to help the heart’s performance, however by the time these symptoms are present, the disease is typically at an advanced stage.
This is where Taurine comes into play. Taurine is an amino acid with many functions, most important is its role in normal heart function. Unlike cats, dogs are able to synthesize taurine naturally in their body, as they are omnivores. Cats do not have this capability since they are obligate carnivores, and they need to obtain taurine exclusively from their diet. One of the reasons why large-breed dogs are predisposed to DCM is because of their lower metabolic rate, which may affect taurine production in the body. Without enough taurine, the risk of developing heart disease increases considerably.
What role do grain-free dog foods play in DCM?
The FDA’s investigation into the matter began last year after increased incidences of DCM were reported among pet owners in the United States. One of the common factors among these reports is the high percentage of dogs with DCM being fed grain-free diets. This possible connection is what has caused so much sensation among the dog-owning community, resulting in hordes of dog owners to abandon all grain-free dog products altogether.
The truth is, nobody really knows if grain-free dog foods cause DCM. Up to this point, the best theory behind the increased reports of heart disease in dogs on grain-free diets is this: it may not be grain-free component that is the problem, but rather the inclusion of certain plant-based ingredients commonly found in many popular grain-free dog foods. It is suspected that high concentrations of ingredients like peas, legumes, lentils, and potatoes may negatively interact with the body’s ability to produce and/or process taurine, possibly leading to taurine deficiencies.
There are many factors here that have not been fully studied. Whether it’s genetic predispositions, dietary factors, or something we are not aware of yet, there is no reason to make any drastic changes in your dog’s diet until conclusive results are released. The best thing you can do to protect your pooch from DCM is to ensure your dog is on a high-quality diet consisting of excellent, human-grade protein sources.
If you have any concerns about your pet’s heart health, speak with your veterinarian or pet health professional.
Brandon Forder – also known as The Pet Expert - is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, a family-owned and -operated business located in Meaford. He has over twenty years' experience specializing in pet nutrition, behaviour and lifestyle. Canadian Pet Connection is an industry leader committed to providing their clients with the highest levels of personal, attentive service. Learn more at www.CanadianPetConnection.ca