Over the past year, the FDA has been and is currently investigating a link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs due to an increase in the number of dogs being diagnosed with the condition.

DCM causes the heart muscles to weaken, which reduces the ability of the heart to pump blood through the dog’s body. As this condition progresses, it causes congestive heart failure. Early signs of DCM may include lethargy, a persistent cough, difficulty breathing, weakness or loss of appetite. If you suspect that your dog is affected, consult your veterinarian immediately.

At All The Best Pet Care, we are closely following the FDA investigation but unfortunately, there isn’t any conclusive information available due to the complicated nature of the cause and effect relationship as well as many variable factors. The FDA has stated that they do not know why certain diets may be associated with DCM in some dogs. Although there is evidence suggesting diets low in meat can lead to heart disease, the jury is still out on what role legumes may play.

At this point, we do know that taurine deficiency can cause DCM and is widely associated with the disease. Many dogs diagnosed with DCM respond positively to taurine supplementation, even if they do not appear to be taurine deficient. In the past, kibble diets low in meat content were known to cause taurine-deficient DCM in dogs. It should be noted that neither grains nor legumes contain taurine.

Most of the DCM cases presented to the FDA reported kibble-only diets. We recommend feeding a varied diet to dogs and cats to give them the best nutritional foundation. Our pet care specialists would love to share ways to incorporate variety into feeding time, or suggest a high-quality diet for your pet that does not include any legume or potatoes. As always, with every food we carry, if we won’t feed it to our own pets, we won’t sell it for yours.

FAQs about heart disease, taurine, legumes, and grain-free diets for dogs

Q. Why is the FDA investigating a potential connection between grain-free diets and canine heart disease?

A. There have been reports of an increased number of dogs developing a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The affected dogs have mostly been eating a grain-free kibble diet with ingredients like legumes and potatoes, and although there is no conclusive evidence of a causal relationship, the FDA wants to investigate the correlation.

Q. What are the causes and symptoms of DCM?

A. It’s often linked to a deficiency in the amino acid taurine. Symptoms include an enlarged heart, decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing and even episodes of collapse. However, many dogs will not show symptoms of the disease right away. If you suspect that your dog is affected, consult your veterinarian immediately.

Q. What is the role of taurine in dogs’ diets?

A. Taurine is an amino acid found exclusively in meat. Taurine is not considered an essential nutrient for dogs (as it is for cats), because they can synthesize it in their bodies from other abundantly available amino acids – cystine and methionine – which are present in a high-quality, rotational diet. Some breeds appear to be predisposed to taurine deficiency from low-taurine diets. Taurine deficiency is one potential cause of DCM.

Q. Why do they suspect a connection to legumes or grain-free diets?

A. Many reported cases were solely fed grain-free kibble, which often contains legumes such as peas, chickpeas, and lentils. There is presently no conclusive data showing that legumes or grain-free diets cause DCM in dogs. While the FDA has noted several hundred cases that don’t appear to be linked to genetic predisposition, there are also millions of dogs eating grain-free diets in the U.S. without ill effects.

Q. Why would lack of grains cause heart disease – do grains contain taurine?

A. Grains do not contain any taurine at all, but do contain the taurine-precursor amino acids cystine and methionine. Taurine is only found in animal protein such as meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Q. How do I know if my dog gets enough taurine in her diet?

A. Most dogs are able to synthesize all the taurine they need from two other amino acid precursors, cystine and methionine, but supplementing is easy to do. Consider offering taurine-rich treats such as raw or freeze-dried hearts and livers, or adding taurine-rich supplements, such as those containing green-lipped mussels. Additionally, adding raw frozen meat, freeze-dried raw meat, high meat canned food or lightly cooked meat to their diet will also increase taurine levels.

Q. Why do you continue to carry some of the brands named in the FDA’s most recent update?

A. We stand behind all the diets we carry at All The Best. No one food is appropriate for every dog, and we pride ourselves in helping pet parents find the diet that works best for their pet. We have seen thousands of dogs thrive on these foods long-term in the past decade, and only very recently has there been a rise in DCM reports. The actual cause of DCM in these dogs has not been determined, and DCM cases still represent a very small portion of dogs eating these diets. We will continue to offer these options for our customers who have come to depend on them.

Q. What food should I feed my dog?

A. Our pet care specialists are happy to help you find a food that meets your dog’s needs! In addition to grain-friendly, legume-free kibble, we also encourage you to explore frozen and fresh food options, which have numerous health benefits and no established link to DCM cases.

Additional Reading and Resources:

https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2018/07/09/link-between-dog-food-taurine-deficiency-and-dcm.aspx

https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/blog/Choosing-Dog-Foods-After-the-Grain-Free-Scare-21895-1.html

https://boulderholisticvet.com/grain-free-pet-food-heart-disease/

http://www.petbusiness.com/The-Truth-About-the-FDAs-Grain-Free-Dog-Food-Warning/