Animal Medical Center of Chicago Position on Grain-Free Diets and Heart Disease
The Food and Drug Administration recently announced they are investigating a potential link between grain-free diets and heart disease in dogs, called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). Many veterinary cardiologists suspect the recent rise of heart disease in dogs may be related to a deficiency in an amino acid, called taurine, in grain-free diets.
DCM is a disease of the heart resulting in an enlarged heart with weak, poorly functioning muscles. There are multiple breeds of dogs that are genetically predisposed to DCM: like Doberman Pinschers, Boxers and Cocker Spaniels. Veterinary cardiologists have recently seen an increasing number of newly diagnosed DCM in dogs that historically were not predisposed this disease. In examining the data, all dogs were fed grain-free diets.
In a 1987 study, researchers discovered that cats affected with DCM had low blood taurine levels. Since this discovery, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires all nutritionally complete and balanced feline diets to be supplemented with taurine. However, this association of taurine and DCM has not been as straightforward in dogs. A statistically significant number of dogs recently diagnosed with DCM were reported to have low levels of taurine in their blood, but this was not true for all the dogs. Additionally, the recent elevated number of dogs reported to have DCM is very small compared to the number of dogs consuming grain-free diets for years and have no signs of DCM.
We are still in the early phases of gathering information about the relationship between DCM, taurine deficiency and grain-free diet. Today, unfortunately, we have more questions than answers. Thankfully, veterinary cardiologists and nutritionists have devised the following guidelines for veterinarians and pet owners to consider regarding the feeding of grain-free diets to pets:
- For healthy dogs with no signs of DCM eating a grain-free diet, changing the diet is the simplest and most conservative action until more information is obtained regarding the potential association between these diets and DCM
- If owners are hesitant to change their pet’s diet, consider having an echocardiogram performed by a veterinary cardiologist.
- If an echocardiogram is not performed, consider testing blood taurine levels.
- If the diet is not changed and an echocardiogram and/or taurine levels are not performed, consider taurine supplementation, which is safe and inexpensive
The good news regarding this somewhat alarming new information is that dogs diagnosed with DCM suspected to be related to their grain-free diet positively responded to taurine supplementation and discontinuation of their grain free diet.
The Doctors of Animal Medical Center of Chicago.