A recent study by an internist (Janet Olson, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology) found that in Golden Retrievers, grain free diets may be leading to heart disease. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is becoming more prevalent in Golden Retrievers. Dr. Joshua Stern DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Cardiology) at UC Davis, started seeing a pattern and recognized that many cases had in common, grain free diets.
Another study evaluated taurine deficiency in Newfoundlands eating a commercial dry lamb meal and rice diet. Of the 19 Newfoundlands in the study, 12 had plasma taurine concentrations that were considered deficient which was reversed by a change in diet or methionine supplementation.
Taurine is an amino acid needed for healthy hearts and muscle. It maintains normal heart contraction. “According to Dr. Stern, the majority of cases they are are seeing at UC Davis are grain free diets that are high in legumes.”
The 2 studies suggest that dogs fed otherwise complete and balanced commercially available dry diets can develop taurine deficiency because of breed predisposition or taurine availability or because minimum requirements for taurine in dog foods need to be reevaluated and pet foods reformulated.
If you insist on feeding your Golden Retriever a grain free diet, ask your veterinarian to check blood taurine levels. If levels are low, get chest radiographs. Or better yet, get off the grain free diet!
Thomblison P. Taurine Deficiency in Dogs, Clinician’s Brief 2017.
Also: check out UC Davis’ press release July, 2018:
The veterinary cardiologist and nutrition group has pieced together a few brief guidelines to help pet-owners navigate this complex issue:
- Evaluate the diet that you are feeding your pet. If the diet is boutique, contains exotic ingredients, or is grain free, you may consider a diet change to one without these properties. Talk to your veterinarian about the FDA announcement and what diet may be best for your dog.
- If you are concerned about your dog based on what you are feeding, watch closely for signs of heart disease such as weakness, slowing down on walks, coughing, fainting or trouble breathing. Your veterinarian may also recognize early heart disease by hearing a heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythms. If you observe these things or your veterinarian is concerned, additional testing may be indicated such as x-rays, blood tests, EKG, or heart ultrasound (echocardiogram).
- If your dog is diagnosed with DCM, particularly if eating a diet that meets the criteria listed above:
- Ask your veterinarian to test blood taurine levels.
- Report the findings to the FDA.
- Change your dog’s diet as directed by your veterinarian’s recommendations.
- Ask your veterinarian to help you identify a dose for taurine supplementation.
- See a veterinary cardiologist.
FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease
July 12, 2018
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. These reports are unusual because DCM is occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories, are investigating this potential association.
Canine DCM is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart. As the heart and its chambers become dilated, it becomes harder for the heart to pump, and heart valves may leak, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen. DCM often results in congestive heart failure. Heart function may improve in cases that are not linked to genetics with appropriate veterinary treatment and dietary modification, if caught early.
The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component. Breeds that are typically more frequently affected by DCM include large and giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. It is less common in small and medium breed dogs, except American and English Cocker Spaniels. However, the cases that have been reported to the FDA have included Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers, as well as mixed breeds.
Diets in cases reported to the FDA frequently list potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other “pulses” (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch and fiber derivatives early in the ingredient list, indicating that they are main ingredients. Early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicate that the dogs consistently ate these foods as their primary source of nutrition for time periods ranging from months to years. High levels of legumes or potatoes appear to be more common in diets labeled as “grain-free,” but it is not yet known how these ingredients are linked to cases of DCM. Changes in diet, especially for dogs with DCM, should be made in consultation with a licensed veterinarian.
In the reports the FDA has received, some of the dogs showed signs of heart disease, including decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing and episodes of collapse. Medical records for four atypical DCM cases, three Golden Retrievers and one Labrador Retriever, show that these dogs had low whole blood levels of the amino acid taurine. Taurine deficiency is well-documented as potentially leading to DCM. The Labrador Retriever with low whole blood taurine levels is recovering with veterinary treatment, including taurine supplementation, and a diet change. Four other cases of DCM in atypical dog breeds, a Miniature Schnauzer, Shih Tzu and two Labrador Retrievers, had normal blood taurine levels. The FDA continues to work with board certified veterinary cardiologists and veterinary nutritionists to better understand the clinical presentation of these dogs. The agency has also been in contact with pet food manufacturers to discuss these reports and to help further the investigation.
The FDA encourages pet owners and veterinary professionals to report cases of DCM in dogs suspected of having a link to diet by using the electronic Safety Reporting Portal or calling their state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. Please see the link below about “How to Report a Pet Food Complaint” for additional instructions.
- How to Report a Pet Food Complaint
- Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN)