In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced they are investigating a possible link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and certain pet foods. The foods being looked at are made with peas, lentils, other legume seeds or potatoes as main ingredients, the typical makeup of grain-free dog food.
The number of dogs affected appears to be small, and scientists are not clear about what, exactly, is causing this. Currently, there have been no food recalls or even changes to the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) guidelines. But if your dog is eating a grain-free diet, it’s important for you to know the facts.
What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?
It’s a disease of the heart muscle that results in the chambers of the heart becoming enlarged. When this happens, the heart walls become thin and weak so the muscles can’t contract effectively. Eventually, the heart can become overwhelmed, leading to congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to sufficiently pump blood to the rest of the body. This may result in abnormal fluid accumulation in the lungs and/or abdomen.
In most cases, DCM occurs in large and giant breeds with a genetic predisposition for the disease, such as Doberman pinschers, boxers, Irish wolfhounds and Great Danes. The condition typically doesn’t occur much in smaller dogs; it is rare in dogs weighing less than 50 pounds, although it is known to occur in cocker spaniels.
Dogs with DCM may show no outward signs at all or may experience coughing, difficulty breathing, abdominal distention, weakness and collapse. Signs of heart failure may improve with veterinary treatment and dietary adjustments. Recently, veterinary cardiologists noticed an uptick in the disease both among the predisposed breeds as well as among less commonly affected breeds, such as French bulldogs and miniature schnauzers. For many dogs, the common denominator was a grain-free diet.
A Possible Link to Taurine Deficiency?
Taurine, an amino acid found in animal-based proteins, is necessary for the proper function of many organs, including the heart. While dogs are usually able to produce enough taurine from other amino acids, cats can’t. Dilated cardiomyopathy used to be a common disease in cats. But in 1987, scientists discovered that DCM was largely caused by a deficiency of taurine and could generally be reversed by supplementing taurine in the diet. Now, taurine is an essential ingredient in all cat foods.
Unlike in cat food, taurine has not been recognized by AAFCO as an essential ingredient in dog food. However, each of our Taste of the Wild and PREY grain-free diets is supplemented with taurine. Our priority is to provide all pets with quality, safe food that meets all federal and state regulatory guidelines.
No Conclusive Cause
As yet, scientists have been unable to pinpoint the exact cause of DCM. While some dogs reported to the FDA had taurine deficiencies, others had normal taurine levels. There may be any number of outside influences. At this point, researchers just don’t know.
What Should You Do?
If your pet is eating a grain-free diet and shows no signs, there’s no cause for alarm. Remember, all PREY and Taste of the Wild grain-free diets contain taurine.
Still, it’s important to monitor your pet for symptoms such as weakness, coughing, slowing down or difficulty breathing. If you have any concerns, consult your veterinarian. Do not attempt to supplement your pet’s diet with taurine without your veterinarian’s guidance.
If your dog is showing signs, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. He or she may recommend X-rays, blood tests, an electrocardiogram, an echocardiogram or referral to a veterinary cardiologist. In cases of DCM that aren’t related to genetics, diet alterations or taurine supplementation may improve the condition.