It was a routine vet visit for Oliver, Julie Carter's three-and-a-half-year-old son.Golden Retriever. At least until the vet heard Oliver's heart and uttered the phrase that would change his life: "He has oneheart murmur.“
It was February 2018 and Carter also brought up an interesting article on the Morris Animal Foundation website noting a worrying increase in the number of Goldens diagnosedDilatative Kardiomyopathie (DCM). These dogs had two things in common: they were deficient in taurine, an amino acid, in their blood, and they were fed small-company dog food, often with unusual ingredient lists, grain-free or high in legumes. Oliver ate this diet. He had low taurine levels. And he had DCM.
Oliver, who is now in the care of a veterinary cardiologist, was immediately placed on a grain-based diet and received taurine supplements and heart medication. He remained symptom-free until one day, without warning, he suffered a fatal arrhythmia while walking across the kitchen floor. It was August 2018, six months after her diagnosis and just five days after she celebrated her 4th birthday.
DCM is a serious heart muscle disease that can be fatal. Occurs more frequently inlarge breeds, and in some breeds it is thought to have a genetic component. It is also common in middle-aged to older dogs. Goldens are not generally considered a risk breed for DCM, but they are at risk of taurine deficiency.
taurine and heart disease
Taurine, an amino acid abundant in meat, has been linked to cases of feline TMD for the past 30 years. It turned out that commercial cat food did not contain enough taurine. When taurine was added to the diet, DCM in cats basically disappeared.
Taurine was immediately suspected in canine DCM, but relatively few cases of taurine-deficient DCM have been identified in dogs. However, certain diets, particularly those high in lamb, rice bran, or fiber (especially beet pulp) and very low-protein diets, have been linked to taurine deficiency in dogs.
Fast forward to 2018. Veterinary cardiologists have started noticing a higher than average number of dogs with TMD. At Tufts University, Lisa Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVIM, a board-certified animal nutritionist specializing in research into the nutritional effects of heart disease, reported that an alarming number of these dogs ate what they BEG (boutique, exotic ingredients, or grain-free ).
Boutique diets are made by small businesses with no nutritional testing facilities. Diets with exotic ingredients use unusual sources like kangaroo or duck that have not been extensively tested, more common sources like chicken or beef. Grain-free diets replace grains like rice and corn with potatoes orLegumes (beans, peas and lentils)as a carbohydrate source. No study has ever shown that a grain-free diet is superior to a grain-containing diet.
The FDA gets involved
Freeman worked with several veterinary cardiologists and alerted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In July 2018, the FDA announced it had found enough evidence to investigate. In November 2018, Freeman and his collaborators published an op-ed in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. It would become one of the most downloaded articles in the history of this publication.
The FDA hassince the release of several updates. From January 2018 to April 2019, the FDA received reports of 553 dogs with DCM, ranging from zero to three dogs, compared to previous years. These included 95 Goldens, 62 Crossbreeds, 47 Labrador Retrievers, 25 Great Danes, and over 50 other breeds with more than one report.
The FDA report lists 16 dog food companies that have had 10 or more cases of DCM related to their food, but many other foods are implicated. The brands themselves are probably not the important part of the report, but what these foods have in common.
When examining the diet, no protein source stood out as being over-represented. In fact, the most common proteins were chicken, lamb, and fish, although some included uncommon proteins like kangaroo, bison, or duck. More than 90% of the diets were grain-free and 93% ofDiets included peas or lentils. A much smaller proportion contained potatoes. When these foods were tested, they contained, on average, the same percentages of protein, fat, taurine, and taurine precursors as grain-based products.
Joshua Stern, DVM, Ph.D., DACVIM, was one of the first veterinary cardiologists to notice the increase in DCM cases in golden retrievers. Since then, Stern of the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, has been studying Goldens with DCM and taurine deficiency. In an unpublished study of 24 Goldens with confirmed DCM and low taurine, all but one dog showed significant cardiac improvement after changing their diet and adding extra taurine. All dogs were on a BEG diet at the time of DCM diagnosis.
Although many dogs eating a BEG diet do not appear to develop TMD, veterinary cardiologists recommend dog foods from established manufacturers. They conduct feeding tests and use standard ingredients like chicken, beef, rice, corn, and wheat. They point to five American manufacturers: Purina, Hills, Royal Canin, Iams and Eukanuba.
Critics claim that the number of dogs reported compared to the number eating these diets hardly represents an epidemic and that there are no controlled feeding trials comparing DCM rates on BEG and non-BEG diets. However, most cases of DCM are still unreported and smaller BEG companies do not carry out feeding tests.
At least one study is ongoing. Researchers at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine have begun a study funded by the AKC Canine Health Foundation to determine if diet type affects echocardiographic, taurine, or blood biomarker levels in apparently healthy dogs. Dogs with abnormalities are given a change of diet and are then re-examined for a year. Two "endangered" breeds (Golden &Dobermann pinscher) and two “no risk” breeds (WhippetseMiniature Schnauzer) will participate.
"We are working hard to answer this question as quickly as possible," says lead researcher Darcy Adin, DVM, DACVIM. This study will not answer all questions, but is expected to address whether diet-associated DCM is real, if so, what types of foods are associated with it, whether taurine deficiency plays a role, whether cardiac biomarkers in the blood are useful can be used to identify and whether improvement can be observed after a nutritional intervention.
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Meanwhile, dog owners remain concerned. Excellent resources are available thanks to dedicated vets and dedicated dog owners. Several Facebook pages are dedicated to the topic; The best known, Taurine Deficiency Dilated Cardiomyopathy (Nutritional), has over 100,000 members. Other groups include Taurine Deficiency in Golden Retrievers and the DCM Canine Nutritional Support Group, a support group dedicated to owners who have an affected dog or have lost their dog to DCM. There's one toowebsite.
Over a year after Oliver's death, Carter is dealing with his loss by helping others deal with their loss and by making the issue public. This has prompted many owners to have their dog's heart checked by a veterinary cardiologist.
But Oliver isn't her only concern. Riley, Carter's 9-year-old Golden, was diagnosed with the same condition. "Although their cases share several similarities, the most striking fact is that Oliver and Riley ate the exact same food for several years. ...a grain-free diet with limited ingredients that's enriched with legumes," says Carter. Carter also has "an adorable 1-year-old Golden named Finn who has never eaten a BEG diet and never will."
Oliver is arguably the best-known victim of DCM. "The decision to be proactive and educate others about this life-threatening disease was a quick and easy decision," Carter recalls. “When Oliver was diagnosed in February 2018, there was very little publicly available information about DCM in canine diets. Shortly after Oliver's diagnosis, I dubbed him the "face of dilated cardiomyopathy" in the hope that putting a face to this terrible disease would draw dog owners' attention and make it easier for them to shed light on it.
"While Oliver is often considered the face of DCM, he's not alone," says Carter. “There are hundreds of other dogs that are suffering and dying from this preventable disease. ... I've seen firsthand how many of these heartbroken families are collapsing under the emotional, physical and financial toll that comes with this diagnosis."
Why do vets not recommend grain free dog food? ›
Your vet may recommend against grain-free dog food because it lacks ingredients that contain critical nutrients for dogs. Heart health is big for dogs, and grains help support heart health. If your dog eats grain-free dog food, they're not getting those nutrients which can lead to poor heart health.Is grain free dog food harmful to dogs? ›
Researchers aiding in the FDA's investigation have found that a lot of dogs on grain-free diets have developed a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, which can be pretty serious. “Dilated cardiomyopathy [DCM] is a heart condition where the heart is too large,” Dr. Bustamante said.Should I stay away from grain free dog food? ›
With the rise of grain-free dog foods, veterinarians started to notice a worrying trend; dogs eating these diets were found to be suffering from a rare heart condition. This illness, called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), causes the heart muscle to weaken and can lead to sudden death.Is grain free better or worse for dogs? ›
Although dog parents have good intentions when feeding their dogs a grain-free diet, it may actually be harmful. The FDA has alerted pet owners that there may be a link between grain-free diets and a diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), says Emily Wilson, DVM, a veterinarian with Fuzzy, a pet telehealth company.Do dogs need grain in their food? ›
Should dogs eat grains? The truth is that grains have a purpose in dog foods to provide a variety of important nutrients that dogs need. Bottom line, grain-free dog food isn't necessarily better for your pup. Here are some common grains used in dog food and why you should consider keeping them in his dish.What are the disadvantages of grain-free dog food? ›
- Not suitable for older and less active dogs. ...
- Most are still rich in carbohydrates from non-grain ingredients. ...
- It is a little bit more expensive. ...
- Getting your dog to adapt to a new diet.
Why Sweet Potatoes Are Good for Dogs. Sweet potatoes provide an excellent source of dietary fiber, which helps the digestive system function more effectively. Eating fiber on a regular basis lowers the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers.How do I know if my dog needs grain free food? ›
Grain-free diets may help some dogs with sensitive digestion. Although most dogs can digest grains without any problems, there are a few pooches that might struggle. If your dog is prone to digestive problems such as constipation, talk to your vet about grain-free dog food and whether this is a good idea for your pet.What dog food is not recommended? ›
|Alpha Paw Picks||Brand||Rating|
|Worst overall||Dog Chow Complete Adult with Real Chicken Dog Food||1.1|
|Runner-up||Kibbles 'n Bits Original Savory Beef & Chicken Flavors Dry Dog Food||1.2|
|Worst for senior dogs||Purina Senior 7+ Healthy Morsels Soft & Crunchy Bites Dog Food||1.4|
The Dog Food Advisor finds Rachael Ray to be an above-average, grain-inclusive kibble. The recipe uses a notable amount of fresh meat and named meat meal as its main sources of animal protein… thus earning the brand 4 stars. Nutrish Peak and Nutrish Dish each get 4.5 stars.
Is oatmeal or rice better for dogs? ›
Plain rice is the way to go—your dog will still find it delicious. Use whole grain oatmeal and steer away from quick oatmeal. In particular, do not give your dog flavored instant oats that may have a lot of added sugar, or even sweeteners, like xylitol, that are toxic to dogs.Which is better for dogs pumpkin or sweet potato? ›
Pumpkin: Pumpkin has much of the same nutrients as sweet potatoes do, and has the added bonus of often regulating a dog's digestive system.Why is pumpkin good for dogs? ›
Pumpkin is a natural source of fibre. Cooked and mashed pumpkin with no added salt can help settle down an upset stomach , improve digestion, reduce anal gland problems, prevent hairball build up and help dogs and cats with both constipation and diarrhoea.What are three things you should never feed your dog? ›
- Chocolate. ...
- Avocados. ...
- Onions and Garlic. ...
- Grapes and Raisins. ...
- Milk and other Dairy Products. ...
- Macadamia Nuts. ...
- Sugary foods and drinks. ...
1. Chocolate and caffeine: The chemicals found in chocolate and caffeine are toxic and can lead to health issues including increased heart rate and seizures. Ingestion of chocolate can be fatal—dogs should get treatment immediately if they have consumed chocolate.Can I feed my dog sweet potato everyday? ›
Are sweet potatoes safe for my dog? As with many other fruits or vegetables, sweet potatoes should be fed to your dog in moderation and as occasional treats, NOT as a regular diet. Too much of a good thing, even if it's nutritious, should be offered in small amounts first to avoid any allergic response or intolerance.How much sweet potato can I give my dog? ›
Dr. Ventocilla says a small dog can eat about 1 teaspoon of cooked sweet potato per day and a larger dog can eat 1 tablespoon daily.Is cooked sweet potato good for dogs? ›
Sweet potato is a safe, healthy, and natural treat for dogs, offering a range of health benefits (and a sweet flavor they'll likely love). For example, sweet potatoes support a healthy digestive system thanks to their high dietary fiber content. They're also low in fat and contain essential vitamins like B6, C, and A.Is rice or sweet potato better for dogs? ›
Cooked sweet potatoes are healthier choices for dogs because they contain important nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron.