Grain Free Pet Food and Heart Disease

Grain Free Pet Food and Heart Disease

The FDA has issued a warning about the possible connection between diet and heart disease in dogs. The diets specifically implicated in this warning are grain free formulations. In this article, I am going to outline what is currently known and give you an action plan if you are feeding a grain free diet to your dog. Don’t worry cat lovers, at this time the warning is only applicable to dogs.

 

I want to start by emphasizing that as of now, there are NO studies correlating grain free diets with an increased risk of heart disease. All reports are anecdotal. 

 

The specific type of heart disease in this warning is called Dilated Cardiomyopathy or DCM. This disease causes the heart walls to dilate and the heart eventually fails. You can read more about DCM here. Doberman Pinschers, Newfoundlands, Boxers, Great Danes and Cocker Spaniels are common dog breeds that are affected by DCM. While these types of dogs can be genetically predisposed to the disease, a lack of taurine in the diet can also cause DCM. Taurine is an amino acid found in food rich in meat. Unlike cats, dogs can also make their own taurine from other amino acids.

 

Recently, there has been an increase in DCM cases in breeds that are not predisposed genetically. Some of these dogs have been deficient in blood levels of taurine while others have had normal blood levels. This has caused alarm in the community of veterinary cardiologist. One thing these dogs may have in common is a grain free diet.

 

As of now, the FDA is collecting information from veterinarians around the country. Here are a few theories as to why we may be seeing a shift in breeds with DCM.

  • As grain free diets gain popularity, more dogs are eating diets with legumes and potatoes. These ingredients may change the way dogs absorb essential nutrients like taurine. 
  • There may be a genetic permutation present in some dogs that causes defective amino acid metabolism. In other words, dogs may not be able to make their own taurine.
  • Manufacturing processes may be reducing the available levels of taurine in commercial diets. 
  • Certain brands of pet foods may not be following best practices in formulating balanced diets and following quality control protocols.

A large percentage of my practice is currently eating a grain free diet. Here is what I am recommending for my patients.

  • Don’t panic. It’s important to keep perspective. These cases of DCM are still relatively uncommon.
  • If you own a Golden Retriever, I would pay slightly more attention. Many of the cases are in Golden Retriever families.
  • An echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) is the only way to definitely diagnose DCM. This can be done with a veterinary cardiologist.
  • Have your dog’s blood levels of taurine tested. While a normal whole blood taurine level does not mean that your dog isn’t at risk, a low level would be cause for alarm. Many of these cases of DCM improve with taurine supplementation despite a normal blood level. 
  • Supplement with taurine just to be safe. If your dog weighs less than 55 lbs the suggested dose is 250-500 mg twice daily. If your dog weighs over 55 lbs, the suggested dose is 500-1000 mg twice daily. Currently, supplementing with taurine is thought to be safe. 

I am neither pro-grain or anti-grain when it comes to feeding dogs. I do believe that each dog is individual with unique needs. I don’t support the use of corn, wheat and soy in diets. You can read more about the grain debate.

 

I would love to hear from you! Are you feeding your dog a grain free diet? 

 

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phishfee@optonline.net
Member

my 4 year old pit mix was diagnosed with lymphoma in oct last year, he went thru the 6 months of chemo to only have it start to come back after 4 months of ending the treatment. of course the vet is recommending the treatment again. I’m confused to what to do. this dog is such a part of me, i’m heartbroken and want to do what is best

Claire Primo, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Hi Linet, I am so so sorry to hear about your sweet pup’s lymphoma diagnosis. Have you read Dr. Angie’s blog discussing what to do when your pet is diagnosed with cancer? In this article, she discusses diet and supplements that she would recommend. She also gives other practitioner referrals who have online content available. Here is the link: https://boulderholisticvet.com/pet-gets-cancer/ CBD can also be a helpful addition. It can be helpful for some of the side effects that your boy may experience (such as increasing appetite, decreasing discomfort and increasing a sense of overall wellbeing). Big, big hugs to you… Read more »

Karen Watson
Guest
Karen Watson

Does a CBC include taurine levels or is that a separate test?

Claire Primo, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Hi Karen,

Good question! A CBC would not include Taurine. Your veterinarian would likely need to do a specific Taurine test, if that was something that you were interested in.

Hope that helps!

Warmly,
Claire

azscross
Member
azscross

I feed Nulo Brand Lamb with chickpeas mainly because it has zinc in it and I have arctic breeds that tend to have a zinc deficiency. The ingredients are: Lamb, Turkey Meal, Salmon Meal, Yellow Peas, Chickpeas, Sweet Potato, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols & Citric Acid), Lamb Meal, Pea Fiber, Natural Flavor, Yeast Culture, Potassium Chloride, Dried Chicory Root, Dried Blueberries, Dried Apples, Dried Tomatoes, Dried Carrots, Calcium Carbonate, Salt, Zinc Proteinate, Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), Iron Proteinate, Niacin, Copper Proteinate, Choline Chloride, Thiamine Mononitrate (source of Vitamin B1), Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement,… Read more »

Claire Primo, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Hi Sharon,

Right now, it is too early to say, but there may be a connection with legumes and taurine absorption (as of right now, we don’t know this for sure). One option is to find a food without chickpeas.

I hope this helps!

Warmly,
Claire

azscross
Member
azscross

Thank you so much. I will do that.

Peggy Dollar
Guest
Peggy Dollar

My input is about grain free foods, but for cats. After losing cats to diabetes, liver disease kidney disease we started researching food for cats. Cats are carnivores and they cannot assimilate carbs. This is what causes the above rampet disease among cats. Most cat food have carb fillers. ALL dry food is mostly carbs. What I read in my research, is they become addicted to carbs just like humans, who like McDonalds over veggies, it tastes good! Which is why it is hard once you have fed them dry foods and carb filled food to turn them to healthier… Read more »

Claire Primo, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Hi Peggy,

We agree with you 100%!!

Warmly,
Claire

Amanda McQuaid-Smoot
Guest
Amanda McQuaid-Smoot

We have two American English Coonhounds, littermates, three years old. They’re 100 pounds each & extremely healthy. We’ve been feeding them primarily grain free kibble & wet food since they were just over a year old. They also eat salt & spice free veggies mixed into their meals. I’ll be following this issue from now on, but I strongly feel our dogs are much healthier being raised without corn, wheat or soy.

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

Hi – it is really hard to find a legume-free diet that is also not chock full with grains. We feed Nulo Salmon & Peas (first the puppy formula and recently the adult formula) to our 15.5 month-old 100-lb German Shepherd. We switched him off a chicken and rice formula when he was young due to some tummy issues and super energy spikes. I wouldn’t be opposed to reintroducing some non-gluten grains, but I don’t want to feed a kibble that is basically all grain! I was also looking into a kibble where legumes would be lower on the list… Read more »

Claire Primo, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Rebecca,

Thank you so much for your comment! To make kibble crunchy, there needs to be some form of carbohydrate. Usually this is potato, pea or beans. The current hypothesis is that legumes are causing a change in the digestibility of the kibble. There is absolutely no evidence to prove this. There may be something else at play combined with genetic predisposition. There is a FB group you can join that has a spreadsheet of cases of DCM along with the food being fed. I hope that helps!

Warmly,
Dr. Angie

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