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Grain-free diets causing heart disease in dogs

Posted 10/10/18

For the past several years, large pet-food manufactures have been promoting “grain-free” diets for dogs and cats. The manufactures state the claim that grain-free diets are healthier, and …

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Grain-free diets causing heart disease in dogs


For the past several years, large pet-food manufactures have been promoting “grain-free” diets for dogs and cats. The manufactures state the claim that grain-free diets are healthier, and pets who suffer from obesity, skin issues and digestive ailments would benefit from the diet change. In July, the FDA posted a notice saying the agency wanted to alert pet owners and veterinarians that the diets may be linked to canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) as a result of their high content of peas, lentils, legumes or potatoes. DCM is a disease of the cardiac muscle that leads to a reduced pumping function of the heart and increased heart size. The disease can progress to complete cardiac failure and life-ending status.

Veterinarians at University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (UCD) had noticed an increase in the number of patients, particularly golden retrievers, with DCM. Upon further investigation, the veterinarians discovered that the dogs also have very low levels of taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that dogs naturally absorb from their diet. Dogs have been known to make their own taurine, but extended periods of low taurine levels have been associated with DCM development. Taurine-deficient DCM has a favorable outcome compared to patients that develop DCM secondary to genetic causes. Patients respond well with diet change and taurine supplementation

Right now, the development of DCM from diet appears to be largely in golden retrievers. Symptoms of DCM include activity reduction, frequent panting/heavy breathing, coughing, collapse and abdominal distension. If you notice any of these symptoms and your dog has a diet high in legumes, potatoes, or peas, please contact a veterinarian and proceed with the following:

• 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.

• Seek guidance from a veterinary cardiologist. 

• Follow the instructions from your veterinarian or veterinary cardiologist,  as repeat evaluations and other medications may be needed. It can take multiple months to see improvement in many cases of diet-related DCM.




[Joseph A. D’Abbraccio, DVM, of Catskill Veterinary Services, PLLC, can be contacted at catskillvetserv@gmail.com. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/CatskillVeterinary Services or www.catskillvetservices.com.]


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