Heart Disease and Diet
Regarding the “FDA Investigation into Potential Link Between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy” (updated June 27, 2019)
The Food and Drug Administration is currently researching whether there is a link between grain-free diets containing legumes and a specific form of heart disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). The investigation is ongoing, but has reached a higher profile since some active dog breed groups spread the word online and the story was publicized across other media.
While we don’t yet know how the increased number of reported cases could be related to the presence of legumes or absence of grains in commercial dry pet foods, early efforts to understand this issue have centered around the amino acid taurine, which we know is important for healthy heart function. Most dogs’ bodies can make taurine from other amino acids, and all of the foods under closer examination meet or exceed requirements for the precursor essential amino acids that combine to form taurine, so we have to wait to find out what is happening with so many newly-reported DCM cases. A few feline cases have been reported, but the vast majority have been in dogs.
With regards to the investigated foods, we have a low level of concern for most of our patients because they eat not just kibble – but also an array of real foods such as eggs, fish, muscle meat, organ meat, and vegetables – so they consume a variety of additional protein sources. For families who still wish to keep dry food in the picture but are concerned about certain ingredients, we'll recommend a kibble containing one of the less-inflammatory starches like sweet potatoes (but not white potatoes), millet, or rice as an alternate carbohydrate source.
Ultimately, the carbohydrate ingredients in dry food are there for our convenience: starches are less costly than animal proteins, and a binding agent is needed to produce a baked kibble. Starches are pro-inflammatory, however, and do not benefit most carnivores, so we always recommend supplementing with real foods. We're even happier with our patients eating a raw, freeze-dried, or dehydrated commercial diet high in protein with minimal carbohydrates as their primary food. We are very comfortable with our dogs and cats eating raw, we do continue to recommend grain-free diets, and we encourage specific low-starch “people foods” as part of a diverse and balanced diet.
Of course, if your pet has an issue and you are wondering about their heart health, diet, or any other aspect of their care, please set up an appointment for a physical exam and consultation with a doctor. For patients showing signs of heart issues or clients who have a high level of concern, there is a laboratory blood test to check taurine levels.
Dr. Shelby Watson
Hand, Thatcher, Remillard, and Roudebush (2000) Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th ed. Topeka: Mark Morris Institute, p. 546, table 18-12 “Taurine concentrations (mg/kg dry weight) in selected commercial pet foods and natural food sources.”