Over the last year, and especially ramping up over the last couple of months, we have had a lot of discussions with customers regarding grain-free diets, and concerns about their potential of causing heart disease in dogs – more specifically, canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). We feel it is important to address this topic and review new research with an open mind by looking at all the information and facts available.
What is the issue?
The concern being raised by some in the veterinarian community is that the legumes and/or potatoes in grain-free diets are either interfering with the absorption of taurine, or that these diets simply do not have enough taurine in them, which is leading to diet related Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). However, not all dogs that develop DCM are taurine deficient and the causes of DCM can also be hereditary or unknown. At this time, the research is inconclusive and the information that is available is rather difficult to navigate.
What is DCM?
Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a heart disease in dogs that is characterized by weakening of the heart muscle, which leads to a decreased ability of the heart to pump, and if untreated, to cardiac failure.
This article, “DCM in Dogs: Taurine’s Role in the Canine Diet” in Whole Dog Journal is another great resource if you’re looking for more background information.
What is Taurine?
Taurine is an essential amino acid found in meat, fish, and in smaller concentrations in dairy products. It is an essential building block of protein. From our perspective, the current debate shouldn’t be about Grain-Free vs Grain-Based, but what happens when we feed a carbohydrate-based food? All kibble is produced with a heavy amount of carbohydrates. Making kibble is like baking –you have to have a flour source, whether that is grain, potatoes, or legumes. All companies add a synthetic vitamin and mineral pack to their kibble diets in order to compensate for the lack of fresh ingredients, especially meat, in order to meet minimum nutritional requirements. Because kibble is so heavily processed, there could be other factors affecting the levels of taurine found in the food and how it is absorbed in the body.
What should I take away from all this?
We feel there are valid reasons to question the nutritional completeness of all kibble formulas; not just grain-free diets. It has always been our motto to incorporate as much fresh, less-processed food into your animals’ diets as possible.
We need to broaden our considerations when it comes to the food we traditionally feed our animals. For example, asking, “What happens when we feed our dogs one diet for most of their lives?” “Can any one brand, protein, or flavor meet the nutritional needs of every animal on an individual basis?” “If humans cannot thrive on a fortified cereal for our entire lives, why do we expect our animals to be able to?”
Long story short, we recommend:
- Adding fresh, unprocessed meat into the diet. Taurine is an essential amino acid derived from meat, so if the concern is that these animals are developing DCM from a taurine deficiency then we conclude that adding meat is the solution.
- Use kibble for additional calories and a budget buffer and consider fresh food as your animal’s nutritional foundation.
- A broken heart: Risk of heart disease in boutique or grain-free diets and exotic ingredients by Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN in Tufts Vet Nutrition (original article that created the discussion)
- It’s Not Just Grain-Free: An Update on Diet-Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy by Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN in Tufts Vet Nutrition (follow up article by the same author)
- FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy – FDA.gov (most recent FDA statement)
- Feeding Kibble? Do This Now to Protect Your Dog’s Heart by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker in HealthyPets.Mercola.com (Dr. Karen Becker breaks down her view)
- Taurine Deficiency in Cats from National Animal Supplement Council (NASC)
- Taurine: An Essential Nutrient for the Cat by Karen Knopf J. A. Sturman Marcia Armstrong K. C. Hayes from The Journal of Nutrition, Oxford Academic
- Taurine: a conditionally essential amino acid in humans? An overview in health and disease by R. Lourenço and M. E. Camilo from Nutricion Hospitalaria