Have you been feeding your dog a grain free diet containing legumes, pulses, potato (starch), sweet potato and/or exotic meats?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating the link between grain free diets offered by boutique companies and a serious heart disease in dogs: dilated cardiomyopathy, or short DCM. The investigation was launched last year after increasing evidence, that diet might contribute to the development of DCM in breeds that typically don't develop this type of heart disease.
What is DCM?
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease that affects the heart muscle: the heart muscle becomes weak and loses its ability to pump blood into the bloodstream normally. The heart then tries to compensate by becoming enlarged; the walls become thinner. Once the heart cannot compensate anymore, the dog experiences accumulation of fluid in the lungs (known as pulmonary edema) and/or in the abdomen (known as ascites), and ultimately in death.
Which dogs get DCM?
Technically, any dog can develop DCM. But there are breed predispositions: Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, Irish Wolfhounds, Newfoundlands, to name a few.
What causes DCM?
- Genetic mutations that are associated with DCM have been identified in Doberman Pinschers, Boxers and Standard Schnauzers.
- Taurine deficiency. Taurine is an amino acid required for the development and function of the myocardium. Taurine deficiency can occur when a diet lacks sufficient amounts of Taurine (vegetarian or vegan diets). Some breeds might have defects in metabolizing taurine, such as Golden Retrievers. Taurine deficiency can be addressed by adding taurine to the diet (under the supervision of a veterinarian). Adding too much taurine can be harmful.
- Toxins, such as the anti cancer drug Doxorubicin that is used to treat various cancers in dogs.
- Infections, such as parvovirosis.
How can diet cause DCM?
This is not yet fully understood. It might have to do with the way certain ingredients interfere with the taurine metabolism. It is not so much the fact that the diets that are being investigated don't contain grains, but more so what is used instead of grains (legumes, pulses, potato, sweet potato) that might negatively interfere with the ability of dogs to absorb or synthesize taurine. Since the Golden Retriever is genetically predisposed to developing a taurine deficiency, they seem to be the breed that is mostly affected by diet-associated DCM.
What should I do if my dog has been eating a grain free or legume based diet?
You can contact your veterinarian to discuss your concerns and to look into further testing (which might involve a cardiac ultrasound, chest x-rays, a taurine blood level check and/or a referral to a cardiologist) and you can switch your dog's diet using these guidelines: https://www.wsava.org/…/Selecting-the-Best-Food-for-your-Pe…
More information on diet-associated DCM in dogs can be found here:
Are you interested in learning more about the FDA investigation into diet related dilated cardiomyopathy?
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