HEART DISEASE and YOUR PET
PET DIETS AND DILATED CARDIOMYOPATHY (DCM)
Veterinary cardiologists have noticed an increase in a certain type of heart disease in dogs known as dilated
cardiomyopathy or DCM. This increase in DCM cases
seems to have an association with dogs fed diets that are
considered boutique, exotic or grain-free.
In cats, a diet deficient of taurine, an amino acid important
in the metabolism of fats, has been associated with this
same type of heart disease. Research linking taurine to
heart disease in cats has been well-documented since
the late 1980s, therefore it is now a required component ofall cat foods and cat diets.
Dogs can typically synthesize or make their own taurine.
However, ingredient factors like fiber type, carbohydrate
and protein sources, cooking methods and individual dog
characteristics can affect how well their bodies make and
Some of the newly diagnosed dog DCM cases were
tested and had low levels of taurine. With taurine
supplementation, their heart function returned close to
normal. More commonly, DCM dog cases did not test low
for taurine, but still responded to taurine supplementation
and diet change. Some cases even responded with diet
The FDA, veterinary nutritionists, and veterinary
cardiologists are working to tease out what specific
components of these diets might be contributing to DCM.
In the meantime, veterinary nutritionists and cardiologists
recommend switching your dog off a grain-free diet.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): A type of heart disease in which the heart becomes enlarged and does not beat or contract ass effectively as it should. Symptoms can include increased sluggishness or sleepiness, coughing, decreased appetite, pale gums and fainting.
Boutique: Small pet food producer without the resources or size to run their own research studies, employ a veterinary nutritionist, or manufacture their own food.
Exotic ingredient Diets: Protein and plant sources in diets that are considered unstudied, unconventional and rare in the pet food market. Examples include kangaroo, lentils, peas, lava beans, buffalo, tapioca, barley bison, venison and chickpeas.
Grain-free: A diet that does not use grain-based products like wheat, oatmeal, corn or rice. Usually these diets substitute grains with other carbohydrate choices like potatoes, taro root, tapioca, peas or lentils.
Taurine: An amino acid that helps build certain proteins in the body and its important to fat metabolism. Taurine is considered an essential amino acid in cats – one that needs to be supplied baby the diet. Until recently, dogs fed a commercial diet rarely have taurine deficiences.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH GRAIN?
Whole grains are NOT fillers in pet food! They add important
proteins, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and fiber to
Allergies to grain are exceptionally rare in dogs and there is no proof or reliable evidence that grain-free diets are better for our pets. In fact, grain-free diets have NOT been studied long-term and may be a contributing factor to heart disease in dogs and cats.
Gluten intolerance in pets is even rarer than grain allergies.
Gluten- or grain-free diets can be considered marketing
concepts to address pet owner demands.
When is Grain-free Okay?
Pet nutrition is not one-size fits all. Certain dogs and cats
may need very specific diets. Work with your veterinarian
when considering a boutique, exotic or grain-free food to
discuss the pros and cons of the diet for your pet.
For example, your veterinarian may need to prescribe a food
trial with an exotic protein or carbohydrate source dog food
to help rule out food allergies or canine atopic dermatitis.
TRANSITIONING YOUR PET FROM A BOUTIQUE, EXOTIC OR GRAIN-FREE DIET
While this increase in DCM cases is being researched, many veterinarians are asking their clients to consider
switching their pet’s diet from a grain-free to a grain-inclusive diet.
Choose diets that contain grains and that are made by established companies who regularly conduct well-designed research studies. Monitor for early signs of heart disease, which include weakness, coughing,
slowing down and fainting.
Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet experiences these symptoms.
When switching pets to a new food, always do so gradually to avoid causing gastrointestinal upset. Changing
diets can upset your pet’s stomach, so take the time to gradually switch your pet to their new diet over the
course of a week. Every three days, mix 25 percent more of the new pet food into your pet’s old pet food.
Source: NC State Veterinary Hospital, go.ncsu.edu/vhnutrition