The FDA is currently investigating a link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs because there is an increase in the number of dogs being diagnosed with the condition, and some of these dogs are eating grain-free foods featuring legumes.

DCM causes the heart muscles to weaken, which reduces the ability of the heart to pump blood through the dog’s body as it should. As this condition progresses, it causes congestive heart failure. Early signs of DCM may include lethargy, a persistent cough, difficulty breathing, weakness or loss of appetite. This condition has typically been most common in certain breeds: American Cocker Spaniel, English Setter, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, St. Bernard and other large-breed dogs with slow metabolic rates. Recently, there is a growing number of dogs of various breeds, including mixed breeds, developing DCM (with and without taurine deficiency). If you suspect that your dog is affected, consult your veterinarian immediately.

At All The Best Pet Care, we are closely following the investigation and are waiting for more information. Unfortunately, there isn’t any conclusive information available yet. There is evidence suggesting diets low in meat can lead to heart disease, but the jury is still out on what role (if any) legumes may play. We will continue to follow the FDA’s updates.

At this point, we do know that taurine deficiency can cause DCM and is widely associated with the disease. Many dogs diagnosed with DCM respond positively to taurine supplementation, even if they do not appear to be taurine deficient. In the past, kibble diets low in meat content were known to cause taurine-deficient DCM in dogs. It should be noted that neither grains nor legumes contain taurine.

As we await additional information, we recommend feeding a varied diet to dogs and cats to give them the best nutritional foundation. Our pet care specialists would love to chat about ways to incorporate variety into feeding time, or suggest a high-quality diet for your pet that does not include any legume or potatoes. As always, every food we carry, we’d feed to our own pets!

FAQs about heart disease, taurine, legumes, and grain-free diets for dogs

Q. Why is the FDA investigating a potential connection between grain-free diets and canine heart disease?
A. There have been reports lately of an increased number of dogs developing a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The affected dogs have mostly been eating a grain-free diet with ingredients like potatoes and legumes, and although there is no conclusive evidence of a causal relationship, the FDA wants to find out if it is diet-related.

Q. What are the causes and symptoms of DCM?
A. It’s often linked to a deficiency in the amino acid taurine. Symptoms include an enlarged heart, decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing and even episodes of collapse. If you suspect that your dog is affected, consult your veterinarian immediately.

Q. What is the role of taurine in dogs’ diets?
A. Taurine is not considered an essential nutrient for dogs (as it is for cats), because they can synthesize it in their bodies from other abundantly available amino acids – cysteine and methionine – which are present in a high-quality, rotational diet.

Q. Why do they suspect a connection to legumes or grain-free diets?
A. Some reported cases solely ate grain-free kibble, which often contains peas, chickpeas, and lentils. There is presently no conclusive evidence linking DCM to diet in dogs. While the FDA has noted several cases that don’t appear to be linked to genetic predisposition, there are also millions of dogs eating grain-free diets in the U.S. without ill effects.

Q. Why would lack of grains cause heart disease – do grains contain taurine?
A. Grains do not contain any taurine at all. Taurine is only found in animal protein such as meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Q. How do I know if my dog gets enough taurine in her diet?
A. Dogs are usually able to synthesize all the taurine they need from two other amino acid precursors, cysteine and methionine, but supplementing is easy to do. Consider offering taurine-rich treats such as raw or freeze-dried hearts and livers, or adding taurine-rich supplements, such as those containing green-lipped mussels. Additionally, adding raw frozen meat, freeze-dried raw meat, high meat canned food or lightly cooked meat to their diet will also increase taurine levels.

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